By Hoyt H. Houchen
Question: Denominationalists like to use Acts 15 as their “authority” in attempting to justify ecclesiastical councils and centralized headquarters over their churches. They argue that Acts IS shows that churches from other areas appealed to an authoritative council in Jerusalem concerning a matter of doctrine and that the decision handed down and promulgated in their letter was binding in all the churches. How can it be shown that Acts 15 is not an approved example for ecclesiastical councils and centralized headquarters over the church today? Thank you.
Reply: In no way is Acts 15 a precedent for ecclesiastical councils and centralized headquarters over the church. The doctrinal problem in Acts 15 was whether Gentiles had to be circumcised according to the law of Moses in order to be saved (v. 1). Men had come down from Jerusalem to Antioch teaching this doctrine, but Paul and Barnabas had refuted it. After much dispute it was decided that Paul and Barnabas, along with others, should go to Jerusalem and take -up the matter with the apostles and elders. This was not really necessary in order for the problem to be solved because Paul was an apostle, and he had already taught the truth on the subject while at Antioch. The Holy Spirit revealed the truth to the apostles and they in turn taught it. So, the meeting in Jerusalem only confirmed the truth which Paul had previously taught. It was not Paul’s decision, nor was it the decision of the council. The matter had already been settled by the Holy Spirit (Acts 15: 28). The decree that was delivered to the churches (Acts 16:4) was in reality the decision of the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:28) and it was ordained or issued by the apostles and elders that were at Jerusalem (Acts 16:4).
Church councils have no authority to determine truth. The truth is not determined by a democratic vote, but by the word of God. Men therefore have no authority to set up religious councils or headquarters to issue edicts, enact and amend laws. From the first ecumenical council in A.D. 325 on down to the present day such councils have existed, but without God’s authority. They have been responsible for the creeds of men, which have in turn, brought about division in the religious world.
The decrees which were delivered and were to be kept (Acts 16:4) merely confirmed what had been revealed by the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:28). Neither Acts 15 nor any other Scripture authorizes religious councils or headquarters. They are devised by men and not by God.
Guardian of Truth XXV: 3, p. 34
January 15, 1981