One of the most intriguing aspects of the early Church was the dynamic between its apostles. These were divinely chosen individuals, blessed with the mission of propagating Christ's message, yet they too were not immune to conflict and disagreement. This reality is vividly portrayed in the encounter between Apostles Paul and Peter, as recorded in the book of Galatians:
Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy.Galatians 2:11-13
In this passage, Paul openly rebukes Peter, who had been showing favoritism, a behavior that goes against the Gospel's central message of grace and inclusivity. Paul felt it necessary to correct Peter, not out of spite, but out of love for the truth of the Gospel and the unity of the Church.
This incident between Paul and Peter serves as a profound lesson for all of us. It teaches us that even the most dedicated and devoted servants of God can fall into the trap of bias and fear of criticism. And when they do, it is the responsibility of others in the Christian community to lovingly but firmly address these missteps.
Yet, the story doesn't end with conflict. If we look further into the early Church's history, there are no indications of a lasting feud or division between Peter and Paul. In fact, in Peter's second letter, he refers to Paul as "our beloved brother," whose wisdom he acknowledges comes from God. (2 Peter 3:15) It was decades after the previous incident that Peter wrote this.
This is an essential element to our understanding. When disagreements arise, as they inevitably will, our aim should not be to 'win' an argument or vindicate ourselves. Instead, it should be to uphold the truth in love, to preserve unity, and to encourage one another toward spiritual maturity.
It is comforting to know that our apostolic forebears were not perfect, but they were men striving to live out their faith, sometimes stumbling, yet always turning back towards Christ. This should encourage us that despite our shortcomings and disagreements, we can still contribute to the building up of God's kingdom.
Let us learn from Paul's courage to stand up for the truth, even when it's uncomfortable, and from Peter's humility to receive correction. Above all, let's remember the overarching principle of love that should govern our actions. As Paul himself wrote, "Let all that you do be done in love" (1 Corinthians 16:14 ESV). May this be the guiding principle in our interactions with our brothers and sisters in Christ, especially in times of conflict and disagreement.