This passage should be read by those of us who are inclined to be starry eyed about how the Church should be. It reveals that from early years the Church was no stranger to conflict.
On more than one occasion the apostle Paul feels he has been misrepresented and needs to argue his case. The back story is that Paul was not one of the original ‘Twelve’ nor, apparently, had he been properly accredited by the Jewish Christian authorities in Jerusalem.
With this background, Paul’s missionary journeys to the Gentiles were regarded with suspicion by some Jewish Christians promoting traditional values. One of these traditions concerned circumcision of Gentiles. Circumcision was not a practice enjoined by Jewish law, but was widely regarded as the sine non qua of the Jewish male. Paul’s universal gospel of redemption through the death of Christ cut loose Gentile converts from many Jewish traditions. The battle between the traditionalists and the modernisers joined.
If we wish to update this scenario consider two theological wings – the conservative and the liberal; our debates in the United Reformed Church about human sexuality; the nature of authority in the URC; end of life issues; the nature of ministry adapting to changing social patterns; missiological priorities in a multi-faith environment . Now none of these is a perfect match for the early Church’s struggles , though some seem keen to hark back to issues that were not (and maybe cannot) be resolved. But we can learn much from this passage.
Paul’s missionary journeys continued, reaching out to all countries which enjoyed (or bore) Pax Romana. The outcome of this meeting in Jerusalem was decisive in this regard – it did not hinder his missionary drive – bringing the gospel word to all who would listen. And ‘face to face’ is best.These priorities our church must retain, despite grappling with contentious issues. ‘The Lord has yet more light and truth to shine forth from his word’.