Today’s reading: Acts 15:22-41
Having decided the matter before them the Council of Jerusalem sends a letter to the Churches to advise them of the decision. It is the first encyclical sent out by the Church. The text of the letter is preserved in the book of Acts and contains an important detail:
Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, ALTHOUGH WE GAME THEM NO INSTRUCTIONS, it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you…
In other words, the people who were teaching this false doctrine (that converts to Christianity had to be circumcised) were not instructed to teach this by the Apostles. It follows that in order to teach one must be authorized to do so by the hierarchy. Thus we see again, from the very beginning the Church has structure, authority, rules and procedure.
Furthermore, the process established in Matthew 18 and that we see played out in Acts 15 has been repeated consistently throughout the centuries. All the Church Councils you hear about in history … the Council of Nicea, the Council of Ephesus, the Council of Trent, etc … are the same process, established by Jesus, that is used to resolve controversy in the Church. I have a friend as work that likes to jokingly argue from The DaVinci code that the Church “voted on the divinity of Christ”. This is true, in the sense that there arose heretics who taught false doctrine. The Church would than met in council and issued clear statements just a Peter did about what “We believe”. This consistent historical witness testifies that the Church continues to live by the Biblical principles established by Jesus. As these councils established for all Christians things that we all believe like: the nature of Christ, the Trinity and the divinity of the Holy Spirit. The consistent record of the councils shows that just as in Act 15 the decisions of the councils “seem good to the Holy Spirit”. Besides the Catholic Church there is no other Church that has ever called such a council and been able to establish truth for all Christians. Thus, the historical, biblical and theological nature of the councils helps to identify that the Catholic Church was established by Jesus. As Jesus said that “the gates of hell will not prevail against my Church” we can therefore know which Church is the one established by Jesus.
Tomorrow: Acts 16:1-16