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The Implications Of "The Decrees"

We refer to Acts 16:4. The implication of the decrees was that no church of God is wholly autonomous, that is, self-governing; and that what affects one church may affect all others.

Tile Greek word used for decree is dogma, "it primarily denoted an opinion or judgement ... hence an opinion expressed with authority, a doctrine, ordinance, decree" (Vine).

The decrees in Acts 16:4 arose out of the circumcision problem affecting the Gentile disciples in Antioch. Certain brethren came down from the Church of God in Jerusalem, and contrary to the mind of the apostles and elders there, taught in the Church of God in Antioch, "Except ye be circumcised after the custom of Moses, ye cannot be saved" (15:1).

Now there were spiritually-minded leaders in the church in Antioch, as evidenced in Acts 13:1, men perfectly capable of handling the problem within their own assembly. They could have argued, as is done by so many beloved brethren today, that they were responsible for the conduct of the affairs of their own assembly, and no other assembly had the right to intrude.

But none knew better than these leaders, and the assembly itself, that they did not stand alone in testimony. In Acts 14:27 Paul and Barnabas had already told them of the new assemblies which had been planted by them during their missionary journey, and of the extension in this way of the fellowship of churches into Gentile territory, of the growth of the kingdom of God, of the holy nation.

They rightly concluded that the teaching brought by these brethren from Jerusalem was rank heresy. But they foresaw that were they to judge the false teachers and prohibit their teaching in the church, the men were perfectly capable of creeping in privily elsewhere and other churches with whom they were in fellowship would be exposed to the same evil. They thought "imperially". They considered what steps should be taken to ensure that all the churches would be authoritatively advised how to deal uniformly with this problem.

So they decided to send to Jerusalem certain brethren, including Paul and Barnabas, to confer with the apostles and elders in the church there. It is suggested that first there was a private discussion between the brethren from Antioch and the leaders who were of repute in Jerusalem, as shown in Gal. 2:2, but we do not pursue here the significance of this action. Then they were received of "the church and the apostles and the elders" (Acts 15:4).

This was the Church of God in Jerusalem. It had grown to be a vast congregation, as the early chapters of Acts show (2:41;4:4,32;5:14;6:l,7).

Few, if any, would contend that all this multitude of disciples could gather for assembly services in the one place. They must of necessity have met in many companies (as e.g. in Acts 4:23; 12:17). Yet it remained one church, referred to e.g. in Acts 5:11 as "the whole church", and had one group of elders as we have noted in Acts 15:4.

We find it hard to understand in this connection why so many believers who are loosely associated with other similarly minded believers in other companies in the same town, regard each company as self-governing under the guidance of its own elders, and ignore the obvious scriptural requirement that all the companies should form one church in the city, under one united elderhood. What has happened to the New Testament pattern?

After the welcome meeting by the church in Jerusalem, the apostles and elders gathered together to consider the principles involved in the Antioch problem and what the counsel of the Holy Spirit would be in the matter. In due course they came to one mind and agreed on a certain course of action which should be followed in the evergrowing number of Gentile churches. The details of this course of action were "the decrees". And when Paul and Barnabas, accompanied by two of the chief men among the brethren in Jerusalem, brought the letter to the church in Antioch, the disciples there "rejoiced for the consolation".

And now we come to the point which concerns us, that is, the implications of these decrees. After a brief spell, Paul and Silas set out on a tour of the Gentile churches, passing through Syria and Cilicia, then on into lower Galatia. "And as they went on their way through the cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep, which had been ordained of the apostles and elders that were at Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in the faith and increased in number daily" (Acts 16:4,5).

All this is detailed by orderly Luke as a true record of divinely authorized procedure in the early churches and his record has been preserved by God for all time and, in particular, for ours. Not only did all the companies of disciples who were obedient to the Faith in a city form one church of God there; but that one church was also under one united elderhood; moreover that one church was non-autonomous; and we see also that as the Faith of our Lord Jesus Christ was being increasingly revealed, it was held in common sacred trust by all the churches of God for they were in one Fellowship, one Community.

Today the Faith has been once for all delivered to the saints; delivered for safe custody; and for contention if necessary where its principles are being eroded. And we believe that one of these erosions has been the lack of

perception of what was involved in "the implications of the decrees". This is a matter which calls for serious reflection by many beloved fellowbelievers today.