About the church of Jerusalem and spiritual government
When it comes to the spiritual government, it is often meant to be such an arrangement where preachers in a local church decide on local issues, then if needed, they turn to the missionary preachers, and if there is no common solution, they turn to the elders of Lapland, who have the decisive word. Here we refer to the status of the Jerusalem church and its elders. It is said that whenever problems arose in Christianity, they turned to the elders of Jerusalem. Following that order, it was drawn the conclusion that now the questions are addressed to the elders of Lapland. In the light of the Bible, let us examine what happened at the Apostles' meeting and how the Jerusalem Church evolved.
The Apostles' Meeting
Jerusalem was the Mother Church of Christians and at the beginning it was the center of the Christian Church. The Christian connection to the Jerusalem Church and the Apostles was strong. An example is the meeting of the Apostles held in Jerusalem (Acts 15; Gal. 2). It was held because of a very fundamental question. A question rose among the Jewish Christians, whether even those, who turned from paganism would be bound by the law of Moses and should circumcise themselves. The answer to that question solved, whether all of them could have a common agape meal and enjoy communion together. It means that the question was about the mutual connection inside the Christian church.
After a long discussion and debate, Jesus’ brother Jacob spoke a common answer. According to it, the law of Moses does not apply to the Gentiles, but because of love, they have to take the Jewish conceptions into account. The decision uses the wording: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us”. The special presence of the Holy Ghost apparently prevailed at the meeting. In addition, Peter had received from God a vision related to pure and unclean animals. In fact, the meeting only confirmed what was already taught earlier. The decision served the mutual connection of Christians when it did not demand the same outward practice for Gentile and Jewish Christians.
The strong beginning phase of the Jerusalem Church lasted over 20 years. The apostles gradually departed in different directions, according to the missionary commandment. However, the church was left with local leadership, the elders. James, the Lord's brother, was the most important of them. The situation began to change when a large number of law zealots had come to faith. They still kept the law (Acts 21:20). Some of them also went to different areas to resist Paul's free gospel and the Christianity free from Moses’ law, as the letter to Galatians and other letters tell. Contradictory messages began to become from Jerusalem.
The significance of Jerusalem ended with the martyrdom of James and the destruction of the city. The church ceased to exist. The focus of Christianity then moved to Antioch and to Minor Asia. No clear center or joint leadership was and was no longer needed. Common faith and confession of faith held the church together. The elders or bishops took care of the churches. The big questions were discussed at synods held in different locations. This continued for hundreds of years, until the bishop of Rome, or the pope, began to demand the prince's seat in the whole church. In the Roman church he finally got it. He believed that he was in the place of Peter as a substitute for Christ, and Rome became the permanent center of the Church.
Is it true, therefore, that the problems of the churches were always addressed to the elders of Jerusalem? This meeting was a unique case, and the New Testament does not mention similar cases and does not contain any teaching that we should act like that in the future.
Who has the ultimate authority?
The rock on which we should build, is not the office of Peter, either. In Lutheranism, it has always been believed that the rock is the confession of Peter: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Luther emphasizes in the explanation of Galatians that the name of Apostle does not give any status of spiritual authority. In addition to Paul's words, Luther had before his eyes a lesson in the Church history. Papacy (the office of Pope) was developed from Peter's Apostle office and Rome replaced Jerusalem. There is no justification in God's Word, nor is there any testimony in Church history for the idea of permanent Christian leaders or any headquarters. Faith is not bound to place or to persons.
So, what is the spiritual government, who has the highest authority? The New Testament testifies that the Church's head can only be the Christ (Eph. 4:15; Col. 1:18; 2:10). He governs by his Word, by the teaching bound to Bible’s word, and by the Holy Ghost. It is a biblical form of government. Other forms of government are human. They have their own place, but in spiritual matters they have no power of judgment. So, no one can speak in the name of the Holy Spirit without confirmation of the Word of God. There are no principals in the congregation when it comes to questions of faith. All are brothers and sisters and they are governed by the head, Christ (Matt. 23: 8-10). People and the congregation can go wrong and get lost. God's Word guides you back to the right path if you are obedient to it.