When we think of councils, may think of Vatican II. Some may think of Trent. The first reading today recounts the first council in the Church, the Council of Jerusalem.
The key dispute in the early church was over whether or not you had to first be a Jew in order to be a Christian. For women it was a simple matter for men it involved circumcision. One can only imagine what that would have been like for an adult in the first century.
Acts 15:6 tells us "the apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider of this matter."
From that day forward, when there has been a great dispute in the Church, she has gathered her leaders. When the apostle passed from this life to eternal life, the bishops (episkopos) became their successors. The word translated in Acts as elders is presbyter, which is wheat I was ordained on May 13, 1989. While in English we translate it as priest, that Latin remains true to the Greek and even modern Spanish still calls a priest, presbitero, which is why instead of Rev. Wayne Ball, in Spanish you would write Pbro. Wayne Ball.
In each diocese a bishop is to have a Presbyteral council made up of some of his presbyters (priests). And when there is a need the Bishop of Rome gathers his brother bishops in council. They also bring with the expert theologians. The Councils are named for the place where they convened. The most famous Nicea took place in 325. It's six successors all took place in Constantinople, Ephesus, Calcedon or back in Nicea. These councils shaped the core of what we believe. For that reason many other Christians use the creed shaped by these councils and usually called the Nicean Creed.
Some try to portray the Catholic Church as not sufficiently biblical, because Catholics do not memorize chapter and verse numbers. I did that as a child in the baptist church and see a value in it. But more important to me as an adult is that we not simply recite verse, but live the model given us in the scriptures.
When it convened in 1962 the Second Vatican Council was following the example given in Acts 15. John's gospel reminds us of how Jesus prayed that we would remain one.(Jn 17). No where in the New Testament does Jesus encourage self appointed leaders. On the contrary St. Paul warns the people in his second letter to the Corinthians about being taken in by what he sarcastically calls "super-apostles", self appointed preachers teaching another message.
To our American ears it is a hard truth that no where does the New Testament suggest that the Church was intended to be a democracy. The apostles were not elected. Nor did the apostles elect Peter and say "you are Peter and upon this Rock I will build my church." As Paul and the other apostles established church after church, they appointed the leaders for the community. The closest we come to democracy is the choice of the deacons, and even that choice had to be confirmed by the apostles.
We could throw out councils, bishops, priests, and deacons, but that would mean throwing out the Bible. We cannot cherry pick the New Testament we must embrace it as a whole.
Today as we recall that first council, we are reminded that at the center of our faith is the belief that the same Holy Spirit that guided their deliberations, guided the deliberations at the Second Vatican Council and will continue to guide the Church every day until the second coming of Christ when the fullness of the kingdom is revealed.