“Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God”
St. Peter and St. Paul are the twin pillars of the Christian Church. Outstanding figures in the New Testament, their ministry and life are rather more amply set before us than many other New Testament figures. They require our consideration.
Peter is traditionally seen as the presiding authority at the Council of Jerusalem which legitimates the apostolic mission of Paul who will become the Apostle to the Gentiles. The Book of the Acts of the Apostles provides the conciliar decision in the form of a letter, the first ecclesiastical decree we might say, directed to the missions among the non-Jewish or gentile communities. Its claim is that “it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things.” A most remarkable and potent statement. It does not mean that what seems good to us is what is simply and absolutely good to the Holy Spirit; such has been the problem of many a church gathering, especially in our own confused and troubled times. But it does suggest the nature of our participation and engagement with God; particularly, our thinking upon what God has made known to us. And yet the specified “necessary things” must give us pause. They are to “abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity.” What does that have to do with us?
These are moral directives that speak to the both the Hebraic world in its adamant and strong prohibition against idolatry and to the Hellenistic world of the great variety of pagan cults; they also include matters of sexual immorality. Both idolatry and immorality deny the absolute truth of God. That truth, now manifest in the humanity of Jesus Christ, suggests a further moral imperative, namely, a new sense of moral freedom and responsibility, and, most importantly, a call to holiness of life. What underlies these “necessary things” is the recognition that God’s will revealed through the law and the prophets of Israel now has its realization in the Lord Jesus Christ. What is of interest is that both Peter and Paul are present at this Council. It is the only time in the Scriptures that we see them together.