Msgr. Charles Pope writes on the Archdiocese of Washington blog about the Council of Jerusalem (as recorded in the Book of Acts) and how important an influence it was on the early formation of the Church—and how the Catholic Church, at least, still functions today.
When my non-Catholic Christian friends ask why I became Catholic, my shortest and pithiest response is, “Because I finally actually read the Scripture.”
Years ago I sat down and read the entire Bible, beginning to end, Old Testament and New. It took about six months. I had a sneaking suspicion that I was in the wrong religious community, and hoped that reading the Scripture would help lead me where God really wanted me to go. It worked; though the path it led me down was one I’d have never expected before-hand. The church history recorded in the Book of Acts, more so than anything else in the Scripture, led me to the Catholic Church.
In the Methodist tradition I was part of at the time, denominational decisions are made by democratic conferences of lay and clergy. Some of the faith communities I’d been looking at with interest were ‘congregational’ in structure, where individual churches are essentially autonomous and there is no hierarchical authority of any kind (the Baptist churches are among the most prominent in this tradition). Acts, however, painted a very different picture of how God’s church is supposed to be structured.
At the Council of Jerusalem, recorded in Acts, the elders (Priests) and Apostles (Bishops) gathered in Jerusalem under the leadership of St. Peter (Pope) to figure out how to handle one of the earliest controversies in the church: Was Christianity a sub-set of Judaism, requiring adherence to both traditions, or was it something new that did not require adherence to Jewish practices like circumcision and the dietary laws?
The Council decided, under the guidance of the Holy Sprit, that Gentiles (non-Jews) would not be expected to follow the Jewish traditions to become Christians. The Council then informed all Christian churches that existed at the time of their decision via letters and personal visits, and all churches and all Christians in the world were expected to abide by the Council’s decision. A hierarchical Church as a spiritual authority to which all Christians must be obedient is not some mythical fiction made up by Catholics; it’s all recorded right there in the book of Acts!
I recommend reading Msgr. Pope’s blog entry, as it goes into much more detail than what I’ve covered here (complete with copious references back to the Book of Acts). God bless!