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Paul, Barnabas, and Us!

by Greg Gwin

We received an email communication from a man named Joe. He is a member of the First Christian Church. He has been using the Internet to search for “people of like minded faith.”

In his letter, Joe explains what he sees as the necessary conditions before he can call someone his “brother.” “If you have obeyed the plan of salvation (and still are) you are a Christian. That doesn’t mean that I must agree with EVERYTHING you believe or vice-versa... Didn’t Paul and Barn­abas disagree?” As a specific, he mentions music in worship: “I do not believe that it is an issue which should be a test of fellowship. Our congregation uses instruments…”

Is it fair to use the case of Paul and Barnabas to justify our present disagreements over instrumental music and other such doctrinal issues? You’ll recall that their argument centered on the question of including John Mark on their second missionary trip. Barnabas, who was a near relative to John Mark, wanted to include him but Paul objected. This was due to the fact that John Mark had deserted them on their first trip (Acts 15:36-41).

Please note that this disagreement DID NOT involve a single issue of doctrine. There was NOTHING mentioned concerning what had been taught in the past or what would be taught in the future. And, even though they discontinued their working partnership, there is no indication that their teaching or practice EVER differed on even one single item.

We hear more and more people who want to justify a ‘glossing over’ of religious differences by referencing this case of Paul and Barnabas. A simple examination of the text shows that to do so is clear misuse of the Scriptures.

Joe says that he is not interested in “constantly debating issues which I believe are matters of opinion.” The problem, of course, is that it is his opinion that something like instrumental music is a ‘matter of opinion.’ Who gave Joe (or anyone else) the right to determine such things? The only solution is to carefully follow the Word of God as our complete and only authority (Colossians 3:17).