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When we talk about “the gospel in church history,” it is necessary to start at the beginning of church history—in those initial decades recorded for us in the book of Acts. Significantly, the essence of the gospel was the central issue at the first major council in church history.
The Jerusalem Council met around AD 49 or 50, nearly twenty years after the church was established on the Day of Pentecost, and 275 years before the next major church council—the Council of Nicaea (which convened in 325). The Jerusalem Council, which is recorded in Acts 15, assembled to answer one primary question: “What is the essence of the gospel?” But to fully understand what was at stake, we need to begin with Paul’s first missionary journey, found in Acts 13–14.
The Proclamation of the True Gospel (Acts 13–14)
In the first few years of church history, immediately following the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), the church was composed entirely of Jewish Christians. It wasn’t until the conversion of the Samaritans (in Acts 8) and Cornelius (in Acts 10) that non-Jews began to be incorporated into the body of Christ. After highlighting Cornelius’s conversion, Luke detailed the spread of the gospel into Gentile lands (in Acts 11:19–24), culminating in the formation of a predominantly Gentile church in Syrian Antioch.
The inclusion of Gentiles into the church represented a major paradigm shift for Jewish Christians. For the previous 1500 years of Israel’s history, since the time of Moses, God had been specifically working through the nation of Israel. But now, in the church, Gentiles were being saved without having to first become Jewish proselytes. Of course, God had prepared the apostles for this by saving Cornelius while Peter was present. Continue Reading…