Standing Fast In The Liberty By Which Christ Has Made Us Free (See 5:1)
DEFENDING THE GOSPEL
As this is being written, the pastors of the CLC are packing their bulging briefcases, loaded with study materials. Every other June the congregations send them to the ILC campus for three days of intensive conferencing. Having had some play time together on the Sleepy Eye golf course en route to Eau Claire, they are ready for serious work. Long days of worship, prayer, and study. Carefully prepared theological papers allow for much discussion and–hopefully–growth in understanding and zeal for the work of the gospel. The Spirit will be on hand to recharge batteries that have been drained by the demands of the busiest seasons of the church year.
The aim of it all is the preservation of “the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). To that end the apostle urges: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (v. 2). Since preachers tend to be impassioned in their “defense and confirmation of the gospel” (Php. 1:7), this admonition is most necessary, and usually well received.
The mood and manner of this coming conference may well be uplifting as well as decisive. One of the essayists recently expressed the hope that we might “manage to contend for the truth of the gospel WITHOUT BEING CONTENTIOUS.” Isn’t that a great line!
Contending Without Being Contentious
Our study portion lets us see what went on at the vital APOSTOLIC CONVENTION described in Acts 15. The big issue to be dealt with: Can believers in Christ of Jewish background serve God in harmony with Gentile believers? False “brothers” had infiltrated the ranks of the faithful, spying out ways by which they might drag Christians back into the bondage of the Mosaic Law, requiring them to be circumcised and eat kosher.
The problem seems far from the arena of present day concerns until we stop to think that every error the adversary has sprung on the church will somehow impinge on the gospel of justification by faith without the works of the law. From wherever the attack might come, we have reason to say with Paul, we will “not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain.”
We should note, however, how Paul met this threat in Jerusalem. How carefully he moved, lest he bruise the bond of brotherhood in the conflict.
How Very Carefully!
1) He assures his readers that it was not his idea to leave Cilicia and travel to Jerusalem for the conference. “I went in response to a revelation.” From God, we may be sure. Called, not a self-appointed busybody in other men’s matters.
2) He took the right men with him. Joseph, a Jewish Christian from Cyprus who had a church nick-name: Barnabas (“one who encourages”). He had a great gift of quieting troubled waters. And also Titus, a Gentile Christian of renown.
Titus would be a living example to the Jerusalem church of someone who would be rightfully accepted as a believer WITHOUT submitting to the Jewish law of circumcision. The leaders in Jerusalem — James, Peter, and John — apparently went along with this after a private conference Paul had with them.
3) He was determined not to have a power struggle of the sort that plagues so much contending for the gospel in church organizations. He recognized that others (“pillars”) had leadership responsibility in the Jerusalem area and did not undermine them. They agreed to go separate ways. The trio would lead in the work among Jewish believers; Paul would lead in carrying the gospel to the Gentile world (promising to continue this practice of gathering funds for the impoverished church in Judea, a work of bonding love in fellowship).
Contest Without . . .
In 1909 a study of Galatians was drafted by a Professor J. P. Koehler, one of the theological titans of the “Wauwatosa Seminary.” Before he himself became a victim of some very contentious contending, he offered this good counsel to the church:
“A sincere person who defends the correct doctrine is indeed firmly convinced of it and therefore exerts all his energies to make it prevail. But his sincerity presupposes that he will always remain truthful in this controversy. Pure doctrine does not find it necessary to gain an outward victory with sophisticated arguments or with political means. Therefore the sincere teacher of correct doctrine is always inwardly free for discussion so that he actually has the same stand as the other sincere, but tempted Christian: he is ready to be instructed by God’s Word, although he stands by his teaching with a divine sureness.” *
To this we do well to take heed . . . .
–Pastor Rollin A. Reim