What’s Worth Fighting Over?

Galatians 2:1-14 Discussion Guide

One of the saddest statements about the American church in recent years is that we are mostly
known for arguments and disagreements with other Christians. Some of these disagreements
are over important matters, but others of them appear stupid and petty to everyone who is not
directly engaged in the argument.

One of the great characteristics of Paul in his letter to the Galatian churches is that he has no
problem disagreeing with others. The important thing to note, however, is that the reason Paul
is willing to be polemical (given to open disagreement) is that he believes the glory of God and
salvation are at stake in the issues over which he is disagreeing.
Compromise is a skill that is sorely missing in the political life of America today. We desperately
need politicians who are more skilled than the current set is in giving up things that might be of
value to one side to receive things that will be of more value to their side. This is the only way
to find a peaceful solution to political problems in a place like America.

But theological issues are quite different from political issues. By its very nature, theology deals
with how to rightly know and obey God. God’s will is the only opinion that should matter in a
theology debate, and by his very nature his will cannot oppose itself. For this reason Paul
understood that he could not afford to compromise in key areas as they regard the Gospel
given to him by God. Listen for those “lines in the sand” over which Paul refused to yield in
Galatians 2:1-14.

Austin in his sermon put forward three key Gospel issues over which Paul refused to
1) Paul did not yield to legalism. (Galatians 2:1-5)
2) Paul did not yield his calling. (Galatians 2:6-10)
3) Paul did not yield to bigotry. (Galatians 2:11-15)

We should consider Paul’s example when we consider the things in our own day that are worth
arguing over in the church. I was taught in seminary that church leaders should categories
things that we might disagree with other Christians over. We must do this because Christ’s goal
is for his church to be unified. If we are to be unified, then everything can’t be an argument. But
at the same time some things should be an argument. Here is a helpful rubric to follow.
Primary Issues- These are issues in which you would not consider someone who disagrees to be a fellow believer in the Gospel of Jesus. In other words, these are the things over which we
would pronounce “anathema.” Someone who disagrees over a primary issue cannot be treated
as a Christian by the church.

Secondary Issues- These are issues over which we would want the local church to which we
belong to agree over. There is not a clear Biblical reason, however, to declare that someone
who disagrees on a secondary issue in not a Christian believer. A secondary issue, while you
should not declare somebody “anathema” over, you might be willing to leave a particular
church over.

Tertiary Issues- These are disagreements that we can (and perhaps we should) have within a
local church. We each should be reading Scripture and constantly trying to discern what God is
saying through Scripture. There will be many times that we come to different conclusions about
what God is saying. This is healthy, because it should indicate that we care enough to read the
Bible in a community. Tertiary issues, however, should not in any way affect our ability to serve
and worship together in the local church and to be on the exact same mission of bringing the
Gospel to our community and the world.

Discussion Questions

  • Is there anything that is shocking to you that Paul was willing to argue about?
  • Do you think there were arguments in the early church that were unnecessary and harmful?
  • Why were each of the three issues in Galatians 2:1-14 important for the preaching of the Gospel?
  • What are some primary issues that churches should draw lines in the sand over today? What makes them primary issues?
  • What issues should you be willing to leave a church over? Why would you not remain in a church while disagreeing on this issue?
  • What issues do we need to learn to agree to disagree over?
  • How can you be charitable and willing to disagree at the same time?