Summary: This sermon examines the controversy between the apostle Paul and the apostle Peter. We learn how Paul preserved the integrity of the gospel at a crucial point in the Early Church’s infancy.
A man was stranded on a deserted island in the Pacific for many years. One day a boat came sailing into view, and the man frantically waved and got the skipper’s attention. The boat landed on the beach, the skipper got out and greeted the stranded man.
After a while the skipper asked the castaway, “What are those three huts you’ve built?”
The stranded man replied, “That first hut is my house.”
“What’s that next hut?” asked the sailor.
“I built that for my church.”
“What about the third hut?”
“Oh,” the castaway answered solemnly, “that’s where I used to go to church.”
This humorous story illustrates a very serious problem.
Conflict is part of life, and it is certainly part of every church. People find themselves in disagreement and, rather than resolve their differences, they simply leave and go somewhere else. In some instances, they cannot find a suitable church with which to join, and so they start their own denomination. A number of years ago it was reported that one new religious denomination was started each week in the United States.
We do not always handle conflict very well. In today’s text, we see that conflict existed in the New Testament. I want you to notice how Paul preserved the integrity of the gospel at a crucial point in the Church’s history. Let us read Galatians 2:11-16:
"11 When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. 12 Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.
"14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, ’You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?
"15 ’We who are Jews by birth and not "Gentile sinners" 16 know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.’" (Galatians 2:11-16)
On April 16, 1521, a thirty-eight year-old monk entered the German town of Worms in a Saxon, two-wheeled cart with a few companions. Although it was the dinner hour, a crowd of about two thousand people turned out to escort the young monk—their hero—to his lodgings for the night. The next day the young monk was scheduled to appear before the Emperor Charles.
The reason for the meeting was to examine the monk’s views concerning the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church.
The young monk denied papal infallibility and taught justification by faith alone. He had come to understand that a person comes into a right relationship with God by faith alone and not by any personal effort or merit.
He had written about this rediscovered biblical truth, and was now at the center of a controversy. The essence of this controversy really had to do with the truth and integrity of the gospel itself.
The scene was dramatic. On the one side was Charles, the heir of a long line of Roman Catholic sovereigns and ruler over a greater territory than any of his predecessors except Charlemagne. Alongside Charles were the leading civil and ecclesiastical leaders of the day. Before this powerful, potent, and pompous group stood a young monk, a simple miner’s son, whose name was Martin Luther.
Luther was examined by Archbishop Eck of Trier. A pile of books were brought out, placed on a table, and Luther was asked if they were books that he had written. Luther acknowledged that they were his books.
When asked by Eck if he would recant what he had written, Luther asked for time to compose his answer. Somewhat surprisingly, he was given until the next day to compose a reply.
The next day everyone gathered together for Luther’s reply. The atmosphere was electric. Luther’s writings had stirred up the German people and they were discovering the liberty that comes from the gospel. They were ready to revolt in order to support Martin Luther. Because of this brewing dissension, the civil and ecclesiastical leaders felt constrained to muzzle the monk.
Archbishop Eck repeated his question to Luther: would Luther recant what he had written. Luther did not answer with a simply yes or no.