From a Pure Heart
How many different churches have you visited? Have you noticed that each church does things just a little bit differently? The way we generally worship in North America is very different than in Africa. In Africa the people dance in the worship service in praise to the Lord – that is something that we generally don’t see here in North American worship services. The way churches conduct their services or the way they sing and praise may be different but there is one thing in common – their hearts are directed to the Lord. The issue of differences is what the apostles were dealing with in Acts chapter 15. Christianity began in the Jewish community; and in their religious tradition was the practice of circumcision for males. Although circumcision had nothing to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ they still felt that it was necessary for anyone who was to believe in Christ. Afterall Jesus was Jewish and went through the rite of circumcision himself.
The problem arose when the Jewish heritage Christians began to insist that the Gentile heritage Christians had to honor the rite of circumcision. The Gentile Christians didn’t have any religious practice that was like that. It was not part of their religious culture to do that and it didn’t have anything to do with the acceptance of the gospel message. So here we have two groups of Christians, both with hearts surrendered to the Lord but with very different religious practices. The apostles concluded through discussion and prayer that it is really a matter of the heart and not the practice of religious traditions that matter. Their directives to abstain from things offered to idols was to make sure that the Lord had first place in the heart. That they abstain from blood and from things strangled was a practical application directive to keep everyone healthy as consuming blood and saturated bloody products often led to unnecessary disease and illness. Lastly, abstaining from sexual immorality was the mark of living a righteous life that pleases God. All three of these directives were a sure mark of Christianity as the pagan practices of the day focused on sexual encounters, doing strange things with blood, all in the worship of idols. Ultimately in this case the two groups of Christians even though different in their practices had the same thing in common – that their hearts were in the right place before the Lord.
In our experience today with so many different churches we must honor each other as Christians. Some churches sing hymns, others sing more modern music. Some observe communion every week, some have communion once a month. Some have youth group or Bible study on Wednesdays, others have it on some other day of the week. Their practices may be different from one another but they all have one thing in common – their hearts are directed toward the Lord. Hopefully we will not be blinded by practices or traditions so much that we fail to honor the hearts of fellow Christians.
-Pastor Merry Peterson