The Jerusalem Council – Church Unity through Dialogue
We should not be afraid of the Church periodically calling a Council or a Synod to resolve important issues of faith or morals. We must, however, follow the Apostolic example.
The Apostles and priests met in Jerusalem around 48AD to decide whether a Gentile convert needed to first become a Jew by circumcision in order to accept the Jewish Messiah, or if Baptism was sufficient to make one a disciple of Christ. The Council, after much discussion, decided circumcision was not a necessary prerequisite to Baptism.
Unity is an Action of the Holy Spirit
A unified Ecumenical Council response, we have come to understand, is the result of extensive dialogue under proper submission to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We are affirmed on this point in the first Apostolic letter from Jerusalem which declared: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us …”
That admission of supernatural guidance by the Early Church, given the strong initial Apostolic disagreement on circumcision -confirmed that the Church is indeed guided into all truth by the action of the Holy Spirit. (Cf. Jn 16:13).
One of the enduring lessons from that Jerusalem Council, as recorded in today’s Gospel, is the unequivocal submission of the clerical faction that at first supported the circumcision requirement. When debate ceased and the decision of the Council was announced, those who lost the argument accepted and endorsed a unified Church declaration by letter to the outlying Church.
No Schism or Call for a Reformation
The Jerusalem letter to the Church at large was clear, concise, and fraternally outlined additional instructions for continued discipleship and communal living. All complied with the new mandates of the Apostolic letter.
It is important to note that new converts did not rebel or appoint different leaders or break away from the true Church. They did not opt to make their own decisions on how to better follow Christ.
This is particularly remarkable given that the Council’s letter invalidated some of their marriages and called for new prohibitions on some of their prior living and culinary practices. Converts, Jew and Greek alike, understood and complied.
The Proper Approach to the Synod of Synodality
How does the Jerusalem Council remain relevant in helping us today?
Let us begin with Jesus’ priestly prayer that we may all be one, so that the world will know that our Heavenly Father sent Jesus. (Cf. Jn 17:20-21). Unity is an indispensable prerequisite to evangelizing Christ to the world.
St Paul adds: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide, we might have hope.” (Rom 15:4). In short, the Scriptures were written for our instruction.
Our Church will soon meet for the Synod of Synodality
We must pray for unity within our Church while acknowledging our diverging views going into the Synod, placing our trust in the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
We must also pray that the examples and lessons of that first Council of Jerusalem may once again shed an instructive light on the upcoming Synod in Rome, as it did on prior Ecumenical Councils.