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How the Spirit helps us to discern the truth

Acts 15.28-29
The Baptist missionary David Kerrigan writes, ‘While the core of the [Christian] faith [always remains] unchanged, God’s Spirit… [constantly reveals] new truths.’ At least that’s what St Luke believed.[1]

‘In Acts 15 we’re told that the mission of the church [had] reached a boundary place. Gentiles [were] becoming believers and the church leaders [were] trying to work out whether the Jewish laws’ they had hitherto obeyed were ‘mandatory for’ everyone or a matter of culture and tradition which the Gentiles were free to ignore. 

At an historic Council in Jerusalem, 'a renewed theology [emerged] in which the church leaders declared, “It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials…”’

‘Here,’ says David Kerrigan,'We see… theology sparking mission, and mission demanding a courageous re-examination of theology’ through ‘wise leadership, scriptural reflection and, above all, the com­munal discernment of [what] the Holy Spirit’ is saying to us.

‘To this day,’ he goes on, 'Mission and theology enjoy the same interplay. In past generations, missionaries encountered polygamy in Africa and caste divisions in India, and had to formulate fresh... responses to [these] new situations. Today, [whenever] the Church engages with politics, science, economics or the arts, we need to explore each [one] in the light of both inherited and emerging theological insight[s], and not be afraid to do so. [So] sexuality, IVF, climate change, genetic screening and assisted dying are [all] issues where the Church needs to debate wisely, study scripture deeply and discern the mind of Christ through the Holy Spirit.’

Inevitably this means that we will sometimes disagree about what the Spirit is saying.What seems good to some Christians will seem a step too far for others. The Council of Jerusalem decreed that meat which had been offered to idols when it was butchered couldn't be purchased and eaten afterwards by Christians. Later Paul changed his mind about that and said it could be eaten by Christians, so long as they didn't upset more traditional-minded members of their congregation.

Today we face the same delicate decisions. We will sometimes disagree about what seems good, but we have to try to do so without falling out of communion with one another or disrespecting one another. In other words, we may sometimes have to agree to disagree

[1] David Kerrigan, Guidelines, May 2017, The Bible Reading Fellowship.


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