Ever has there been some measure of tension within the church between what has been and what needs to be.
Each generation of Christians have been strained over some issue, or some set of issues. Female clergy, integration, anti-Semitism, suffrage, environmental based stewardship, fair trade, immigration and slavery touch only the past one hundred fifty years of internal creative struggles within the church.
This continues throughout church history back to the apostolic church of the Bible itself. The early church was strained to the breaking point as it wrestled whether to incorporate Gentiles within it on equal terms.
Today the church needs to hear Paul’s message in Galatians 2:1-10 and reminded of the foundation on which our oneness is founded.
The unity of the church is constructed upon the one gospel of grace. This means the tie which binds Christians together is not attributable to simple agreement on doctrines or socially engineered political correctness. Such things inevitably attract people and within rough parameters determines a common sensibility.
However, the question is whether these individualized attractions undermine the gospel of grace and Christ as the inextricable bond of the believers and lead to exclusionary, instead of welcoming, results. Former Archbishop Rowan Williams of the Anglican Church states, “Rather than unity, the slippery slope into a uniformity of narrow biblical interpretation, rigid and inflexible theology, and a highly judgmental morality; and those who fail to conform to this standard are given a negative label and marginalized.”
Galatians 2:1-10 teaches us that the gospel produces a church of wide diversity. Paul struggles for a truth in which there is mutuality amid differences.
Make no mistake, being decisive and standing upright for the gospel is of primary importance. However, unity focused upon the gospel of grace is to be set apart and not to be confused with worthless unity based on the lowest common denominator which is offensive to no one. The unity of the church is understood. It is a spiritual reality bestowed by Jesus which acts to join everyone to him and to each other.
Paul was not accepting of an invisible unity. He personally traveled to Jerusalem and debated in a heated climate for the inclusion of Christian Gentiles as equals. This issue generated great emotion and conviction from both sides.
Galatians 2:1-10 enables us to find Christian unity within the mission of the church where the gospel of grace leads into unexplored areas of life experiences. Christian unity is not to be confused with unexamined tolerance or indifference.
Not unlike love itself, it must also be forged within the crucible of reconciliation.