Suppose you met some people who told you they were Christian brothers and sisters. They stated they believed in the God of scriptures, believed that Jesus was his Son, that he died for their sins and that he rose from the dead. They believed salvation was by faith and grace, and that loving God and loving people were of supreme import. They were in close community with each other, attended their church weekly, loved their families and friends, served each other in sickness and in health, were openly evangelistic, took care of the widows and orphans, and created a loving environment in which they were able to thrive and affect the community around them.
They only had one idiosyncratic belief. They believed that you could only be saved if you followed the OT dietary laws and restrictions. Other than that they were all good.
Could you be in unity with them? Would you let them attend your Church and mix and mingle with you and your friends? Would you consider them brothers and sisters in Christ and give them an audience as they explained their beliefs? What sort of actions would categorize your love and affection for them? Would you welcome them with open arms? Have ecumenical Church services with them? Would you draw them into your community and give them free reign to integrate themselves into your own service? Would you let them teach you about why they had their unique beliefs about how salvation relates to the dietary laws?
Would you let those beliefs get in the way of unity, or would you dismiss that as ultimately a non-issue that you refuse to let divide the two groups? How united do you believe you could be with them?
Paul certainly answered that question for us. Swap out circumcision for dietary laws and you are essentially painted a picture of the Judaizers. These were men who believed that unless you has your genitals cut as a sign of your obedience to the ancient mosaic laws, you could not be saved. And so far from acquiescing to that particular theological nuance and dismissing it as simply a difference in opinion, a non-issue- something that did not matter in light of their love for each other, Paul warns people about them and ferociously attacks both them and their theological particulars. He writes in Phillipans 3:2
“Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh”
He further goes on to castigate them, declaring that they were not even true Christians, saying
”Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in–who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery– to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.” Galatians 2:4-5
It is not difficult to see what the response to this might have been. Some may have argued that this was unfair because the Judaizers were kind to others, were well-liked, and were respected in the community. Some have disagreed with this because they helped support an important cause or was active in a ministry. Some might have pointed to their relative youth- not even thirty years old, and offered that up as a reason not to come down so hard. Others might have bristled because these individuals did believe certain key essentials of the Christian faith, and would affirm certain theological concepts if given the freedom to tweak them in a small way. Still others might have objected because if this occurred, the world might see these divisions and judge the Church for that.
Yet Paul didn’t make their benevolence, kindness or generosity the dividing line of unity and Christian acceptance, but rather made their theology and their proper understanding of soteriology the issue which divided and consequently defined them.
Paul and his team did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour. Why? So that the truth of the gospel would remain with them. While some people may have suggested that they remain united with these people and that we ought not to let theological differences divide, Paul is quick to dismiss that. He understood that they posed a serious threat to the gospel of grace and the universality of the Christian mission.
For this reason his very goal was to divide. He called them evil men who were dogs and unbelievers. He purposefully disrupted and destroyed any hope of unity that people on either side may have desired because he recognized that unity at the expense of truth is no unity at all.
It is nothing but shallow and meaningless symbolism which breeds superficiality and has no strength to endure.