Two types of conflict occur in the early church: conflict over doctrine and conflict over mission strategy and personnel.
Cultural distinctions often cause conflict between people groups. The early church faces this conflict when the believers from various backgrounds come together, and some Jewish/Pharisee-background believers demand that Gentile-background believers be circumcised and keep the law, "It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses" (Acts 15:5).
The dispute is settled by Scripture as the apostles and elders meet together to resolve the issue. After hearing Peter, Barnabas, and Paul testify of Gentiles responding to the gospel, James turns to the book of Amos to validate the faith of the Gentiles:
And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written: "After this I will return and will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up; so that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD, even all Gentiles who are called by My name, says the LORD who does all these things." Known to God from eternity are all His works. (15:15-18)
The council writes a letter and forms a delegation to communicate to the Gentiles that they are justified by faith and freed from the law and circumcision. They are, however, to abstain from the accepted cultural practices of Gentiles: eating "things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood" (15:20).
Another conflict surfaces over mission strategy and ministry personnel. Paul plans to visit the brothers in the towns where he and Barnabas had preached the Gospel on their first missionary journey. Barnabas wants to include John Mark, but Paul refuses to allow him to join their team because of Mark's previous desertion. A sharp disagreement ensues: "And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; but Paul chose Silas and departed . . . through Syria and Cilicia" (15:39-41). One team becomes two teams.
Silas is better prepared for what lies ahead on their particular path than John Mark. Paul and Silas are attacked by a crowd for preaching the gospel; they are stripped, beaten, and thrown into prison. The providence of God prevents John Mark from experiencing such brutality for the sake of the Gospel until he has further matured in the faith.
Two truths emerge as the early church, with her members' various backgrounds, processes the gospel message:
What analogy does Paul use to describe the purpose of the law and faith-based righteousness?
Paul contrasts Sarah's son with that of the bondwoman Hagar. If Ismael represents the best that the flesh can produce, what does Isaac represent?
What word picture does Paul give to teach the bondage of performance-based righteousness?
What, or rather, Who replaces the law in the life of the believer?
List the contrasts between those who live according to the flesh and those who live according to the Spirit. What does the Spirit do for man that the law cannot?
What characterizes the relationships of those who sow to the Spirit?
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