After more than 2,000 years, as it turns out, Christians have many differences. While this is clearly not what Jesus intended, it didn’t take 2,000 years for this to happen.
In Acts 15, we read of the first Christian council (held in Jerusalem, comprised of Jewish Christians), called to work out a major difference: whether the “Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.” This was no small difference, promising to divide Christianity shortly after it had begun.
The principal participants at the Jerusalem council were major players in the early church: Peter, Paul, Barnabas, and James. Peter spoke first, reminding the council of his ministry to the Gentiles and of God’s acceptance of them by giving them the Holy Spirit. “He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” (Acts 15:9-11)
Paul and Barnabas spoke of signs and wonders they had seen God do among the Gentiles. James declared that “we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” He proposed sending a letter to Gentile Christians, saying “to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.” (Acts 15:19-20) That was it. Nothing else from the Law of Moses (including circumcision) need apply. The instructions about what to eat were apparently included so Jews and Gentiles could eat together when eating together had become an important practice for early Christians. (Acts 2:42-47)
Judas and Silas were chosen to deliver the letter to the Gentiles. “The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message…After spending some time there, they were sent off by the believers with the blessing of peace to return to those who had sent them.” (Acts 15:31-33)
Controversy solved–but not for all times. There would be and have been many others. As these controversies continue, we should remember Peter’s admonition not to put yokes on the necks of others but to focus on our belief that we are saved through the grace of our Lord Jesus, “just as they are.”