Acts:16 The apostles and elders met to consider this question. 7 After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 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.”
As in most any church, as it grows, there is bound to be conflict. Mark says in chapter 3, "A church divided against itself cannot stand." We might also add, "A Church united cannot fall." After all Jesus said upon his confession of faith in Him, "On this rock (Peter's confession) I will be the Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it."
Why is this true? Because the unity of the church comes from God through the power of the Holy Spirit. If you were trying to thwart the growth of the church, what would be the best strategy? Foster a community of infighting, self-service and division. When we are distracted with petty squabbles and self interest, we lose focus on Jesus' Commission to make disciples. All this is rooted in our flesh, which is driven by pride, or the need to be right.
We see this has destroyed many denominations, as arguments started over various rules and practices in the church have created a divided church lackluster in real mission. Here is Martin Luther's defined the church as follows, "The Church exists where the Gospel is preached purely, and the Sacraments are administered rightly." Luther would says this is all based on the Word of God and correctly distinguishing the Law and the Gospel throughout the Old and New Testament. The Gospel is based on God's promises to us, which are all fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
There are times when conflict is good and healthy. Today's passage is one of them. Why? The Jewish believers were asking for something that was antithetical to the Gospel. When they wanted to require the new Gentile believers to be circumcised, they were threatening to returned the Church back to the Law. The Law was based on what we do, versus what God has done for us in Christ. The Law revealed our need for Christ.
When Paul and Barnabas came, they confronted the leaders sharply. Paul and Barnabas presented the evidence from their missionary journey, when they witnessed many Gentiles coming to faith and receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. Secondly they pointed out from the Old Testament that God's plan all along was to bless all nations through His people the Jews. The passage quoted in this chapter, was written by the prophet Amos, 750 years earlier.
Fortunately the brothers in Jerusalem accepted Paul's argument both from scripture and the evidence that God had shown them. The church stayed unified for the time being, and it grew rapidly. As we are confronted with church differences today, we need to be reminded that the unity of the Church is a big deal. To the extent the church is divided it will fall. To the extent we are united we stand until Jesus returns. After all, in heaven there will be ONE CHURCH!