Some thoughts on Christian unity from Galatians 2:1-10

The contemporary church clearly struggles with the issue of unity. One need only catalog denominational differences among Protestants to get a sense of how fractured the Christian church actually is. Dr. David Dockery, in his plenary address at the ETS Southwest regional meeting on March 7, 2014, stated that there are about 30,000 different denominations in the United States today. (Yes, you read that correctly. 30,000.) The rise of various movements and networks in recent times prove that some within the church can be unified around certain themes, doctrines, or practices, but these new developments have yet to prove their longevity or breadth. In some sense, the current situation would have shocked Paul, for whom the single nature of the church was an important theological axiom. At the same time, believers do have legitimate differences theologically and practically which should not be ignored. Paul himself represented a difference of praxis from the Jerusalem church, and he certainly expressed his theology in ways which emphasized different aspects of Christ’s person and work than other biblical authors. The question which Galatians 2:1-10 answers is the bridge between oppressive, monolithic unity on the one hand and crippling, diluting diversity on the other. For Paul the question was, how can I continue in my distinct ministry to the Gentiles while remaining true to the leadership of the Jerusalem church? The answer was found in honestly representing how God was at work in him, recognizing that divine constancy in the ministry of Peter, and affirming their unity around the central affirmation of the kerygma, namely, that Jesus was the crucified and risen Messiah of Israel. That is, the fact that Peter and Paul were agreed on the central truth of the gospel coupled with the fact that God was at work in both Peter and Paul was the key for Paul to be fully and finally legitimized in the eyes of the Jerusalem leaders. These two parallel points can serve as an important pattern for the contemporary church, too, as we work for unity in the diversity we express.