Nothing Less, Nothing More

James had a problem, and it was about to split the church.

The good news was that hundreds of new people were beginning to follow Jesus. The bad news was that they were not the right kind of people.

No one doubted their sincerity. No one questioned their devotion. However, their habits were disgusting. Their hygiene was despicable. Their respect for the traditions which had birthed their faith? Deplorable.

Most people wanted them to clean up their act before being welcomed as bona fide church members. After all, for generations a definite separation had existed between them, affirmed and perpetuated by both sides. It was hard enough to accept them at all – couldn’t they at least clean up a little?

A church meeting was called to resolve their differences. Respected leaders from around the country arrived to state their case. For several hours, James carefully listened to both sides.

“The same God who sent Jesus gave us the rules of our behavior. God is not inconsistent. These new believers must follow our old ways, or we must not accept them into fellowship,” said one contingent.

Their argument was attractive. For centuries they had observed a carefully prescribed regiment of behavior. Shouldn’t these new believers be expected to follow suit with a thousand years of religious tradition? What kind of chaos would result if they didn’t?

“But don’t you see?” interjected the opposing side. “Jesus fulfilled our rigorous religious tradition. His sacrifice satisfied the requirements of our laws. If we demand obedience to our old ways, we diminish the value of Jesus’ sacrifice. The message of grace is lost. Either faith in Jesus is sufficient, or faith in Jesus futile.”

This was the essence of the difficulty. As important as the venerated traditions were, they were secondary to the message of grace.

Peter, a good friend of James’, stated it best. “We believe that it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are. Why burden them with rules that we ourselves couldn’t bear?”

It was time to put an end to the debate. Sensing the gravity of the situation, and accepting his responsibility as the accepted leader of the new movement, James asked for the floor. He paused a moment to gather his thoughts.

“We should not make it difficult for those who are turning to God,” he said. “For the sake of unity we will ask them to observe some guidelines, but we will not require them to adopt our religious traditions in order to become followers of Jesus. The message of grace will stand alone.”

Thank you, James. Despite the pressure of your peers and your personal discomfort, you took a stand for what was right. You discerned what was at stake: if it was Jesus AND something else, the gospel would be compromised. Faith in Jesus ALONE was to be the hallmark of this fledgling movement.

With grace and courage, you forged a path for people of every race and nation to follow Jesus in the context of their own culture. You made concessions on things which mattered less, but you held fast to that which mattered most. Oh, for similar wisdom today. God knows we need it.