How do decisions get made in the church? What about between churches in different cities, or maybe even different locations of the same church? I think Acts 15 has a lot to say to these various questions.
Some hold that the earliest apostles were a special case as far as leadership and decision-making is concerned, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. Acts 15 is a good example of this. It shows the apostles and elders from the church in Jerusalem meeting with Paul and Barnabas from the church in Antioch to solve an issue together. After coming to a consensus, they sent news back to the church in Antioch.
When I read this, I see: one church, meeting in different locations (cities in this case), solving common issues through processes of consensus (not voting, etc.). I also don’t see hierarchy (like the apostles setting out doctrine for everyone else to agree with). Although, to be fair, clearly the apostles and elders had special roles in the community when it came to leadership. But the apostles didn’t seem to be set above the elders in this process; they worked together.
I also don’t see separate, autonomous churches in Antioch and Jerusalem. Clearly, these churches (or one church in separate locations) were much more closely tied together than congregational or nondenominational churches are today. They were closely united enough to speak truth to one another and help each other move in a similar direction. Antioch was clearly not “autonomous” from Jerusalem, and I don’t think it was just the special case of the earliest apostles that made this the case. Why should it be?
If the apostles weren’t around, then these churches would set their own doctrinal directions, with only suggestions from the other? I don’t think so. Clearly, those apostles were special, but I don’t know that their specialness meant an entirely different process of decision-making. It seems more likely that the earliest Christians were living out their relational connectedness to one another in how they made decisions, and their understanding of being together as one church meeting in many locations.
Why can’t a similar structure to this be utilized today?