“This I command you, to love one another.” ~ John 15:17 (RSV)
As the Living Word, Jesus Christ eloquently fulfilled the Old Mosaic Law and in so doing, recreated the law to the demands of love. Jesus commanded his apostles to go out to all the ends of the earth and to be his witnesses to the Good News of the Gospel. He promised that the Holy Spirit would assist them in preserving the true teachings of His word with special grace and help them to grasp the depths of the sacred truth. With full authority in his name, these most dedicated of the disciples committed themselves to protecting the purity of this new faith as they began to spread the Gospel.
At first the Christians, who were all Jewish, only witnessed within the Jewish community, but it was not for long. Peter, the prime apostle, right at the beginning of his public ministry was challenged to assent to the true reality of the Gospel, when he was invited by Cornelius, a Roman centurion, to come to his home to speak to the Gentiles gathered there.
Under the Old Mosaic Law, Peter, as a circumcised Jew, was forbidden to be with the “unclean” Gentiles. Before he received the invitation, Peter was told in a dream through the Holy Spirit, “What God has cleansed, you must not call common.” Even though he did not fully understand the message, he graciously followed as he was called forth by strange gentiles to come with them to Cornelius. As Peter spoke to this great crowd of faith filled Gentiles, the gift of the Holy Spirit poured out to all of them and the other Jewish witnesses with him were shocked as they “heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God.” This dramatic prophetic act of humble obedience and love for all peoples opened the door to the first theological controversy for the new born Christian Church.
By 50 A.D., as stated in Acts 15, we see this great controversy come to the forefront in the young Church’s first council in Jerusalem. St. Paul with Barnabas, following the Holy Spirit’s guidance had been building the Christian Church amongst the Gentiles. When in Antioch they encountered Christians from Judea who where teaching that all Gentiles must be circumcised and follow the Mosaic Law before they could become Christians. The purity of the message of the Gospel was under its first attack. St. Paul and Barnabas set forth to Jerusalem to converse with the apostles and other elders and witness to them about the massive and authentic conversions of the Gentiles within their ministry.
During the council of Jerusalem the primacy of the first “pope”, Peter, was affirmed by the members of the apostles and elders when an agreement was made that Gentiles were embracing the “radical newness and integrity in ways of thinking and living” , as demanded by the Gospel. They would be asked to refrain from “pollution from idols” , to live chastely, and not to eat meat or drink blood sacrificed to the pagan gods.
Basically speaking this first council of the Church affirmed that Christians did not have to be Jewish first to be converted to the Christian life. The Council avowed that the Gospel, a universal message of hope and truth, was meant for all nations who hungered for the Good News. Christ had come for all of humanity to set free man under the “easy” yoke of the Gospel. Even in the beginning the first Christians recognized that through Christ, all can receive the actuality of freedom, thereby conforming the totality of their hearts to the demands of love and embracing the abundant life of Christ – who is, who was, and who always will be – The Law.
i R. Lawler, D. Wuerl, T. Lawler, The Teaching of Christ. Our Sunday Visitor
Press, Huntington, IN, 2005, 185.
ii Acts 10: 15
iii Acts 10:46
iv The Teaching of Christ, 186.
v Acts 15: 20
Copyright May 2009 by Janelle Wingert