aving come to faith just as the “Jesus movement” of the early 70’s took off I have a special place in my soul for the music, teachers and some of the theological teaching that came out of that period of church history. When a group of ‘kids’ like us got around someone usually brought up how the First Century Church was so much better than the church of the 70’s.
It was simpler, purer, and less driven by money. It cared for people more and took God’s Word serious. Now, 40 years later, I see how stupid we were. To quote one blogger, “The church in Acts was immature” (Unger). The church in the first century had people bragging about sleeping with their step-moms and during communion, some got drunk and ate most of the food before others could get off work (1 Cor.). They fell for teachers who claimed Jesus had already come back (1 Thess.).
In fact what should have been common was held up as a great mark of maturity for the followers of Christ in Berea who “Received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). One more thing the church in Acts had was oversight. No congregation did things on their own. None went their own way and decided to believe what they wanted. The Apostles were in Jerusalem and served as the council of the Church and made the determination as to what God was doing. Structures are important, even in the 1st Century
(Dunnam and Ogilvie p 33). That is proven in the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15.
Paul, Barnabas, and Titus have come back to Jerusalem with an offering for the poor but also with a story to tell of how God had touched Gentiles with Christ. Standing there, against them were a group of people who had tried to enforce Jewish rules of eating kosher and even circumcision on these Gentiles.
The Galatian account of Acts 15 only affirms what the Apostles told Paul and Barnabas—that there is only one gospel. There is not one gospel for Jews and another gospel for Gentiles. And we do well if we do not forget this truth today because there are many different gospels being proclaimed in our world today.
What we need to know
There is no perfect church
To quote an old saying, “If you joined the perfect church it would no longer be perfect.” Oh, I’ve met people looking for them. They’ve run from multicultural to house churches and eventually into the Greek Orthodox Church.
Because of this fact, we should never be surprised when there are issues such as Paul faced. Last Thursday an article was published about a paper Pope Francis might sign which would declare an end to the rivalry between the Evangelical Christians and the Catholic Church. Problems will still happen from “The most rabid, anti-Catholic, fire-breathing fundamentalists right through to the prosperity gospel televangelists, ‘Evangelical’ Anglo-Catholics, charismatics and modernist Protestants. (Dwight Longenecker in (Coppen)).
In the midst of any concerns, arguments, schisms, disagreements, revolts or whatever word you want to use the key is to discern is they are ‘line in the sand’ issues or ‘something you can live with and work around’.
What Paul was facing was the first type of issue. No compromise could be made with these people who wanted to include Jewish law in the Gospel. The false brothers in vv. 3-4 are described as traitors or spies who infiltrate an enemy camp. Not only were they spies but their spying intruded into the ministry Paul was attempting to carry out
(Logenecker p 51).
There is ONE Gospel
Today there are those who want to make Paul a second-class apostle. They will separate the “Gospel of Jesus” from the “Legalism of Paul”. At their best they are deluded. At their worst they are demonic.
Paul does not stand outside of Christ but smack dab in the center of what Jesus’ gospel was all about. “As strong-willed and independent as Paul was, he gave authority due respect. He may have gone his own way, but he did so in the context of structure and relationship. Even though he differed from the leaders in Jerusalem he went and talked with them, kept communication open, and recognized authority and structure” (Dunnam and Ogilvie p 33).
Jesus is portrayed by some as a love of everyone, who criticized the 1%, helped the poor and was killed because he was a political threat. These same people see Paul as bipolar, who writes about no male or female only to command women to be silent, who supports slavery be telling slaves to submit
(Elliott). John Stott writes how today we are told we “do not need to pay too much attention to his [Paul’s] writings. They forget or deny that he was an apostle of Jesus Christ, uniquely called, commissioned, authorized and inspired to teach in His [Jesus’] name” (Stott p 32).
Ironically, the Judaizers are the one who claim Paul’s gospel is different than that of Peter’s and the other Apostles. How does Paul confront this sabotage? He brings with him a Jewish leader known to Peter and the others—Barnabas and a Gentile believer who was being trained by Paul—Titus as examples of the Gospel he’s been preaching.
What Jerusalem and these apostles do is offer Paul the right-hand of fellowship. They do not demand Titus be circumcised. They did not place limits on or added anything to Paul. Paul’s letter to the Galatians demonstrates that
The Gospel has to be maintained
There is line to be walked between sisters and brothers who believe the same gospel we do but do things differently or emphasis different aspect of theology and those who are ‘sham-Christians’ as the NEB refers to Paul’s enemies.
Not only did the Apostles in Jerusalem recognize and accept Paul’s ministry there was a division of labor with Paul focusing on the Gentiles and the others on the Jews. Let me go back for a moment to the 1970’s and the Jesus movement. There were those who wanted those who were coming to know Jesus to look like their parents. Tim Wise, who tried to bring about change in the church he had started to attend was told by the pastor, “'Ted, perhaps you're not a Baptist... I should have suspected it; I had hair down to my shoulders, a beard and was the only one in hipster clothes…many of my friends where becoming Christians; some even attended church with us. The pastor, in an effort to keep the peace with his regular congregation, put us in a special category. He called it a ministry; I called it prejudice (Wise).”
What his preacher and others forgot was that THE ONE Gospel confronts people and transforms them, not into clones of what came before but into new creations. At First Presbyterian in Richmond, Lloyd Gaut was freaked out not by our clothes and like, but by the fact we brought our bibles, sat in the first three pews in front of the pulpit, and wrote notes in them as he preached. We were doing things our parents would have never considered.
In the years to come those who want to maintain this one gospel are going to be pressured to accept a sham-gospel from sham-preachers. We’re going to hear ‘God is all about Love’ when what is being taught is sentimentality. We’re going to hear ‘God is accepting’ and verses where people walk away from Jesus will be ignored. We’re going to hear we shouldn’t make people feel bad, guilty, uneasy, or sad. We need to remind people such experiences are what leads to repentance and the chance to start over.
How do you tell the fake Gospel from the real Gospel? It’s like a diet. Any diet that says you don’t have to change what you eat or exercise is a lie. Likewise, any Gospel that claims you can keep on doing what you’ve always done and never read the Bible or pray is a lie. Let’s strive for the truth. Let us pray.
Coppen, Luke. "The Pope's great Evangelical gamble"." 23 Thursday 2015. Cahtolic Hearld UK.
Dunnam, Maxie D. and Lloyd J. Ogilvie. Galatians / Ephesians / Philippians / Colossians / Philemon. Vol. 31. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.
Elliott, Neil. "The Apostle Paul on Sexuality." n.d. thewitness.org.
Logenecker, Richard N. Galatians. Volume 41:. Word Biblical Commentary. Vol. 41. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998. Print.
Stott, John. Only One Way. Inter-Varsity Press, 1973. Print.
Unger, Lyndon. "Should we strive to be like the church in Acts?" 19 September 2014. The Cripplegate: for a new generation of non-conformists.
Wise, Tim. "Jason Questions a Jesus Freak." 13 September 1997. pbc.org.
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