Apostle Paul was willing to resist church headquarters
By Dave Havir
BIG SANDY, Texas--Are you aware of the example in the Bible of the apostle Paul not allowing apparent church leaders to tell him what to preach? (The incident is found in Galatians 2:6, but we will read it later in this article.)
Before we read the main account of this article, let's notice a few concepts.
The right to organize
Freedom of religion is a valued blessing here in the United States and in other parts of the world. Members of the Body of Christ live in nations that do not have freedom, but many of us still do.
Since I recognize freedom of religion in many parts of the world, I don't care how a church group organizes itself. That's its business.
o If the Catholic Church wants the pope at the top, that's its right. Its system may have a direct effect upon millions of people, but it has little effect on you and me.
o If Gerald Flurry, Rod Meredith, Dave Pack, David Hulme, Rob Elliott, Ron Weinland and many other men want to set up a government with themselves at the top, that's their right. Their systems may have a direct effect upon thousands, hundreds or dozens of people, but they have little effect on many people.
o If the United Church of God (UCG) wants to establish a 12-man council of elders at the top, that's its business. Its system may have a direct effect upon thousands of people, but it has little bearing on many people.
These church groups have the right to form their church organization any way they desire.
The freedom to boast
In many parts of the world many church groups have the freedom to advertise their special position with God. Most church groups claim to be God's chosen people.
Some groups will go so far as to identify themselves as "God's government on earth."
Other groups will go so far as to connect a believer's personal salvation with allegiance to their particular church organization.
As outrageous as that may seem to you, church groups have the freedom to advertise their importance. In a sense, they have the freedom to boast.
Even though church organizations have the right to organize and the freedom to boast, no church group has dominion over your faith (2 Corinthians 1:24).
o The Catholic Church and all of its Church of God imitators are not "God's government on earth."
o Neither the pope nor any of the Church of God imitators is a true "vicar of Christ."
o Any church group that views obedience to any church leadership as a condition for salvation is coercively exercising its ostensible authority.
Contact with headquarters
At this time let's acknowledge that Paul did have a relationship with believers in a headquarters type of environment.
For the sake of this article we are calling Jerusalem the headquarters of the early New Testament church. The preaching of the gospel began in Jerusalem before it spread to the "uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
Let's notice Paul's relationship with Jerusalem.
Recognizing God's will
It is true that Paul went to Jerusalem to discuss whether circumcision was required for salvation (Acts 15:1-5).
Some church leaders liken this historical event to their ministerial meetings to decide whether ladies in the congregation may wear makeup or whether people in the congregation may applaud for special music. I am not making this up.
Acts 15 is about God giving blessings to gentiles in general (Galatians 3:14), liberty for saints (Galatians 5:1) and unity among the Body of Christ (Ephesians 2:19-22).
Misapplications of Acts 15 are often about men using policies and procedures to divide saints and control their perceived portion of the flock.
It would have been interesting to observe what Paul would have done had the apostles and elders decided circumcision was required for salvation.
Based on what Paul wrote in Philippians 3:2-12, Idon't believe he would have condoned circumcision as a requirement for salvation--no matter what the majority said.
Association with disciples
It is true that shortly after Saul's calling he went to Jerusalem in an attempt to associate with the disciples there (Acts 9:26). But they did not trust him (same verse).
Of course we realize that Paul did not base his relationship with God on a relationship with a headquarters.
o Paul's commission to preach to the gentiles came directly from the Lord (Acts 9:1-18).
o Paul's (and Barnabas's) selection to preach to the gentiles was identified by the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:1-3). We know that some people fasted and some people laid hands on the two men, but the Bible does not give details of this event.
Who did the laying of hands? Was it apostles from headquarters? Was it the congregation? In one sense, it doesn't matter.
In 2 Corinthians 3:1-3 Paul wrote that he was not interested in the credentials of men.
Although Paul sought to have a relationship with apostles and with congregations, he did not view their acceptance of him as the main criterion for his behavior.
The book of Galatians is an amazing letter.
In chapter 2 Paul wrote about returning to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus (verse 1).
He mentioned false brethren among the Church of God who desired to take believers back into the bondage of circumcision (verse 4).
He mentioned that he wanted to impart the true gospel and therefore he did not succumb to their error (verse 5).
Next we come to verse 6. Let's quickly notice two false assumptions about Galatians 2:6.
Trying to gain approval?
First, some church leaders focus on Paul's statement that no one added anything to his gospel and conclude that Paul was seeking to gain the approval of church leaders at headquarters.
When we read verse 6 in several translations in a moment, you will clearly see that Paul valued obedience to God as far greater than impressing people with religious titles. In fact, Paul stated that God was not impressed with religious titles.
Who has dominion?
Second, some church leaders claim Paul's independent attitude in Galatians 2:6 applied only to his relationship with false apostles and it did not apply to his relationship with James, Peter and John (mentioned in verse 9).
In other words, Paul was right to defy the false apostles, but he would have been wrong to defy James, Peter and John. Church leaders say that Paul was required to follow whatever James, Peter and John said.
It is true that James, Peter and John agreed with Paul about his preaching to the gentiles (Galatians 2:9). And I am sure that Paul was pleased that they did agree with him on this matter.
What do you think Paul would have done if James, Peter and John had not agreed with him?
Do you think Paul would have quit preaching if those who seemed to be important had not endorsed him?
In Antioch, Paul and Barnabas preached so boldly about salvation to the gentiles (Acts 13:46-47) that they were persecuted and expelled from the region (verse 50). Yet Paul continued preaching in surrounding cities.
In Lystra, Paul's critics almost killed him (Acts 14:19). Yet he kept right on preaching (verses 20-22).
Since Paul was so committed to preaching the gospel, I can't imagine Paul stopping his preaching because of false church leaders, and Ican't imagine him stopping his preaching because of genuine believers who preached to a different audience.
o Did the preachers to the circumcision have dominion over the preachers to the uncircumcision?
o Do the preachers in one branch of the Church of God today have dominion over preachers in another branch of the Church of God today?
(Please remember that no man and no group has dominion over your faith. However, each branch of the Church of God does have administrative authority over its employees and its service projects.)
Made no difference to Paul
Paul was not impressed with religious titles because he believed that God was not impressed with religious titles. Let's read Galatians 2:6.
o The King James Version says: "But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man's person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me."
o The Moffatt version says: "Besides, the so-called 'authorities' (it makes no difference to me what their status used to be; God pays no regard to the externals of men), these 'authorities' had no additions to make to my gospel."
o The New Revised Standard Version says: "And from those who were supposed to be acknowledged leaders (what they actually were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)--those leaders contributed nothing to me."
o The New International Version says: "As for those who seemed to be important--whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance--those men added nothing to my message."
o Green's Literal Translation says: "But from those seeming to be something (of what kind they were then does not matter to me; God does not accept the face of man), for those seeming important conferred nothing to me."
o The Phillips version says: "And as far as their reputed leaders were concerned (I neither know nor care what their exact position was: God is not impressed with a man's office), they had nothing to add to my gospel."
o The New Contemporary English version says: "Some of them were supposed to be important leaders, but I didn't care who they were. God doesn't have any favorites! None of these so-called special leaders added anything to my message."
Paul rebuked Peter
Another incident in Galatians 2 further shows that Paul did not feel a need to submit to the errors of apostles at Jerusalem. He corrected Peter in front of other people (Galatians 2:11-21).
What was Peter's fault?
Peter acted differently around the believers when those who seemed to be somewhat came around (verse 12).
How many church leaders would Paul rebuke today?
o How many church leaders show favoritism toward their clergymen over the called-out saints of God?
o How many church leaders back their good old boys' club over the begotten children of God?
Jesus showed the way
We should not be surprised about Paul's teaching. Jesus had taught the same principles years earlier.
Jesus taught that leaders should be servants instead of control freaks (Matthew 20:25-28).
Jesus taught that many religious leaders generally want power (Matthew 23:4-15).
Jesus taught that all are brethren (verse 8).
Jesus taught that believers should concentrate on the "least of the brethren" (Matthew 25:35-46).
Paul learned the hard way
Paul understood what Jesus taught. But that understanding did not come easily.
On the road to Damascus, Jesus confronted Saul (Acts 9).
Jesus said: Saul, why do you persecute Me? (verse 4).
Imagine how Saul must have reacted to that question.
He probably asked himself: How am I persecuting Jesus?
Saul was perfectly submissive to the Sanhedrin. When the Sanhedrin said to crush the rebellious believers, Saul zealously complied.
Saul was listening to those who seemed to be somewhat.
Yet Jesus showed Saul that He was siding with the persecuted believers rather than with those who seemed to be somewhat.
After reading Matthew 25:35-46, ponder this question: Why do many believers place such an emphasis on those who seem to be somewhat when Jesus instructed us to concentrate on those who don't seem to be anything?
© The Journal: News of the Churches of God