Some people think its the end of the world when Christians have a dispute. We, as human beings, will have disputes from time to time. Some disputes involve theology and some pertain to other things such as the election of deacons, who mows the church lawn, and so forth.
Paul, Barnabas and other Christians had a couple disputes in Acts 15. We can learn from what they did to help resolve disputes we may have in our church.
Summary of the First Dispute
Note the first dispute in the chapter is over whether the Gentiles should be circumcised upon receiving the Holy Ghost. Paul and Barnabas believed the Gentiles shouldn’t be given burden which is unbearable. Here, he is referring to the obedience of the law. Circumcision was a practice in the Old Testament and under the age of the law. There were many other requirements of the law besides this, which according to Paul was unbearable even for the Old Testament Christians.
That is one of the main points of the law. There is no one who can follow all points of the law. It is there more for a measuring stick than a goal. When we measure ourselves against the requirements of God, we will fall short.
Romans 3:23 “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;”
However, when the age of Grace began, upon Jesus’ resurrection, then the burden changed.
Matthew 11:28-30 “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
How the Christians handled this dispute
We first see that they traveled to Jerusalem to get the opinion of the disciples. Which brings us to the first point:
In the act of seeking religious counsel, they did another important thing:
The apostles reached Jerusalem, and we see a thing the disciples do which we should also do:
After the apostles reached Jerusalem, Paul did something we should also consider.
Finally, we see an element of the decision-making process which is important.
Summary of the Second Dispute
Finally, we see in verses 37 and 38 that Paul and Barnabas have a non-theological dispute. They can’t agree whether to take John with them. Take note of verse 39.
Acts 15:39 “And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other:…”
When the rare circumstances arise and we cannot come to an agreement, we agree to disagree, and if necessary we part ways. Paul took Silas with him, and Barnabas took John with him and they parted ways. I don’t believe it was not an amicable parting. They simply had a disagreement. This should be a rare event. There are only a handful of these events in the entire Bible. If you find yourself “parting company” on more than a couple occasions, perhaps you should look inward and see if you are following the examples of the apostles above.