This piece was triggered by Lewis Johnson’s Great Lion of God no. 12 “Doctrinal Problems in Antioch” (Acts 14:20 – 15:12). (29 minutes into the talk)
Now, what would you say if there were two Christians standing here and A asks B, “Do you believe in Christ?”
B – Yes I do. Do you believe He is the Son of God?’
A – Yes I do. Do you believe he died on the cross for sin?
B – Yes I do.
And you both go on about the life, death and burial of Christ. You even talk about the second coming. There is one thing, however, that A says he may differ with B about, and that is that you must be circumcised to be saved (which was the dispute in Acts 14-15). Let’s move forward into modern times and make the dispute about baptism.
A – I believe you have to be baptised to be saved.
B – No, I don’t believe that.
Two questions: Do you think A and B are both Christians, and do you think they should both just get together, bury their differences and love one another. Isn’t it true that the majority view is that Christians should just love one another and not allow these “minor” doctrines to divide them. Treat one another as believers. If you don’t, you can’t blame the world looking at Christians and saying: “Look how they don’t love one another.”
How would the Apostle Paul react? How did he react to the insistence of Jewish believers who said that believers should be circumcised?
“I am astonished that you are [l]so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed (go to hell)” (Galatians 1:6-9 ESV)1
Here is how Lewis Johnson describes the difference between the Apostle Paul and
many modern Christians in their attitude to doctrinal differences:
“Now that’s the difference between the thinking of an Apostle [Paul’s “let him go to hell” Galatians 1:9] and the thinking of namby pamby professing believers today. You see sometimes a little thing can actually destroy the grace of God, the free grace of God. Seems so little, make so much over a little thing like that.”
When Lewis Johnson says “destroy” the grace of God, he, as monergist (a believer in the doctrine that salvation is 100% of the Lord), doesn’t mean that man can thwart God’s purposes to save those whom he has given to His son: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out (John 6:37 ESV).
Christians can dispute – and hotly – with one another as long as “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:15-16 ESV).
The occasion may arise, though, when you might want to say “go to hell.” But, unless you’re convinced that you have a directive from God (as in Paul), and not from some intestinal urge to purge, stay with the Apostle Peter, for in so doing you may still put your adversary to shame. Of course, if that is your main objective, or any objective, shame on you!
1Here is the passage in Galatians that refers directly to circumcision:
“It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh lwho would force you to be circumcised, and only min order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh” (Galatians 6:12-13).