Now, Contending for the Faith. In this regular feature, Dave and Tom respond to questions from listeners and readers of The Berean Call. Here is this week’s question: “Dear Dave and Tom, I appreciate very much what you guys do, even though I hear people complain that you cause division in the church. I personally don’t see you doing that. However, you do seem to cover a lot of criticisms in your newsletter. My question is: when it comes to doctrinal differences, what do you see as the essential teachings of the Bible which we must be on the same page in order to have fellowship in the truth?”
Tom: Dave, we just dealt with baptism, and that’s important. If you believe that it saves you, according to Paul, whether it be turning to the law or works or whatever, it’s another gospel. So, somebody who is preaching that, with regard to salvation, is teaching another gospel, and I think that’s at least one of the major doctrines that people have to be concerned about or else it won’t save them, and that’s wrong.
Dave: I think you quoted last week from Galatians, chapter 1, where Paul says anyone preaches another gospel, “Whether I or an angel from heaven,” he says, “preach any other gospel than that which you have received, let him be accursed.” So, I think that would be the standard. We would like to correct as gently and kindly as possible. We would like to be corrected ourselves if we are off on something, even other than the gospel, because the Bible talks about more than just the gospel. But it is the gospel that saves, and that’s where we would have to draw the line. We see that illustrated by Paul in Galatians, chapter 2. Now Paul rebuked Peter publicly, and that would be pretty serious. Isn’t this the Apostle Peter? You are going in front of an audience? You are going to rebuke him?
Tom: It says, “before them all.”
Dave: Let’s see what he rebuked him about. Well, it was because, he says, Galatians:2:14: “When I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of the Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?”
We actually have some of that going on in so-called Hebrew Christian fellowships today. Some of them may call their pastor “Rabbi,” and they try to keep the law, and they get involved in various Jewish traditions, and so forth. And this is sort of what Peter had done. Peter—well, he had been taken into the household of Cornelius—we talked about that earlier—a Gentile. He had found that the Gentiles could believe. The gospel was also efficacious for them if they would believe it. When he came back to Jerusalem, the rest of the apostles jumped all over him and said, “Look, you went into the household of Gentiles. You can’t do that!” When he told them what had happened and that when he preached the gospel to them the Spirit of God came upon them and they were born again of the Spirit of God, then they said, “Oh, well, isn’t that wonderful, the gospel is for the Gentiles also!” Well, that brought a new freedom among the disciples, and, in fact, you had—well, some people call it the first church council held in Jerusalem, Acts 15—because some people came down from Jerusalem to Antioch, which was the first Gentile church, and they began to tell them, “It’s not enough for you to believe the gospel. You’ve got to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses.”
Tom: For eternal life.
Dave: Right. This relates to what we talked about before—adding to the gospel. And Paul would not stand for that for a moment. And Paul and Barnabus went back up to Jerusalem, and they had it out with the apostles, okay? So they recognized that Peter was freely mingling with the Gentiles, but he was not as strong a character, apparently, as Paul; not as firmly established, because, well, let me read verse 12: “For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision.”
So a little bit of pressure was put on Peter, and they got him back in line: “Maybe those Gentiles can get saved by believing the gospel, but we’re Jews, and we don’t have anything to do with them and we do not eat with them and we keep separate from them,” and so forth. That’s a denial of the body of Christ. But Paul said it’s a denial of the gospel. You’re not living out the gospel, and that is why he says, “But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.” He had caved in to this pressure.
Tom: Dave, a quick question, a tough question: what about Paul, later, when he had himself—shaved his head, set himself up to go through the purification rites and so on. Was he doing the same thing that Peter did?
Dave: I don’t believe so. He was not imposing that on Gentiles. He was still a Jew, and for example, keeping the Passover has significance to a Jew. It doesn’t have significance to me as a Gentile. Their ancestors were delivered from Egypt. And so I think that there are certain things that are involved in the Old Testament that would still be valid for a person who is a Jew to keep them. So, I am not going to…
Tom: Get on Paul’s case? (laughing)
Dave: (laughing) No, I am not, in that respect.
Tom: It’s tough when he says, “Follow me—these things that you see me do, you do.” It’s a little tougher situation.
Dave: Yeah, but Paul is a Jew, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, he said, and, on the other hand, Paul would never say that what he was doing had anything of significance as far as salvation was concerned.
Tom: He wanted to be all things to all men so that he could have an opportunity to preach the gospel without denying the gospel.
Dave: Right, and he goes on to say that when they wanted Timothy to be circumcised, he would not allow that for that purpose. So, I’m not going to go after Paul. I think he was the chief of the apostles. He knew the Lord personally, and he was taught of the Lord, and although no human being is perfect, I don’t find any flaw in Paul. And although they told him that he was going to be bound—he would be killed—if he would go up to Jerusalem, and the Holy Spirit was testifying this. He went anyway, but the Holy Spirit didn’t tell him not to go, just told him what would happen to him. And he said, “I am ready to die,” and he believed that he was to go there and I think he really was.
So anyway, Tom, it’s a tough business trying to decide some of these questions! We do our best to go by the Word of God. We stand on what we believe the Word of God teaches. We don’t split theological hairs, we don’t try to be exclusive and say that everybody else is wrong. There are certain things for which we must stand: the gospel of Jesus Christ—we cannot compromise on that. But “as much as lieth within us, we try to live peaceably with all men.”