When fellow Christians just don’t get it. We’ve all been there.
This was the conundrum facing the Apostle Paul as he headed for his last time through Jerusalem. He had just left the elders at Ephesus where he shared his parting warning that grievous wolves from within Christian ministry would infect the church by twisting parts of the truth. They were to remain on guard against such deception.
He had already given his instructions that when the issue is serious, we do “not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you” (Gal 2:5). He had taken a stand against the sect that insisted on perpetuating the requirements of the Old Covenant law for salvation as recorded in Acts 15. However, not everyone from that meeting recognized the common standard of salvation by faith in Christ.
As noted in our study through Wineskins, James, as head of the church in Jerusalem, relented at that time but only for the Gentiles. In his mind, it meant that two standards should exist in the Church.
By the time Paul returned through Jerusalem as recorded in Acts 21, the double-standard remained entrenched in the beliefs. Of course, they still held faith in Jesus and thus were Christians, but their errors continued to undermine the truth eventually recognized by Peter at that previous meeting:
“He [God] made no distinction between us and them…No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are” (Act 15:9, 11).
James was the senior pastor over Jerusalem and at some point the author of infallible God-breathed Scripture, but he was no more theologically perfect than Moses, David, Nathan, or Peter. At this encounter, the concern was raised that conflict could erupt if the local Jewish Christians, who still believed that the Mosaic Law was required, heard that the one who taught contrary to this apparent necessity upon believers had arrived in town.
What do you do when fellow Christians just don’t get it?
Paul had strongly addressed this issue on a previous visit. At that time the gospel message beyond Jerusalem was under scrutiny. This time the circumstances were different. The gospel was not in question. Paul’s primary focus on this trip to Jerusalem was not the same as before. The likelihood is that only the local Jews were present. And, the reality was that they were just as weak in their understanding of this truth as they had been years before.
This time he approaches his brothers differently. Without commenting on their erroneous statements (Act 21:24), he willingly participates in the Old Covenant ritual. He chooses to be all things to all people. He does not condone their idea that “then everybody will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law.” Quite on the contrary, Paul believes that those who live according to that Law remain under a curse (Gal 3:10).
So long as the truth is not dismissed, so long as God’s word is not compromised, so long as the integrity of Christ in us is not undermined…there are times that, rather than always confronting recognized error in our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, we ought to quietly extend the grace of patient fellowship.
Some times direct confrontation and severing of relationship is necessary against the wolves of deception. Some times gentle rebukes are fitting in hopes that God will grant them repentance. Some times bearing with one another according to their apparent weaknesses is the most gracious act of Christ-likeness.
So what exactly ought we to do when fellow believers in Christ just don’t get it?
Consider how the circumstances fit with the instructions presented in Scripture and strive to listen to that merciful prompting of the Holy Spirit.
How do you distinguish between when to “take a stand” and when to “let it slide for now” regarding doctrinal conflict?