Acts 15:1-23a

How the church should be structured, today, is often a matter of debate. Indeed, it is not unusual for some people to advocate one model over another—one denomination over another. And, of course, each model has its virtues.

Today’s models, however, are in stark contrast to the early church. Because, in the book of Acts, we have a description of a single unifying body (based in Jerusalem), but which allowed a diversity of structure to meet local need.

Now it seems to me that we have lost much in our modern approach. We have lost that unity. We have also lost that diversity to some extent—structures are imposed which do necessarily meet the local need. As a consequence, there are many things that we can learn and apply from the principles of the early church, no what the structure of our church or denomination today.

And the Council of Jerusalem is an example of how things should be done. Because when we read the story, we can realise at least four things:

Firstly, when the early church had an issue to debate, they created a forum to talk through the issues, to air their views, and to seek God’s mind on the subject.

Secondly, they created a situation where all views were considered. Yes, there were divergent views, but everyone had the chance to talk, before a decision was made.

Thirdly, the forum concerned itself primarily with the spiritual life of the church, not just then nuts and bolts issues.

And fourthly, the whole focus of the meeting was to grow the church, to remove all stumbling blocks—and not just to hold on to tradition.

Now does all that sound familiar? Because it should do. Because no matter what the structure of the church or the denomination that we belong to, those principles should remain the same.

Unfortunately, that has not been my experience. Indeed, my experience has been that people generally try to avoid spiritual debate. And when spiritual issues do arise, invariably one or two dominate the debate, not everyone has their say, and maintaining the status quo remains the priority.

The structure and example of the early church, then, creates a real challenge for the modern church. Not least of which is to realise that we need to go back to New Testament principles and apply them in our churches today. And we should do that, no matter what structure or denomination that we enjoy.

Posted: 24th February 2018
© 2018, Brian A Curtis