Welcome to Three Pillars Blog!
Thank you for visiting Three Pillars Blog. My name is Scott. I publish thoughts on Christian faith and history, and try to make information I collect more accessible to others.
Why three pillars?
At the beginning of Galatians chapter 2, the apostle Paul mentions one of his visits to Jerusalem. In one passage, he says:
“And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), 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 [Paul], that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.”Galatians 2:6-10 (ESV)
There are many intriguing observations one can make about this passage and some of the surrounding verses. Here are a few:
- Plurality is a theme all through the passage. Neither the leaders in Jerusalem, nor Paul minister alone. Earlier, Paul mentions Titus as a missionary companion – note the repeated use of “those,” “we,” “us,” and “they.”
- Rather than decide or declare (exhibiting authority), the “pillars” in Jerusalem more passively “perceive.” Perhaps they are exercising the gift of discernment as they realize Paul also has the gift of God’s grace.
- While Paul indicates “Peter had [singularly] been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised” he also indicates that “he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me [singularly] for mine to the Gentiles.” Alongside other details in this passage, there is clearly an equivalence between Peter and Paul. I don’t believe this indicates any type of preeminence, supremacy, or singular authority, held by either apostle. The singular seems to denote their distinct ministries. Believers today are not apostles but we each posses a singular ministry, mission, or calling, empowered by unique God-given gifts.
- The concern Paul expresses at the end of the passage for “remembering” the poor is remarkable. The verses that precede this passage deal with topics that caused a great deal of contention in the early church: freedom in Christ, ingrafting of the Gentiles, applicability of the law (specifically circumcision) for Gentiles, etc. Rather than concern themselves with “authority,” rulemaking (e.g. canons), etc., the apostles demonstrate that concern for the poor is of preeminent importance. Is there a better example of servant leadership?
- Extending “the right hand of fellowship” is an example of the apostles not “ruling over” one another in this meeting.
What can we learn?
This passage probably isn’t one of the first people think about when considering leadership in the early church. The passage immediately following this has Paul opposing Peter, which is certainly discussed more frequently in the context of church leadership. Even that is generally ancillary to more familiar passages in Matthew 16, 18, and Acts 15 (which is never called a “council” in Scripture).
Scripture states very little explicitly about church governance and organization. Discussions about ecclesiology often borrow more from examples in the Patristic era and changes brought by historical geopolitical events, than Scripture. These include the fall of the Roman Empire, rise of monarchial episcopates, formation of the Holy Roman Empire, the Reformation, etc. The history of church leadership and organization is of great importance, no doubt. That being said, I believe we’re often slow to learn the lessons of history. We are prone to cling to manmade traditions, and don’t give passages like Galatians 2:6-9 the attention they deserve. I believe there is a great deal we can discover about the leadership model Jesus intended in this passage. This is one of the main topics I intend to explore on Three Pillars Blog.