Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Outline of Message Given at the Annual Meeting of the Fayette Baptist Association

I had the privilege of giving the theme interpretation at the eighty-first annual meeting of the Fayette Baptist Association this past Monday (October 15, 2007). Fayette County is just east of the Memphis metropolitan area. The theme was “Churches Cooperating through the Association.” I decided to deal with the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 because more than one church was involved in that Council. Of course, the Jerusalem Council was not exactly like an associational meeting that we see today, but some precedents were set there that are relevant for today’s associations.

1. The Council received messengers from a local church and dealt with a doctrinal matter (Acts 15:1-4). “The brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue” (verse 2, NASB). The word “determined” (Greek τασσω) is a key word. The Greek scholar A. T. Robertson said that the word “suggests a formal appointment by the church in regular assembly.” Paul, Barnabas, and others from the church at Antioch were appointed as messengers to the Jerusalem Council.

2. After dealing with a doctrinal matter, the Council did not instruct a local church; rather, it spoke as a group of messengers to a group of Christians (Acts 15: 22-30). “It seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas” (verse 22). The key phrase is “the whole church” (Greek ολη τη εκκλησια). This phrase can also be translated as “the whole assembly” and thus could refer to the messengers of the Council, not the members of the Jerusalem church. An example of the word “εκκλησια” being used for “assembly” rather than “church” occurs in Acts 19:32, 39, 40, and 41 in regard to an assembly in a theater that was dismissed by the town clerk in Ephesus. The thousands of members of the church at Jerusalem were probably not consulted on this matter, and thus “the whole assembly” seems to be a more appropriate translation. Antioch was the capital of the province of Syria. Notice that the letter was also sent to Cilicia (verse 23), an adjacent province in what is now Turkey. Notice also that the word “our” is used to describe Paul and Barnabas. This used of the word “our” would be appropriate in regard to the Council but inappropriate in regard to the Jerusalem church. Paul and Barnabas were messengers from the Antioch church, so the word “your” would have been more appropriate if the Jerusalem church was in mind rather than the Council. This letter was sent from a group of messengers (mostly native Hebrews) to a group of Christians (mostly Gentiles) over a wide geographic area.

3. The Council’s representatives exhorted and strengthened the brethren, and one of them (Silas) traveled with Paul to strengthen the churches and establish new ones after receiving a supernatural vision (Acts 15:32-33, 40-41; 16:9-10). For a short period of time, the people in the area of Jerusalem had been receptive to the gospel. This was no longer true at the time of the Jerusalem Council. Now the Gentiles were receptive to the gospel, and the Council encouraged the brethren in their evangelistic work among these people. Silas, the Council’s representative, helped Paul start new churches during his second missionary journey.

Conclusion: The role of the association has biblical precedent. It should be the primary theological watchdog to deal with errant churches. The association cannot force local churches to do anything, but it can withdraw fellowship from them. It can strengthen individuals, strengthen churches, and establish new churches.