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Adding to Acts

Adding to Acts

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Published by Patricia Backora

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Published by: Patricia Backora on Jul 27, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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In its early infancy, the church of Jesus Christ was mostly a Jewish church,composed of people who had grown up under the Law of Moses. Even under theNew Covenant, many, if not most of, these Jewish believers continued to observesuch Old Covenant ordinances as circumcision, kosher food regulations, Sabbathrestrictions, and many other laws which had to do with “taste not, touch not,handle not” (Col.2:20-23). The Laws given to Moses by God were interpreted andre-interpreted by Scribes and Pharisees until many hard-to-keep customs(commandments of men) were also imposed upon the faithful. Jesus denouncedthe doctors of the Law for adding extra rigid rules to the Word of God:Luke 11:46: And he said, Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! For ye lade menwith burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens withone of your fingers.The last section of Acts Chapter 14 speaks of the success enjoyed by Pauland Barnabas in their missionary journeys through Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, andAntioch. Many Gentiles were coming to faith in Christ. But “certain men whichcame down from Judea” came on the scene and warned those Gentile convertsthat they’d better be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses if they wanted tocontinue as believers in Christ. This created such a controversy that Paul andBarnabas went to Jerusalem to consult with Peter, James and other apostles andelders of the church to settle the question.These godly men sought the Lord about this crucial issue, which was verywise, because imposing upon the Gentile converts the heavy burden of the 613-ordinance Law of Moses would be no light matter. James himself asks thebrethren in Acts 15:10: Now therefore WHY TEMPT (TEST) YE GOD, to put ayoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither we nor our fathers were able tobear? Legalists who hold the ignorant and the fearful in bondage to manmadereligious rules are testing God’s patience!So were the Gentile converts obligated to accept circumcision and submit tothe laws and customs of the Jews? Here is the conclusion reached by this firstapostolic council held at Jerusalem:Acts 15:24: Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from ushave troubled you with words, SUBVERTING (DESTABILIZING) YOUR SOULS,saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: TO WHOM WE GAVE NO SUCHCOMMANDMENT;VERSE 25: It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to sendchosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul;VERSE 26: Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord JesusChrist.VERSE 27: We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you thesame things by mouth.VERSE 28: FOR IT SEEMED GOOD TO THE HOLY GHOST, AND TO US, TO LAYUPON YOU NO GREATER BURDEN THAN THESE NECESSARY THINGS;VERSE 29: That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and fromthings strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shalldo well. Fare ye well.Notice particularly verses 28 and 29. The Holy Ghost Himself laid upon thenew converts no greater burden than those four necessary things: abstainingfrom foods offered to idols, from consumption of blood, from consumption of strangled animals, and abstaining from fornication. And furthermore, theapostles’ letter declares that if a Christian observes just these four requirements,he does well. Nothing is said about adding such common religious customs astithing, seasons of fasting, rigid dress codes, banning beards on men, pulpit
paraphernalia, fancy liturgy, restricting activities on the Sabbath (or any otherday),“making vows of faith”, or “sowing a seed to meet your need.” Some seem to think that the Holy Ghost forgot to add a few “necessarythings” to the list of four requirements sent by the apostles to the new Gentileconverts. This article will mainly address just two religious practices often addedBY MEN to the requirements of Acts 15 as being an essential part of Christiandiscipleship. First, religious fasting.Remember that the context of Acts Chapter 15 concerns Gentile converts whohad formerly lived a lifestyle which did not include Jewish religious practices.Some of those Gentiles were probably intellectual types who had been interestedin Greek philosophy but had nothing to do with customs of organized religion.Others, who had worshipped licentious heathen gods, might not have fasted inservice to them at any time. But the Jews, unlike the pagans, often fasted andprayed in penitence for their sins and the sins of their forefathers as they awaitedtheir Messianic Deliverer. Fasting was a deeply entrenched part of their way of life.Generally speaking, fasting was alien to Greeks and Romans who oftenreveled at banquets and lived a more carefree life than the deeply serious Jews.Some Gentiles of the Greco-Roman world did practice fasting, such as Gnosticsand devotees of other mystery religions. They would fast to detach their soulsfrom the material dimension and tune in to the world of spirits (demons posing asbenevolent spirits). But many more Gentile converts would never have fastedbefore, unless illness or poverty made them miss a few meals. If fasting is God’srequirement, then why didn’t the Holy Ghost mention this point when theapostles gathered in Acts 15 to decide what was required of Gentile converts?Temperance in all things is important, but the only food restrictions given bythe Holy Ghost in Acts Chapter 15 were to abstain from blood, strangled animals,and food offered to idols. Some think that this isn’t enough, and more “discipline” must be added to earn God’s approval. Food has nothing to do withcommending us to God (Rom.14:17; I Cor.8:8). We are at liberty to eat or not toeat, as we feel led. If you are deeply engaged in prayer, you are under noobligation to have dinner at your regularly scheduled hour. It might sometimesbe necessary to delay eating until you feel deep in your spirit that you haveprevailed in prayer and the need is met. Or you might skip lunch while you aremaking an intense effort to win someone to the Lord. Jesus was so deeplyinvolved in satisfying the spiritual hunger of the woman at the well that His ownphysical hunger was forgotten (John 4:31-34).In Jesus’ day the Pharisees and their disciples imposed fasting on themselvestwice a week (Luke 18:12). God did not impose these twice-weekly fasts uponthose Pharisees, and their only reward was to appear more spiritual in the sightof others. But in this Age of Grace there is no need to imitate the ritual fasting of the Pharisees. Our sins have already been dealt with at the Cross. Our Delivererhas already come. We do not need to fast in sorrow over the sins of ourancestors. We are responsible for our own lives and for the choices we ourselvesmake. Besides, I know virtually nothing about my ancestors who lived beforemy grandparents! All I know is they were mostly Scotch-Irish-PennsylvaniaDutch, with a teaspoon of Native American. I know I had blacksmiths in myfamily tree. But I don’t have to do research to find out what sins my forbearscommitted ten generations back and bewail over them. All we Christians need dois remain humble before God, keeping our accounts with Him clear throughrepentance when it is needed, and trusting in the Blood of Jesus.There is danger of spiritual pride in religious observances. The woman whofasts twice a week is tempted to look down on the one who fasts just once aweek, etc. Actually, there is NO command given by the apostles to the church tofast for any length of time! Even under the Old Covenant, only one ritual fastwas commanded by God: the Day of Atonement (Lev.23:32). Other regular fastswere added BY COMMANDMENT OF MEN, such as the annual fast held by Jews on
the 9
of Av, to commemorate a number of national tragedies which haveoccurred on that day, among them the destruction of both Jewish temples.
Teaching New Converts? Not So Fast!
Before you take a young convert who is still aglow with the joy of the Lordand teach him that fasting is essential for his spiritual health, remember this:When the fasting question was brought up, Jesus immediately linked it withmourning (Matt.9:15). In the days following His crucifixion His disciples wouldmourn and fast for sorrow of heart, but their sorrow would soon be turned to joy(John 16:20).In Acts 2:42-47 fasting is missing from the list of things routinely done by theearly church. It does say they praised the Lord, fellowshipped, continued in theapostlesdoctrine, broke bread from house to house and ate their food withgladness and singleness (Gr.
, pure benevolence) of heart. I once attendeda church which occasionally called a church fast, but otherwise did notoveremphasize fasting. This church had one fatal flaw, though: It taught that youmight be saved by grace, but you were kept by works. I eventually left thischurch for this very reason. But I will give them credit for one thing. They keptone custom of the early church: regularly eating meals together as an act of fellowship. Each Sunday, the congregation would divide into little groups to meetover at different people’s houses to eat and visit. In that way the FAMILY feelingof “churchwas experienced. In the early church, the entire congregationprobably ate their meals “feasts of charity” (love feasts) together (spoken of inJude 12). It was at that time they celebrated the Lord’s Supper (I Cor.11:20-22).Why do I believe this? Because of verses 21-22. People were overdoing the wineand getting drunk! You can’t get drunk from a thimbleful of wine! And in verses33-34, Paul exhorts the ones who come earlier to wait till the others arrive(probably poor laborers who couldn’t get there early.There is much more scriptural support for teaching new converts that eatingtogether as a church is helpful to spiritual growth, than teaching them thatfrequent fasting is essential.What about tithing? Should new converts be taught to tithe? The early churchdid NOT practice tithing! If tithing is such an important doctrine, then why is itNOWHERE commanded by Peter, Paul, or any of the other apostles? Jesus doesmention tithing, but in only two contexts, one where He is castigating somehaughty Scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy and lack of mercy (Matt.23:23;Luke 11:42). The other example is where Christ describes a proud prayer offeredup by an unrepentant Pharisee who went home unjustified by God (Luke 18:12).Only those three verses contain any remarks from Jesus about tithing, and theyare all in an unfavorable context! Jesus okays the Pharisee’s tithing of mint,anise and cumin, but He was speaking to someone who lived under the Law of Moses and before the Cross. Jesus said nothing about the Pharisee needing totithe his money. Modern tithe takers order their congregation to give TO THEMfirst dibs on their paycheck each week, but Scripture clearly specifies what is tobe tithed under the Law:Leviticus 27:30: And all the tithe OF THE LAND (not of a paycheck!) whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD’S: it is holy unto theLORD.Leviticus 27:32 And concerning the tithe OF THE HERD, OR OF THE FLOCK, evenof whatsoever passeth under the rod, the tenth (not the first item counted) shallbe holy unto the Lord.Nehemiah 10:35-37 specifies what items constitute a firstfruits (heave) offeringunto the Lord. The firstfruits offering was collected from whatever agricultural

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