I will never forget the day someone said to me, “We believe the Mind of Christ is found in the Body of Christ.” While the context of our discussion (churches voting on major decisions) did not always bear that out, at least in my mind, I believe my friend was on to something. While we may not see as many examples of it as we should, maybe the Lord’s original intention was that we discern His Mind through a collective inquiring. Fortunately for us, we do have an example of this in Acts 15.
Problems in Antioch
The mission to the Gentiles was well under way with Antioch being the hub of the outreach. Paul and Barnabas had just returned from their first missionary excursion and were celebrating the Lord’s victories. As they were marveling at the grace of God displayed among the Gentiles, some Jewish believers came from Judea and began telling the Gentiles that they could not be saved unless they were circumcised! Paul and Barnabas were incensed and a huge dispute erupted. Eventually, they decided to move the debate to Jerusalem so the matter could be considered by the apostles and brethren there (Acts 15:1 – 2).
Examining the Evidence
As the debate began, they took the opportunity to examine the way the Lord had been working among the Gentiles. Peter was the first to speak. He reminded everyone how the Lord had poured out His Holy Spirit on the Gentiles in exactly the same manner as He was poured out on the Jewish believers on the day of Pentecost, much to the surprise of the Jews where were present at this event (see Acts 10:44 – 46). At that time the Jewish believers concluded that the Lord has also opened to the Gentiles the repentance to life (Acts 11:18). Peter’s conclusion was that the Gentiles would be saved by grace just like the Jews (Acts 15:6 – 11).
Paul and Barnabas spoke next. They related to a captive audience how God had worked mightily among the Gentiles, performing many signs and wonders as they preached the Gospel (Acts 15:12). Their testimony greatly supported what Peter had shared.
Then James Spoke…
When inquiring of the Lord collectively, it is important that we listen on two levels. With our natural ears we must carefully listen to what is being shared. With our spiritual ears we must listen for what the Lord is saying in the midst of the discussion. When this is done, inevitably someone will step forward and verbalize the mind of the Lord. That is exactly what happened in the meeting in Jerusalem.
After the sharing was finished, James (the brother of the Lord Jesus) stepped forward and summed up the matter. The decision was to not trouble the Gentiles with matters pertaining to the Law of Moses. Instead, they would be exhorted to stay away from practices inherent to their polytheistic society. Recognizing that the Mind of the Lord had been discerned, the church was pleased to draft a letter to the Gentile believers to inform them of their decision. Because they had collectively inquired of the Lord on this matter, they could write, “…it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” (Acts 15:13 – 29).
What if churches today would learn to collectively inquire of the Lord as to the direction of their ministry? What if mission organizations would learn to collectively inquire of the Lord in their strategy meetings? In these days I believe it is imperative that we do so. If we will pursue this earnestly, I believe we would see God’s people corporately living in the Reign.