Deciding with the Spirit
“It seemed to the Holy Spirit and to us that you should not be saddled with any crushing burden, but be responsible only for these bare necessities: Be careful not to get involved in activities connected with idols; avoid serving food offensive to Jewish Christians (blood, for instance); and guard the morality of sex and marriage. These guidelines are sufficient to keep relations congenial between us. And God be with you!” Acts 15:28–29 MSG
On close inspection the ‘guidelines’ seem more a concession than a ‘clearing of the decks’ of any pre-conditions to saving faith. This is most important because if we add anything as a pre-requisite for people to come into a saving relationship with Christ then we are ‘falling from grace’. This was the problem that was faced by the Galatians churches and the apostle Paul has to write a strong letter of correction to ‘the dear idiots of Galatia’ (J B Philips Translation). His point to them was Jesus plus anything is equal to nothing. You cannot add anything to faith for the minute you add any condition then you lose grace and fall into works. The Scripture is clear in Ephesians 2:8–9 that we are saved by grace through faith not by works. So one has to take these. ‘bare necessities’ with a little question.
That being said the principle of community decision making is very important. In our culture and context we tend toward an authoritarian model where we allow our leaders to decide what’s best for us. If you get a benevolent person that can be quite a good experience – you don’t do a thing but get blessed with good decisions by a nice leader. But that is few and far between. Most of the time given that we live in a fallen world, even in the church it is difficult to find such a benevolent leader who seeks to serve for the common good always.
That is why this practice that we see through this narrative both here in chapter 15 and 6 shows us the way the Spirit works in people giving unifying hearts to where when decisions are made there is a sense that this “seems good to us and the Holy Spirit” and produces a people who are “greatly relieved and pleased”. This process requires full engagement from all concerned preferably the whole church. It involves robust and humble dialogue that listens to and respects the opinions of others. It is fostered by love and patience. It recognises the gift and role of leadership. And it fits with previously agreed vision and values.
This is the kind of Holy Spirit decision making that will advance the mission of God whilst building the community by giving everyone due value and encouragement to participate. That is the community I want to help build and enjoy journeying with.