The Apostolic Council in Jerusalem
When Christianity had spread throughout the known world and multitudes of pagans began to accept the Christian faith, some Christians were troubled. Christians of Jewish background held that Christians from pagan religions had to strictly observe the rituals of the Law of Moses. As a prerequisite, it should be necessary to turn them first to the Jewish faith because otherwise they could not be saved. This led to heated disagreements among the Christians.
No single apostle was able to resolve such an important question alone. It was determined by the holy apostles together with the presbyters or priests in harmony with the commandments of Christ (cf. Matt. 18:17) to convene the first Apostolic Council in Jerusalem in the year 51 A.D.
After long discussions, the issue was settled by the words of the Apostle Peter. He arose and said that the Lord having elected him in the early days to preach to the gentiles did not make any distinction between Jews and gentiles but to all gave the Holy Spirit; and therefore, Christians converted from pagan religions did not have to keep the rituals of the law of Moses. “We believe,” the Apostle finished his speech, “that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
The speech of the Apostle Peter created a deep impression and was then strengthened still more after the Apostles Paul and Barnabas related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.
After this, the Apostle James, the “brother of the Lord,” arose to address those present at the council. The last word belonged to him as to bishop of the Jerusalem Church and to president of the council (first among equals). His opinions were furthermore important because he himself was a strict adherent of the Law and received for this not only from Christians but also from Jews themselves the epithet “righteous.” Honor was accorded him by his position in the Church, first bishop of Jerusalem, placed there by the Lord Himself. St. James led a strict ascetic life, and he wore a gold name plate which was worn only by the chief priests. He spent whole hours alone in the Temple praying for his people. In Jerusalem, he was honored and respected by the people.
St. James approved the opinion of the Apostle Peter. He showed that it was in agreement with prophecy (Amos 9:11-12) and consequently with divine providence. He proposed, “we should not trouble those of the gentiles, who turn to God, with keeping the rituals of the Law of Moses; but they must refrain from idol worship, from fornication, and from things strangled and blood. They should not do to others what they do not want done to themselves.”
This proposal of the Apostle James was accepted by the apostles, presbyters, and the whole Council unanimously as a resolution of the Council. It was made known to all Christians in a Council decree, which began with the words, “It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…”
Thus the Apostolic Council showed Christians that the decree of the Council, in agreement with the word of the Lord (John 16:13;14:16), is established by the Holy Spirit. This letter of the Apostolic Council brought great joy and comfort to the Christians.
Note: See Acts of the Apostles 15:1-35.
(from: The Law of God by Fr. Seraphim Slobodskoy)