Tribal Christianity: an Oxymoron
“For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things....” --Acts 15:28
The great victory at Jerusalem was to universalize faith. Or to put it another way, Christianity was de-tribalized. The council rejected the idea that a person had to be a Jew to be included in Messiah's kingdom
Everything Was Family. In Israel, everything was family. But it was not to be so in the church. Israel's king was of the tribe of Judah, the Son of David who reigned in Jerusalem. Not so the Church. The King of the Church is the last Adam, whom David called Lord, who reigns from heaven, the New Jerusalem (Eph. 1). Although descended by the flesh from David, He over and over rejected David's literal throne, in favor of a kingdom which was not of this world, but would include the whole world, not just the tribal sons of Abraham.
In Israel, the high priest was also family: descended from Aaron, serving a temple in Jerusalem. The lesser priests who served the temple were his cousins, descended from the tribe of Levi. Not so the Church. Her High Priest is in Heaven, and all believers are priests, and all are called to holiness and spiritual sacrifices.
In Israel, the elders were tribal chiefs, the heads of families. Not so the Church. Her true elders are the gift of Christ, the heavenly king, and endowed for their offices with spiritual gifts from heaven by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4). A church begins to die when elders are appointed because of family ties rather than spiritual gifts, for God has no pleasure in the flesh. After the Council of Jerusalem the Sons of the Church were not those who were descended in the flesh from Abraham, but those who believed in the faith of Abraham. True descent from Abraham was not according to the flesh, but according to the faith of Abraham.
The Glory of Israel. The glory of Israel was that to them were committed the words of God (Romans 3). But what good was that if they did not believe? Paul's emphatic message is that those who believed were on the same footing, whether they were born in the church, or whether they were not. All believers were one in Christ.
One Kind of Christianity. The Council of Jerusalem made certain that Christianity would not be made of two classes: a lower class of those who were born of the Spirit, and an elite class who were born of the Spirit and gloried in their flesh. The results of the Council's decision is set forth in Galatians 5:6 “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.”
Also, Galatians 6:15: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.”
The Spirit Endures, Though the Flesh Fails. This is a great joy to the humble Christian who loves the church. The church will not fail, even though the family fails. The Lord can of the stones rise up children to Abraham. Because His gifts are from heaven and do not ultimately depend upon the fleshly seed of Christians, God will always have His faithful ministers and His faithful servants. The future of the church is secure because it does not depend upon the predestination of the flesh.
Paul's Rebuke to Peter. Lest we think this is a minor issue, Paul's rebuke to Peter over this very matter is represented as being for the very truth of the Gospel (Gal 2). Peter's elitist favoring of the circumcised in Antioch struck at the heart of the Gospel.
The Reformers rightly rejected the Anabaptist attempt to build a church based upon a self-appointed spiritual elite's rejection of infant baptism, for all disciples are to be baptized and to be taught. (Matt. 28:19,20). (See Old, Hughes Oliphant. Shaping of the Reformed Baptismal Rite in the Seventeenth Century. Eerdman's). They were equally correct to reject any dependence upon the flesh, and glorying in the flesh.
Elitism of all kinds, whether of the flesh or of the spirit, is rejected by the holy catholic church, of which all believers are blessed members in Christ. Anabaptist elitism subordinates the families and their babes; clannish elitism subordinates those who are not members of the clan. Christ freely welcomes both. Or to put it another way, Jews could become Christians; Christians did not have to become Jews.
The Flesh Dung. Paul put it this way: “What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I might win Christ.” (Philippians 3:7,8)
The promise does not come by the flesh, but by the Spirit, according to the sovereign working of God. Therefore the future of the church is secure. Paul said it distinctly: “If ye be Christ's then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Gal. 3:29)
Pastor C. W. Powell
Trinity Covenant Church RCUS
Colorado Springs, CO 80918