Council of Dialogue - Acts 15

1Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this question with the apostles and the elders. 3 So they were sent on their way by the church, and as they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, they reported the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the believers. 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. 5 But some believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and said, “It is necessary for them to be circumcised and ordered to keep the law of Moses.”
Acts 15 (NRSV)
The Ancient Church had rows too, you know; no small dissensions and arguments.  One of the beautiful things that they often did, however, was that they gathered to talk it out.  No, they didn’t take to their blogs, tablets in hand.  No, they didn’t squash each other with tweets. And, no they didn’t manufacture online video campaigns.[1]  They did, modeled after this passage in Acts, meet for councils.  That’s right, they sat down at a table together for dialogue.  They argued it out, having to look each other in the eye. For all our world’s lauded interconnectivity, we’ve somehow managed to create a great deal of distance between Christian factions.  It’s ironic, then, in a world where the trip from Antioch to Jerusalem took days, even weeks, Christians met together to sort through conflict. On the other hand, you and I could probably go years without having to interact with anyone outside our theological and social worlds.  This despite the incredible convenience with which we could get to them.  

Now these councils could get ugly and did get ugly, but one of the profound notions from this passage in Acts is that everyone gets to talk.[2]  Everyone listens as the believing Pharisees argue their case—no matter how wrong Paul thought they were.  This is before freedom of speech.  

I don’t know.  I haven’t much more to say than that.  No matter where we go, how we get there, who we interact with, can we at least pledge ourselves to congenial conversation? An open table where everyone has the freedom to speak?  Can we be people of dialogue?

[1] Notice that almost all of our online campaign are one-way forms of communication—monologues.
[2] The Robber Council of 449 is perhaps the gravest instance of a council gone bad. It’s reported that the proceeding came to blows, that some voices were squelched, and that votes were taken in haste.


  1. Even when we get face-to-face in the modern world we don't always talk TO the other person, we talk AT them. (I'm guilty.) I don't always seek to understand other persons perceptions of a contentious issue OR to be self-aware enough to realize my ego is overruling my ability to change my position in the face of new knowledge/wisdom. I pray that with God's help I can be a better listener than a talker.

  2. Ugly is right! But also, sometimes, beautiful. For me the table around which we gather must be understood as the Lord's Table. Perhaps even literally the Eucharistic Table. But whether literally or not, it is still the Lord's church and it is the Lord's table. I've often been corrected in my theology, my ecclesiology and my politics (church and other) that Judas was at the Table even as the plot unfolded. As far as I can tell, Judas was also at the feet washing service when Jesus asked his disciples, Do you understand what I am doing...? If we can keep the Lord of the Table at the Lord's Table, should we not be able to talk with each other about anything?


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