In my study, “Why Do Good Men Disagree?, I investigated a conflict that all too often occurs between equally good men, even as with the Apostles Paul and Peter. In that clash, Paul accused Peter of cowardice, hypocrisy, and being disobedient to the “Truth of the Gospel” (Gal. 2:1-21). This was a serious quarrel! On another occasion, a heated conflict broke out between Paul and Barnabas over John Mark “…who departed from them and went with them to the work” of the Gospel (Acts 15:37-39).
When considering the Spiritual maturity and godly character of these men, it makes it even harder to understand “WHY?” Why would there be contention and strife among these dear brothers or any other believers? Perhaps it was that “Paul was domineering and controlling.” On the other hand, maybe it was because “Peter had a stubborn and impetuous temperament.” Maybe it was because “Barnabas, ‘the Son of Consolation,’ wanted to keep his nephew, John Mark, ‘under his wing’ to oversee his spiritual growth.” We do not know. Perhaps there were many reasons. We cannot go beyond the assertion of Scripture nor can we excuse or second guess! It is clear that Peter was blameworthy for his actions and needed correction. In addition, John Mark appears to have been an unreliable teammate who may have been in need of discipline. However, I will dare to speculate that another reason lies beneath the surface of these conflicts.
The Book of Acts is a transitional link between the Gospels and the Epistles. It shows movement and a change in the plan of God. It is the most transient book in the Bible! At the same time, it reveals the personalities and issues that are vitally connected to the finished work of Christ on behalf of lost sinners. It moves the reader gradually and slowly through 20 years of far-reaching adjustments—from the old to the new, from one administration to another, from the Dispensation of Israel and the Kingdom Message to the Dispensation of Grace and the Gospel of God’s Grace (Acts 13-28). Because of this transition, more people go doctrinally astray in the Book of Acts than in any other book of the Bible. This transition reveals a major collision of culture and theology: Jewish and Gentile. Failure to recognize the transitional character of the Book of Acts is a “train wreck!” It is my firm conviction that most of the confusion, contradictory teachings and tensions that exist, both then and today, are because of a lack of understanding the transitional nature of this Book. (I suspect that many are aware of these disquieting changes in the Book, however, choose to ignore them or synchronize them.) It is clear that during this transitional period, God had a unique theological stewardship for the Jews who believed, and a different theological stewardship for the Gentiles who believed (Acts 15:1, 5, 10, 28-29).
Peter, Barnabas, and John Mark, like the rest of the believers in the early hours of Christianity, found themselves under the powerful influences of the old traditions, ceremonies, and the Law of Moses. This was their life! This is all that they had ever known! Suddenly, with the revelation of God’s Mystery Program, God “shifts gears”! God announced a great change! Israel was condemned and judged with Spiritual blindness because of unbelief and the rest of the world was declared “guilty before God” (Rom. 3:19) so that He might have “mercy upon all” (Rom. 11:32). It was a time of changeover from the prophesied Kingdom Program to the un-prophesied Mystery Program of the Body of Christ. In my opinion, this change of environment became the “seedbed” for conflict. This created serious, painful but necessary adjustment to the new cultural and Spiritual union. This took some real “getting use to”! To “walk uprightly according to the truth of the Gospel” would be a major challenge to anybody, including Peter and Barnabas! Fortunately, the Mystery was also the catalyst that united two cultures into the “one new man” – “the joint Body” (Eph. 3:1-9; Col. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 2:7) – thus, making peace (Eph. 2:13-18).
Conclusion: We must be aware of the transitional nature of the Book of Acts lest we create hopeless chaos by mixing Jewish Kingdom truth with Church-Age truth. It is possible for good men and saved men to be confused and wrong and out of step with the plan of God. More serious is the fact that it is possible that sincere men, in hearing “mixed” message, will miss the saving issues of the Gospel and be lost for eternity.
You are invited to write and we will send you a copy of my tract, “Have You Made the Transition?”