On Potlucks and Baptist Business Meetings

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Fred Moritz's picture

Certainly the Jerusalem church offered its advice to the Antioch church upon request.  It is a voluntary action by one church to ask counsel from another church.  Apostolic authority makes it unique and unlike anything that would occur in our day. 

TylerR's picture

Editor

I've always had trouble taking Acts 15 as "advice," because, in Acts 16:4, Luke characterized the issue as an ordinance, decree or order (dogma - however you want to render it) from the apostles and elders.

I think this means the relationship was a bit more hierarchical than Antioch asking advice from Jerusalem - I think Antioch was asking for a decision. I suppose there are a few positions you could take on this one:

  • Was this a formal arrangement, where Antioch self-consciously thought, "Well, we better take this one to the top!" ?
  • Or, was it an less structured, more informal understanding that the "elders and apostles" in Jerusalem were wiser in these matters? This seems to be the normal Baptist position.
  • Or, was the apostolic era more collaborative, more connected; not necessarily strictly hierarchical and not strictly autonomous? Reymond wrote, "New Testament churches were connected or bound together by a common government. The principle of mutual accountability, dependency, and submission among the churches is taught at several places in Scripture . . ." (Systematic, 900-901).

The use of "dogma" in Acts 16:4 is a tough one for me. I think Reymond characterizes the matter well. But, I think Presbyterians make a mistake in taking an apostolic situation and importing it into a post-apostolic era.

Likewise, I have trouble seeing Acts 15 as one church just asking another for advice. Luke didn't characterize it that way in Acts 16:4 - he said it was an order or decree from Jerusalem which was expected to be observed.

Full confession - I remember in seminary when I read Reymond's ecclesiology. I finished his section on church government (not anything else, just government!), and I actually thought to myself - "That makes a whole lot of sense. I wish it were biblical!"

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?