THE CONFERENCE IN JERUSALEM
Following chapters 10 and 11, we come to chapter 15, where we read that certain men went down to Antioch from Jerusalem telling the people, "Except ye be circumcised after the custom of Moses, ye cannot be saved" (v. 1). Listen to the religion. How religious can you be! Yet they were believers. In so short a time after chapters 2, 3, 4 and 5 of Acts, we see how so many Jewish believers returned to religion. A great stir was created among the churches in the Gentile world; so the elders decided to send Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem about this matter. At the conference in Jerusalem, by the mercy of the Lord, the decision was made not to perpetuate such teaching. Praise the Lord for that.
To leave our religious background is really difficult. If there were no background, it would be easy. The situation today is exactly the same: we do have a religious background, and almost every one of us has come out of it. The problem is that we have come out of it, but it has not come out of us. We have said to religion, "I divorce you," but religion has said to us, "I will never leave you." Brothers and sisters, please do not read this chapter on the behalf of others; read it for yourself. It is easy to get out of religion, but it is not easy to get religion out of us.
The Apostle Paul, we know, wrote the Epistles to the Galatians and the Romans, in which he spoke so strongly against anything of the old religion. Could you imagine that after writing these two books, when Paul went up to Jerusalem, he would be convinced to perform a ritualistic act in the Jewish temple? Yet he did. It is recorded in Acts chapter 21. And he was persuaded to do this by no less than the elders of the church. Let us read this portion again—it is amazing.
"And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present. And when he had saluted them, he rehearsed one by one the things which God had wrought among the Gentiles through his ministry. And they, when they heard it, glorified God."
This is really good! Hallelujah! But it was not so simple.
"And they said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of them that have believed; and they are all zealous for the law: and they have been informed concerning thee, that thou teachest all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children neither to walk after the custom."
That was absolutely correct—Paul did this. Read the Book of Galatians, read the Book of Romans; Paul really did this.
"What is it therefore? They will certainly hear that thou art come. Do therefore this that we say to thee..."
The elders, listen, the elders were speaking to Paul.
"We have four men that have a vow on them; these take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges for them, that they may shave their heads: and all shall know that there is no truth in the things whereof they have been informed concerning thee; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, keeping the law. But as touching the Gentiles that have believed, we wrote, giving judgment that they should keep themselves from things sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what is strangled, and from fornication. Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them went into the temple, declaring the fulfillment of the days of purification, until the offering was offered for every one of them" (Acts 21:17-26).
Could you believe that Paul would do this? O Lord Jesus, O Lord Jesus, be merciful to us! Could you believe that by the time of Acts 21 all the elders in Jerusalem would give Paul such advice? They were not the small brothers, but the elders, including James. Their advice in effect was this: "We have decided not to ask the Gentile believers to keep the law, but we the Jews still need to keep the law." Perhaps Paul in taking their advice felt that he should "become all things to all men" (I Cor. 9:22). Perhaps this was his reasoning. But regardless of how much we try to excuse our brother Paul, the Lord Jesus would not agree, and the Lord would not honor what he did. Let us read verse 27: "And when the seven days [for the ritual of purification] were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, when they saw him in the temple, stirred up all the multitude and laid hands on him, crying out, Men of Israel, help: this is the man that teacheth all men everywhere against the people, and the law, and this place; and moreover he brought Greeks also into the temple..." The Lord couldn’t take it any longer; He allowed some people to interfere with the ritual before it was accomplished. It was by this that Paul was put into prison, where he remained until his death. And it was not long after this that the Lord sent the Roman Army under Titus in 70 A.D. to destroy the temple, Jerusalem, and the Jewish religion. The Jewish elders said, "Thou seest, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of them that have believed; and they are all zealous for the law." But it seems that the Lord was saying, "I will send an army to wipe out the whole thing." And He did. That was the end, hallelujah, that was the end! Praise the Lord, since that time we can find no record in history of any elders giving the brothers such advice. Everything was wiped out.
(Christ versus Religion, Chapter 10, by Witness Lee)