"Acts 15 And Deriving Authority"

Larry R. Ping II

     Many wish to point out the Church of Christ was founded by Alexander Campbell in the 1800’s. Some even venture to say Mr. Campbell and other restoration preachers instituted the “Direct Command, Apostolic Example, Necessary Inference” way of deriving authority. Both assertions are grievously wrong. Further, I am witnessing an ever-growing trend, among the Lord’s people, to belittle those who follow well-established Bible patterns for deriving authority for all we teach and practice (Col. 3:17; Acts 4:7). Acts 15 is an excellent example of how the apostles and early leaders of the Lord’s Church solved doctrinal questions of the day. We, too, come upon doctrinal questions which must be answered. The issue at hand was “Should Gentile converts to the Lord be circumcised?” Some were saying yes, others no. Hence, the occasion of the meeting in Jerusalem to solve the issue. Please take notice of how they solved the issue, thus illustrating how we resolve such issues.

 

     1. They made a plea to a direct command (or statement) of God. James did so in Acts 15:13-21. He was making reference back to the writings of Amos 9:11-12. In other words, God had already stated He was opening salvation to the Gentiles (making no mention of circumcision).

 

     2. They made a plea based upon an apostolic example. Paul and Barnabas made mention of the fact of the “signs” and “wonders” God had done “through them among the Gentiles” (Acts 15:12). The apostles were permitted to do these to illustrate Gentiles were now part of God’s plan without the need for being circumcised.

 

     3. They made a plea based upon necessary inference (or forced conclusion). Peter did so in Acts 15:7-11. He drew from his experience with Cornelius in Acts 10, how they received the Holy Spirit, how there was no distinction made between he (Jews) and they (Gentiles) and how they were saved exactly as he was. The forced conclusion was Gentiles could be saved without the need for circumcision.

 

     4. They made a plea based upon the silence of God. Luke penned “Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law; to whom we gave no such commandment” (Acts 15:24). The last phrase in this verse clearly illustrates nothing whatsoever had been said concerning Gentile convert circumcision. Therefore, no troubling or harassing attitudes should arise as a result of these false teachings.

 

     It is getting more common to hear “people of God” discount the importance of deriving authority for all we say and do (Col. 3:17) in the same ways the first century Christians did. The argument is made those ways were for those times. Assuredly, we are not ashamed, nor should we be made to feel ashamed for doing Bible things in Bible ways. If these ways were good enough for the folks gathered in Acts 15, they should be good enough for us.