Overcoming the Prejudices of a Religious Upbringing

Acts 15:1-15

Certain men came which came down from Judæa taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question…

And when they were come to Jerusalem…there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise [the Gentiles], and to command them to keep the law of Moses. And the apostles and elders came together for to consider this matter.

And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; and put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.

Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them. And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: Simon [Peter] hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets, as it is written…

MATTHEW HENRY (1662-1714): It is very hard for men suddenly to get clear of their prejudices: those that had been Pharisees, even after they became Christians, retained some of the old leaven. All did not so—witness Paul―but some did. And they had such a jealousy for the ceremonial law, and such a dislike of the Gentiles, that they could not admit the Gentiles into communion with them, unless they would be circumcised, and thereby engage themselves to keep the law of Moses. This was, in their opinion, needful; and for their parts they would not converse with them unless they submitted to it.

JOHN CALVIN (1509-1564): There remained no Phariseeism in Paul, but a great part [of the Pharisees] had gotten the habit of stubbornness by long custom, which they could not shake off so easily by and by. They were likewise puffed up with pride, so that they did tyrannously covet to make all other men subject to their decrees.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES (1899-1981): The whole tragedy of the Jew at that time was that he’d missed the real point. He’d missed the real sense of values. He thought that it was circumcision in the flesh that mattered. What Paul and others had to teach him was that it was circumcision in the spirit that really matters―that the man who is right with God is a man who has been circumcised in his spirit…They were only interested in the externals, the forms, the ceremonies, and the rituals, and missed the spirit completely.

MARTIN LUTHER (1483-1546): No one would think what danger there is in traditions and ceremonies. Of the law cometh a trust and affiance in works, and where that is, there can be no proper trust in Christ.

JOHN GILL (1697-1771): After that council, when Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch, Peter came there; and the following contention happened [between Peter and Paul]:

JOHN CALVIN: Peter Judaized in such a manner as to “compel the Gentiles” to suffer bondage, and at the same time to create a prejudice against Paul’s doctrine.

ADAM CLARKE (1760-1832): Here was Peter’s fault. He was convinced that God had pulled down the middle wall of partition that had so long separated the Jews and Gentiles, and he acted on this conviction, associating with the latter and eating with them; but when certain Jews came [to Antioch], who it appears considered the law still to be in force, lest Peter should place a stumbling-block before them, he withdrew from all commerce with the converted Gentiles, and acted as if he himself believed the law to be still in force, and that the distinction between the Jews and the Gentiles should still be kept up.

MARTIN LUTHER: It is much to be marvelled that Peter, being so excellent an apostle, should fall into this error, for at the council in Jerusalem, he was very bold in defence of this very article, when the Pharisees which believed, held that it was necessary to circumcise the Gentile converts, and command them to keep the law of Moses. Peter then protested vehemently against putting a yoke upon the Gentiles.

JOHN WESLEY (1703-1791): Even believers are apt to retain their former turn of mind, and prejudices derived therefrom.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: I think this is true of many of us. We may have been worshipping for years in a given way and manner. Why have we done that?  There is only one answer: it is how we were brought up. We have never thought about it, we have never examined it, we have never asked any questions. We have inherited a custom; we have inherited a tradition and, indeed, a prejudice.

JOHN BUNYAN (1628-1688): Martin Luther himself, though he saw many things were without ground which he had received for truth, had yet to work hard enough, as he himself intimates, to get his conscience clear from all those roots and strings of inbred error.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: Luther’s view of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper—Luther wrecked the whole prospect of comprehension and Protestant unity on this one particular. As somebody has put it so well, “The sacrament of communion became the apple of discord.” It is a terrible thing, but it is true…Just before his death in 1546, Luther read a little book by John Calvin which bore the title A Little treatise on the Holy Supper of our Lord, and having read it, this is what he said to Melanchthon: “In this matter of the sacrament we have gone much too far. I will commend the thing to the Lord.  Do something after my death.”  Pathetic, is it not?

MARTIN LUTHER: Learn by me how difficult it is to disencumber oneself of errors which the whole world confirms by its example, and which, from long habit, have become a second nature.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: And it’s still the same…You know there are people who are much more loyal to the tradition of their particular denomination than they are to the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s generally an accident that they belong to the denomination; it was simply that their parents did, and they were brought up in it, but they’ll fight for it, they’ll quarrel about it―this is the important thing! and Christ and His truth are somehow forgotten entirely and are not mentioned…Very well, there’s the cause, what of the cure?

AUGUSTINE (354-430): We must surrender ourselves to the authority of Holy Scripture.

J. H. M. d’AUBIGNÉ (1794-1872): The infallible authority of the Word of God alone was the first and fundamental principle of the Reformation…The Reformers and the Apostles held up the Word of God alone for light, just as they hold up the sacrifice of Christ alone for righteousness. To attempt to mix human authority with this absolute authority of God, or human righteousness with this perfect righteousness of Christ, is to corrupt Christianity in its two foundations.

C. H. MACKINTOSH (1820-1896): This is a most weighty principle for every child of God and every servant of Christ—the vital importance of submitting, in all things, to the inspired testimony—the voice of God in Scripture.


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