If you read this blog regularly (I try to be sporadic so that doesn't happen and I'm sorry if you have been sucked in to attempting to read it regularly), then you know for the past year or so I have been in a love affair with Paul's letter to the Galatians.
About a month ago I began a teaching series through the letter in my Sunday School Class (Sunday School at our church is basically a sermon tacked onto the front of our morning worship).
I have reached Paul's confrontation with Peter in chapter 2:11-21. This will be my lesson this coming Sunday.
Now, I am sure that in the blogosphere there are few, if any, more confrontational bloggers than myself. But in reading and re-reading this passage I think that I may not be confrontational enough.
I know, I know....But please hear me out on this one.
Read Paul's encounter with Peter in Galatians. I wonder how long it took Paul, upon seeing Peter eating with the Jews and avoiding the Gentiles, to muster up the courage to say what he said? Not very long if you ask me. Paul knew exactly what was going on and what was at stake if it continued. In my mind I can see Paul walk into the 'fellowship hall', take a look around, first at the right side, there's Peter, Barnabas, and the rest of the Jewish Christians, and then at the left, there's Titus and the Gentile Christians sitting together. There may have been a double-take as his Coca-Cola came spewing out of his mouth at the utter amazement of Peter and Barnabas being so hypocritical and fearful of the Judaizers. I think Paul walked right up to Peter right then and there and filled him full of Burroughsian Gospel fear.
Of course that is highly dramatized rendering of the event, but I think we can grasp what was going on.
Now, I'm not going to go into detail on the perils of the false teachings of the Judaizers, because we've all heard that and I will probably be posting my sermons from Galatians up here in the future, when I get time, and there will be plenty about it then. Instead, I'm going to just look at this generally as a template for preserving the truth of the Gospel.
See, earlier in the same chapter Paul says that he, Peter, James, and John together confronted those Judaizers in order to preserve the truth of the Gospel for the Galatians.
"to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you." (Gal 2:5)And now in Paul's confrontation of Peter he says,
"But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all,'If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?'" (Gal 2:14)I think it is abundantly clear that preserving the truth of the Gospel is Paul's passion in these verses.
But what was the problem? Did Peter teach something wrong? Did he fall into the snare of proclaiming a false Gospel? All clues point to 'No', Peter was not teaching anything contrary to the Gospel with his speech. His actions, though, are a different matter. By his actions he had denied the truth of the Gospel and led other Jewish Christians to the camp of the false Gospel preachers. And then Paul adds that even Barnabas, his co-laborer among the Gentiles, was led astray by Peter's actions.
Which leads us to a point that we would do well to consider. The truth of the Gospel is not only an intellectual enterprise, but a Way Of Life (shameless advertising of the church my father pastors in Titusville, FL. If you're in that area, it's a good church for you to join.)
We have all heard that along with talking the talk of Christianity you must also walk the walk, and that the greatest testimony that we give is the testimony of our actions. The same is true of false Gospels. Our actions speak louder than our words. It is entirely possible to preach the true Gospel with your lips and live a false Gospel with your life. But take care that you remember that the Gospel that is preached with your life is the one that is heard and followed by those around you.
Paul realized this and like Barney Fife, God rest his soul, he nipped it in the bud. Peter's stature, position, fame, preaching and past experiences meant nothing to Paul now. Peter was in the wrong and Paul dealt with it. And the error of Peter was such that Paul made no bones about calling him to give account before all who were present. In this way Paul confronted error and preserved the truth of the Gospel for us.
Thank you Paul.
Now, how can I become that confrontational? How can I be that fearless, full of Gospel truth, and bold?
The answer is, I believe, through studying the Gospel. By knowing the Gospel better than I know my own name, I will become emboldened and saturated with the Gospel so that I can recognize deviations from the the truth of the Gospel when I see them.
Obviously, some errors are more destructive than others. But they are all errors. They are not all equal, but they are all of the same substance. They all need to be confronted, but not in the same way.
For example, T. D. Jakes' denial of the Trinity is a heresy of the highest rank, Arminianism is an error of a lower rank. T. D. Jakes is a false prophet with a false gospel, Johnny Hunt is a Gospel preacher who cannot see or understand the great Doctrines of Grace. Johnny Hunt needs to instructed as a brother, and T. D. Jakes reprimanded and censured as a heretic.
Further, being confrontational is not just for the sake of confrontation. The purpose of confrontation must always be for the preservation of the truth of the Gospel. The Gospel is God's truth entrusted to the Church. It is our duty to keep it pure and unmixed with the leaven of error.
We owe this much to our God.