15:23 To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia:
24 Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, “You must be circumcised and keep the law” —to whom we gave no such commandment— 25 it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who will also report the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: 29 That you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.
For some eating Kraft Dinner with ketchup on it is heresy. For others not putting ketchup on it is a travesty. For the rest of us eating Kraft Dinner at all is scraping the bottom of the barrel. Each point of view is cherished by those who hold it and viewed with wonder, confusion, or even contempt by others. We struggle with different. Whether it is music or food or customs or culture we all have our tastes and preferences and an definition of "normal". When religion gets thrown into the mix things get really messy. The Jewish people were and are both a religion and a nation. That's a mixture we in our context don't understand. Being Canadian or American or Swedish has no religious implications. Being Jewish does which creates a whole other level of confusion. How do they distinguish between that which is cultural and that which is religious. In other words what customs and laws are tied to the nation and what laws are from God and apply to all people in all places for all time?
The men who came behind Paul believed circumcision was a law for all people for all time. They believed this because they never understood the purpose and intent of it.
Let me give you an example of instructions or rules God gives that are not universal. When God told Manoah and his wife that they were going to have a son (and that this son was going to be special) He gave them specific guidelines to follow. He was never to drink alcohol and his hair was never to be cut.
A religion could be built around these instructions. Certainly religions have been built around less. However the instructions were not for everyone. In fact they were only for their son Samson.
What the Jews were trying to do to the Gentiles was make them Jewish. They wanted these new followers of Jesus to be just like them. They wanted them to eat their Kraft Dinner exactly the same way they did. Sadly we have not changed in 2016. People move to North America from other places and we want them to sing our songs the way we sing them. We want them to dress in whatever way our culture deems appropriate. We get so stressed out trying to make them like us that we make cultural issues and issues of preference into religious issues. We imagine that Jesus is a white North American who loves hymns and haystacks (if that fits our list/culture/preferences).
In reality none of those things are a concern to Jesus. He is not worried about details. He wants to change our hearts. He wants us to be able to embrace different. He wants us to look at the world He created and see that He is a God who loves variety. Most of all He wants our confidence to be fully in Him and not in our customs and culture.
Abraham did not look like us. He did not sing our songs or eat our food. He had more than one wife which was a grave mistake and yet all those differences have no bearing on the fact he will live in the same heaven as we will around the same throne of the same God. And guess what? We and he will discover God is not entirely as we expected Him to be.
The "rules" the council gave to the Gentiles were not to make them "more saved". That's impossible. The "rules" were to help prevent them from slipping back into the idol worship from which Jesus rescued them. A system behind which there was no hope and no god at all. He brought them from darkness into the Light and the rules were a protection to keep them in the Light.
God is good. He meets us where we are and gives us custom tailored instructions to keep us on the only path that leads Home.