The Truth of the Gospel

July 19, 2006

I have on my desk a disturbing letter from a brother in another city. He describes a congregation torn by disunity. It is a familiar story about Conservatives who hold to the ancient paths, and Liberals who feel they have freedom in Christ. They differ on many familiar topics. The Conservatives question the validity of the conversions of many of the Liberals. And the Liberals refuse to comply with the teachings of the Conservatives.

What is most interesting about this situation is the way the leaders have behaved. One, a well-known Conservative, has shown some openness to accepting the Liberals, though publicly he generally refrained from taking sides. He feared that many were not ready for the issue to be addressed head-on, and that doing so would risk more division. Another preacher, a leading Liberal, has insisted that the matter be settled once and for all, and has shown no interest in compromise. He even stood up publicly and attacked the Conservative leader, and now has distributed an open letter rebuking the Conservative and promoting the Liberal position. Quoting from the open letter:

When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?”

The congregation was in Antioch. The Conservatives (Jews) were holding to the ancient paths of circumcision and the other Jewish customs. The Liberals (Gentiles) were not. The two leaders, Peter and Paul, were taking different approaches to the controversy. One was right and one was wrong.

Why was the Conservative leader (Peter) clearly in the wrong? What was his hypocrisy? It was that he believed that the Gentiles were fully Christian, but he was afraid to stand up for them publicly. His fear kept him from acting on his convictions. That was not “acting in line with the truth of the Gospel.” For that, the Liberal leader (Paul) rebuked him publicly, and wrote an open letter about it, so that we are still discussing the situation nearly 2000 years later.

The same type of conflict occurs in today’s church. The issues have changed. There are walls between Christians due to these issues. Many believe that some of those walls need to come down. But many leaders who believe this are afraid to take a stand. Instead, they try to placate both sides without calling for change. They are walking in Peter’s hypocrisy. The question each of us should ask is, am I acting in line with the truth of the Gospel? Am I more like Peter or Paul in these situations?

It is true that we should just let some issues alone (Rom 14:22). But when it comes to accepting a brother, we must not be silent. Love is the greatest command, and it trumps all other rationales. The issues at hand do not justify failure to accept a brother. We must speak out. If we do not, we are walking in Peter’s hypocrisy, and fall under Paul’s rebuke.

At some point, some people will stand up and rebuke the hypocritical leaders publicly. They might write open letters. They might even name names. Preferably, all that won’t be necessary. Maybe instead, we will all learn to embrace our brothers even when they disagree with us on some things. Let’s pray for that!


  1. Thanks for this insite! Little by little I think we change to become more like Christ. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could get just a taste of the perspective God has on all our arguing???

  2. Alan, Luke 10:27[Jesus said]: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ ; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ “Your perspective on the Peter / Paul situation brings the story to life. Are my beliefs and actions in line with the gospel or traditional boundries? Is my priority loving God and others or holding to the tradition of the Pharisees? It is more than holding to tradition, it can be about judging another’s salvation by extra-biblical standards. At times I catch myself using conservative / liberal less in terms of describing ideology and more in terms of insinuating a lack of spirituality. Thanks for the eye-opening lesson. Phil Spadarowww.RestorationUnity.com

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