I recently sat in a meeting with other Christian workers, reflecting on the upcoming message of Easter. One of these workers was unhappy with 2 aspects of what I would call ‘core gospel markers’; that we human beings are damaged and broken with sin, and need the forgiveness Jesus brings by dying for us upon the cross, and that the Father and the Son were at one in the decision for Jesus to die to take away the sins of the whole human race. I tried unsuccessfully to open his mind to these as core elements of our faith, for I couldn’t see that you could claim to be a Christian and not hold onto these core essentials. He was not swayed by my argument.
For Paul, his rivals, the false teachers, have an insufficient view of God and his grace, of Jesus and his work, of the Holy Spirit and his power, of the church as the fulfillment of God’s plans for his people, and of the gospel as the proclamation of God’s future invading the present. It is over and against this understanding that Paul wants to make sure that his message confirms that what he says, and what the Jerusalem leaders say, is a united understanding of the core of the gospel, though recognizing the distinct nature of each other’s mission.
Like these false teachers, the Christian Worker was more interested in the ritual of Christian tradition and life, rather than the content that makes the traditions live. The other Christian workers were uncomfortable when I argued my case for the truth of the core content of the gospel message. They were on about unity, but it was a false unity that required the truth to be ignored, and we sat together in peaceful nothingness. Unity must be based upon an understanding of the true state of affairs. Paul had gone to Jerusalem and argued his case, and the unity he had with the Jerusalem leadership was true and real. The gospel of Antioch and Jerusalem were the same, based around the truth that membership of God’s people came by faith in Jesus and nothing else.
In the light of this 10 verses, where Paul articulates his understanding of what makes a Christian believer, what are the ‘core gospel markers’ that you hold as necessary for the claim to be a Christian believer, and on what basis do you maintain unity within the Christian community?