Author: Mark Holland
A key scripture for Mainstream UMC is the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15:1-35
This is the debate about whether or not new converts had to live according to the Law of Moses in order to be saved. The primary issue was circumcision. The result was an ecclesiology (understanding of the church) that was open to everyone.
Circumcision was the definition of being a person of God. It is unambiguous, written in the scriptures in black and white. Circumcision held more than 2,000 years of tradition and history. God says to Abraham, “Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” Genesis 17:14 This was so important that after arriving in the Promised Land God ordered Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites a second time” because they had not been circumcised while wandering in the desert. The site of the circumcision is called Gilgal, which means the hill of the foreskins. Joshua 5:2-9
Paul, himself a Pharisee, knew that circumcision was a law and a tradition that was central to the identity of the people of God. He also believed that faith in Jesus Christ was more important than the law. Remember Paul’s words to the church in Galatia, “Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law; for ’The one who is righteous will live by faith.’” Galatians 3:11
The Apostles in Jerusalem did not accept uncircumcised gentiles because they were caving into culture. They did not accept them to preserve an institution; there was no institution. They made this agreement to preserve community, the ecclesia, the gathered people of Christ. They agreed to go to different mission fields to grow the witness of Jesus Christ. The Apostles agreed to allow for different interpretations of Scripture and Tradition within the same body of Christ.
The One Church Plan stands squarely on the Biblical precedent of allowing Christians to disagree on issues as important as Scripture and Tradition and remain in the same church. The One Church Plan represents an open ecclesiology where we can live with differences.
Rev. Dr. Mark R. Holland
Elder, Clergy Delegate Great Plains Annual Conference
Executive Director, Mainstream UMC