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A-Z of Paul: Quarrelling

Friday, August 22, 2008
St Paul was something of a feisty character, and was not unaccustomed to becoming involved in argument. We know that he was quite a vicious persecutor of the early Christians. Some of this passion seems to have remained in his character throughout his ministry. When Paul eventually returned to Jerusalem, following his conversion to Christ, it was Barnabas who persuaded the disciples to admit Paul to their fellowship (Acts 9:26). As a result of this intercession, a wonderful friendship between Paul and Barnabas was formed. It is, therefore, sad to note that they eventually had a “falling out” of sorts.
St Paul shipwrecked
On the first missionary journey of these two friends, Barnabas takes his cousin John Mark, as their companion (Col. 4:10). However, we are told that during the journey John Mark decided to return to his home in Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). The reason for his departure is not specified in the text. When they had planned their second campaign, Barnabas proposed taking Mark as a helper, but Paul resisted the idea. The New Testament record indicates that a “sharp contention” developed between them (Acts 15:36-41). They could not reach an agreement, and so they split up. As far as is indicated in the scriptures, these two remarkable men never saw one another again. The segmentation of their work did not disrupt permanently the love and respect that Paul and Barnabas entertained for one another. Paul would later affectionately mention Barnabas as being worthy of monetary support in his work of proclaiming the gospel (1 Cor. 9:6).

There is also his argument with Peter about which he speaks in the letter to the Galatians. 'I opposed him to his face', Paul says (Gal 2:11). It is a moment in a much longer argument in which Paul was engaged with 'Judaizing' elements in the early Church, people who believe that pagan converts to Christianity should also be subject to requirements of Jewish law such as circumcision. Peter seems to have been trying to hold quarrelling factions together whereas on this one Paul felt that this would compromise the way to salvation now revealed, faith in the cross of Christ.

So, Paul was clearly a fiery brand, and yet when he wrote to the Corinthians he was very clear about the danger of quarrelling. He tells them that if the path to the cross is dominated by trouble and strife, then its power will be diminished (1 Cor 1:17). Therefore, he calls for the exclusion from the Church for those who espouse different leaders that oppose each other and segment the Body of Christ. But this was not just an early church problem for we experience similar problems today. There are factions, whether leaning right or left, that fragment the Body of Christ. Such factions wound Christ’s body with their theories and opinions about what Christianity should be. Often, they see personal views and entrenched stances as more important than what Christ taught and His Church developed.

But St Paul did not pull punches, so he challenged the factions to preserve the unity of Christianity. Challenging the kind of party politics that meant opting 'for Paul', 'for Apollos', 'for Cephas', before Christ, his argument is that there is one body that teaches the truth, and that is the Church of Jesus Christ. We are called together to be members of the Church, the People of God, the Body of Christ. We are not called to design our own church. Quarrelling worried St Paul because it threatened the very aims of his preaching by putting political or personal convictions before the unity of the Body of Christ. At the same time he was not averse to engaging in argument where the reality of what Christ had achieved was in danger of being compromised.



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