Galatians 2:1-10, vs. “8 (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), 9 and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.” ESV
Who we link arms with is very important because who we are, what we believe, what we stand for can partly be traced to those we link ourselves with. One popular example, in the last few years there has been a drive for unity for a common cause in many areas with Evangelical and Catholics Together (ECT).
Based on some resources I came across, a statement was written as a testimony that spells out the need for Protestants and Catholics to deliver a common witness to the modern world at the eve of the third millennium. While this was embraced by many on both sides, there were a number of evangelicals who were reluctant to sign the agreement due to some theological distinctions between Catholics and Protestants. The resources further states, these evangelicals emphasized that sola fide (the doctrine of justification by faith alone) is a fundamental distinctive of evangelical theology, which fundamentally divides evangelicals and Catholics theologically. This is a great area where unity and fellowship could not be extended because the pillar and ground of truth in salvation by faith alone vs. salvation by faith and works needed to be settled. While they agreed on things such as fighting against abortion, poverty, injustice etc., the ground for unity and fellowship was still an issue they could not agree to call each other brethren.
Writing to the Galatians, Paul spent time defending the gospel he never received from the apostles James, Peter and John considered the pillars of the church. His preaching was under attack, false brethren had crept in and were perverting the gospel. Some thought he was one of those who crept in to do the same. For this against his will, he had to defend his apostleship and the gospel he preached. To show that he was called and the message was the same, he qualifies his defense by saying, “, vs. “8 (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles)”. Two men would reach different people groups of different backgrounds, different traditions and the like with the same message. The main ground and pillar of truth was the gospel entrusted to them. This gospel they never received from each other had to perfectly align with the gospel Christ had entrusted them with for that was going to be the ground for unity and fellowship.
Not only did God work through both men separately for the same cause, it was further attested with the pillars extending to them fellowship as brethren , vs. “9 and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.” ESV.
The ground for unity and fellowship is important because, “The Christian faith, more than any other, is based on doctrine. The doctrines of the deity of Christ (John 1:1, 14), the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21), the resurrection of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:17), and salvation by grace through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9) are absolutely essential and non-negotiable. If any of these doctrines is removed, the faith is empty and void. There are other doctrines in the Christian faith that are very important, such as the Trinity, the inspiration of Scripture, and the reality of the eternal state.”, S. Michael Houdmann.
As long as Peter and his people the Jews continued to practice circumcision for instant without adding it as a prerequisite to salvation, he and Paul (Jews and Gentiles) would continue in fellowship without any issues. On this same ground I have linked arms with those in the body of Christ starting from my church, friends who may be across holding on other non-essential doctrines and traditions I may not but are in agreement on the fundamental Christian doctrines. Despite our differences in traditions, backgrounds, we have extended each other the right hand of fellowship as brethren in the body of Christ with the same call. What ground of unity are we aspiring to have? A number battle over the style of music, baptism, Lord’s table, set up etc. causing disunity. Should these be reasons to break fellowship? What is causing you to break fellowship with a brother, a church etc.? blessings Ev