BELIZE JOURNAL PT. 1: The nation now awaits the final reshaping of new constitution of the Belize Association of Evangelical Churches. The first draft was revised and expanded again and again. The more it grew, the more there was to disagree about. Finally, Belize church leaders realized that we had to reduce it back to essentials we could all agree on. Anything beyond the essentials could go into a policy book, which is easier to change than a constitution. Each district or regional chapter could develop their own distinctive policy book. Now Belize church leaders must decide, what are the essentials?
It’s not unusual to have to tangle and even wrangle before laying the foundation for a major new work. It happened at the Jerusalem Council after Paul planted new churches in Galatia. It happened at the first ecumenical council which wrote the Nicene Creed after Christianity won approval and favor with the Roman empire. It also happened at the Constitutional Convention after the US won its war of independence from England.
Now it’s happening here. It started just after Belize church leaders—from both BAEC and Belize Council of Churches—won a decisive victory over the LGBT agenda. On October 3, they held a long-anticipated meeting with Prime Minister Dean Barrow. He agreed that the nation’s new gender policy should define gender as male and female only. He allowed the word “sexuality” to replace the broader term “sexual orientation.” These vital changes took care of about half of the concerns of Belize church leaders about the gender policy. They came after three nights of prayer in every district of Belize. Now Christians must pray that we stay united as we occupy the new ground we have gained.
After Paul gained new ground in Galatia, Jerusalem church leaders were divided over how to occupy it. Some insisted that Gentile converts obey the entire Law of Moses (Acts 15:5). They taught, “’Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.’ The Book of Acts goes on to say, “This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question” (Acts 15:1-2).
Years before, Paul had brought the Gentile convert Titus with him to Jerusalem. He went to James, Peter and John privately for confirmation of his gospel (Gal. 2:1-10). But those three “pillars” of the church did not oblige Titus to be circumcised. Paul writes “…those men added nothing to my gospel. On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews” (verses 6-7).
When Peter acted in a way contrary to that gospel—by refusing to eat in fellowship with uncircumcised Gentile converts—Paul had to rebuke him (Gal. 2:11-16). He told Peter, “How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? We…know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ” (verses 14-16). We can see from the later Jerusalem Council that Peter accepted this rebuke.
At that Council, Peter and other leaders did let the circumcision group have their say. But Peter backed up Paul’s testimony of God’s great work among the uncircumcised Galatian Gentiles. Peter reminded them of his own testimony about the Holy Spirit filling uncircumcised Gentiles at Cornelius’ house. James chimed in with Scripture from Amos 9:12 about “all the Gentiles who bear My name.” The Spirit and the Word are an unbeatable combination. They brought the Council into unity. James could write of the Council’s decision to the Gentiles, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” The Council required the Gentiles to observe only a few rules beyond the essentials that Paul had preached: to abstain from fornication, and from eating blood and strangled animals (Acts 15:4-29).
We must pray that Belize church leaders will agree on the essentials in this way. That they will hear what each group is saying. That they will discern what the Spirit is saying to the churches, as confirmed by God’s Word. And that we all will grow in true unity as we prepare to gather for the May 24 Global Day of Prayer…
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