THE DISCIPLINE OF MINISTERS
The New Testament also covers the subject of the discipline of ministers in the church. Paul addressed the matter in writing Titus. Among other things, the apostle assigned him the task of dealing with unruly preachers on the island of Crete. The apostle said that preachers who err doctrinally must be reprimanded sharply (Titus 1:13). Titus must deny them access to the pulpits in the churches on the island and thus “silence” them (Titus 1:11). They were ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach for the sake of dishonest gain.
The apostle also instructed Timothy as to procedure in disciplining ministers. First, Timothy must carefully determine their guilt or innocence on any charge only on the testimony of at least two or three witnesses (1 Tim. 5:19). Laney observes, “In addition to strengthening the rebuke, the context seems to suggest that Paul is concerned that the elder not be subjected to slander or personal attack. The requirement of testimony from witnesses would serve as a precautionary measure against unjust and unverified accusations”. Those found guilty of sin should be publicly censored (1 Tim. 5:20). This would serve as a deterrent for others who are tempted to sin.
Like Paul, John taught individual members of churches to dis-fellowship erring preachers (2 John 1:10, 11). False teachers should not be entertained in their homes with free room and board in their travels; to do so was to give them moral and temporal support. To support them is to share the guilt as to damage done in their ministry. Even to extend Christian fellowship to them is to share the blame for their destructive ministry; this includes exchanging greetings with them which leaves the impression believers consider their lives and ministries acceptable.
It is clear, then, that in his writings Paul offers instructions on the discipline of members in a local church as well as that of ministers of the gospel. Concerning the duty to discipline church members, specifically, a prevailing problem in the Church at Corinth warranted such action. Both the leadership and the membership shared in the responsibility of solving the problem. Behind the action must be the noble motive of guarding the welfare of the church as well as looking out for the spiritual well-being of the offending member. Attitudes of humility and love most prevail in it all. Paul also offered churches instructions on the discipline of ministers. His discussions provide necessary guidance on church discipline in the twenty-first as well as the first century.
Values of Local Church Discipline, Pt. 3
Some believers react with the most negative feeling when the subject of discipline arises.
Carl Laney writes, “People have come to associate church discipline with heresy hunts, witch burnings, intolerance, and oppressions. Church discipline, to most people, does not seem consistent with our individualistic society.” They tend to view any disciplinary procedure as being contrary to the biblical emphasis on love among believers.
Ample evidence appears in Scripture, however, to show that discipline is valuable for the life of both the congregation and its individual members.
Particularly, Jesus and Paul stress that fact. The Savior not only instructs His followers to practice discipline among them, but also provides specific steps to take in the process. In his writings Paul offers instructions on the discipline of members in a local church as well as ministers of the Gospel.
Those who frown on practicing discipline in the church often point to Jesus’ words of warning against judging others (Matthew 7:1-5). Jesus certainly meant that no believer should go about condemning and censoring everyone about every imperfection. Jesus did not, however, address His words to the judge who sits on the bench nor to church officers who have responsibility to discipline members of the congregation. As Laney observes, “Jesus did not condemn all judgment. He did warn against a self-righteous, hypocritical attitude in judging others. To be discriminat¬ing is necessary; to be hypercritical is wrong.”
Other passages of Scripture command believers to judge.
Paul told the members of the church at Corinth that they must set up court in the church to settle disputes between believers (1 Corinthians 6:1-5). Clearly, judging is at the heart of such activity. The apostle even called for the Corinthians to practice judging in worship services. He wrote, “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge” (1 Corinthians 14:29). Anthony Palma explains how it is that, in Matthew 7:1, Jesus taught believers not to “judge” (Greek krino), or be habitually censorious in relating to one another. Yet, at the same time, Paul instructed them that they must “judge” (Greek diakri¬no, from the same root as krino), or evaluate critical matters in the church (1 Corinthians 14:29).
Many who resist efforts of a church to discipline its members quickly quote Gamaliel in support of their “non-judgmental” position. He was a member of the court at one of the trials of the apostles. Luke records his appeal to the jury: “And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it–lest you even be found to fight against God” (Acts 5:38-39).
While all believers thank the Lord that his advice prevailed and the apostles were spared further punishment, Gamaliel can hardly be the source for instruction on church discipline. In the first place, he was not even a believer, much less a teacher in the church. In addition, his logic does not always prove to be true. Many Christian-related cults exist in today’s world. Some have been around for a century or more. Rather than dying out, several are among the fastest growing religious groups in the world. Their continued existence certainly does not prove that they are of God.
Opponents of disciplinary activity in the church also frequently refer to a parable Jesus told about a farmer whose enemy secretly sowed weeds in his field of wheat. When his servants discovered the weeds, they came to ask him if they should pull them out. Matthew records: “But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them but gather the wheat into my barn” ‘ ” (Matthew 13:29-30). Those opponents of church discipline say the parable teaches the church to leave discipline to the Lord at the Last Judgment.
This parable, however, is not a lesson on church discipline. Jesus gave instructions on that later, in Matthew 18:15-18. The main theme of the parable is the certainty of judgment on hypocrites in the Kingdom. The focus is on their being cast into the fire of hell in the end. Both hypocrites and members of cults may escape punish¬ment in this life, but God’s judgment is certain to come upon them at the last day.
Opponents of church discipline may unconsciously resist it because of a mistaken notion that its intent is to hurt offenders by punishing them for their sins. Rather, scriptural discipline has the noble goal of helping those who stumble along the road to heaven. Laney observes, “The church that neglects to lovingly confront and correct its members is not being kind, generous, or gracious. Such a church is really hindering the Lord’s work and the advance of Christ’s kingdom. The church without disci¬pline is a church without purity, power, and progress.” With the purpose in view of forwarding the work of God in the lives of believers, the New Testament is certainly clear in its teaching that the local church must discipline its members.
The Holy Spirit took the initiative in the first case of discipline in the church at Jerusalem. The discipline resulted in the death of the offenders, Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-5). It was the Spirit himself who revealed to Peter that the two were guilty of hypocrisy. Although it came through the mouth of the apostle, it was the Spirit Who decreed death on the two for lying to God and the church.
No doubt the severity of the punishment was intended to say to all local churches of all times that the Lord does not want His people to tolerate sin among their members. The act of discipline led by the Spirit worked to that end in the church at Jerusalem. Luke notes, “So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things. . . .Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly” (Acts 5:11, 13). Those who took repentance lightly ceased joining their ranks. Laney says, “A person of shaky intentions is less likely to associate with a church if he knows his conduct may be subject to congregational discipline” Those who turned to God with their whole heart, however, began identifying in large numbers with the church at Jerusalem. Luke records, “And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women” (Acts 5:14).
Commenting on the question of discipline in the church, Lewi Pethrus writes, “There are those who believe that if we exercise strict church discipline, people will become frightened and never dare come near the church. Those who think so are a very low class of people, for folks with just an ordinary understanding of what is right surely think instead: There is a church that wants to keep itself pure before God, and that is where I want to be.”
Of course, the Spirit did not continue to intervene directly in every local church in the practice of discipline, as He had in Acts 5. Rather, discipline has become the responsibility of the church itself. Congrega¬tional leaders must initiate action to assure that open sin in the lives of church members is not tolerated. Scripture gives ample instruction on the subject. Jesus, Himself, taught exten¬sively on the matter.
He provided foundational instruction on the subject of church discipline in Matthew 18:15-19. He laid stress on the awesome responsibility associat¬ed with discipline. Believers contribute to loosing individuals from their sins through prayer; if they fail to pray, they allow those individuals to remain bound. In the words of the Master, “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven (Matthew 18:18-19).
In like manner, followers of Jesus bind or loose through sharing the Gospel with people in bondage to sin. So Jesus said to them on another occasion, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23). If Christians spread the Gospel, it becomes possible for those who believe to be loosed from their sins; not doing so leaves them bound.
Church discipline serves a similar purpose; to practice it contributes to the loosing of an offending member from his sins, but failure to discipline allows him to remain in bondage to the sin (Matthew 18:15-18). Laney says, “The power to ‘bind’ and ‘loose’ is essentially the authority to administer corrective discipline in the local assembly of believers. The church exercises its authority to ‘loose’ when it forgives and restores a repentant sinner to full fellowship.” Heaven supports the congregation that seeks to discipline its members biblically. Within this context, then, the Master listed the steps to follow in practicing discipline in a congregation.
The first step in biblical church discipline involves private, personal efforts to correct the error of a fellow-believer’s ways.
Jay Adams declares, “The principle followed in Mat¬thew 18:15ff. is that a matter must be kept as narrow as the event itself.” Our Lord does not require that a misunderstanding between two persons which is known only to them be made public. When a brother sins, and especially if he sins against another, the offended party must take the initiative toward reconciliation and restora¬tion. Jesus said, “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother” (Matt. 18:15).
Pethrus writes of the importance of this. He says, “It may be that he actually has wronged you, and by your going to him the matter will be settled; and if it was only imagination, the matter also will be clarified. It is impor¬tant that Satan should not be permitted to burden us with such things which, on numberless occasions, are found to be extremely small and insignificant.”
Conversely, the offending one has an equal responsibility to take the initiative. On another occasion Jesus taught, “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). Adams comments, “When discord between believers takes place, ideally they ought to meet each other on the way to one another’s house to seek reconciliation.”
The second step in discipline includes semi-private, official efforts to restore the fallen one.
When step one fails, Jesus said one seeking to minister to an erring brother should take one or two others with him in the second attempt to help. He instructed, “But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established'” (Matthew 18:16). If it is a matter of differences between the two, certainly one would not want to take another who would likely be on his or her side in the dispute; thus, taking a church officer or two to arbitrate in an unbiased manner would be a wise choice.
Presenting similar advice, Adams reasons that “since these persons must offer counsel and possibly will become witnesses if that counsel is spurned, it would be wise, where available, to call on persons who are best able to offer wise counsel and whose words of testimony, if needed, would be respected by the congregation. Elders, deacons, and even pastors would be prime persons to select. He concludes, “If persons highly respected by both of the estranged parties can be found, it would seem good to tap them.”
The third step, if necessary, requires congregational action in that the sinning one must be brought before the entire membership, likely in a closed meeting.
According to the Master, “And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:17). Adams says, “I think it goes without saying that to tell it to the church is not to be done by a brother standing up in the middle of a worship service (in which there is a mixture of believers and unbelievers).” Lynn Buzzard and Thomas Brandon advise, “It is appropriate, therefore, for any discussion of issues of discipline to be confined to the members of the church, dismissing non¬members from the meetings. This may argue for such matters being dealt with outside the Sunday morning worship context when there are often nonmembers in the service”
The public censure involved is intended to shock the erring one into changing his ways. If the offending member refuses to accept the actions of the congregation and continues in his sins, a fourth and final step demands that he be removed from membership. Thereafter he will be treated by the people of the church as any other sinner (Matthew 18:17).
Clearly, then, ample evidence appears in Scripture that discipline is valuable for the life of both the congregation and its individual members.
Jesus stressed that fact in His teaching ministry on earth. The Savior not only instructed His followers to practice discipline among themselves, but He also provided specific steps to take in the process. In sequence, these include private, personal efforts; semi-private, semi-official endeavors; a congregational hearing; and, if necessary, official action in withdrawing full Christian fellowship from the obstinate member.
Values of Local Church Discipline, Pt. 4
The Bible is clear in its teachings about what the church should do in the discipline of its members.
Church leaders and local bodies of believers can no more ignore the scriptural passages that instruct on the matter than they can ignore any other portions of the Bible. Paul’s teaching on church discipline in 1 Corinthians 5 is as much the Word of God as John 3:16 or Acts 2:4. As Carl Laney says, “Church discipline is a biblical imperative. The church cannot neglect this imperative any more than it would willfully ignore Christ’s commission to evangelize the nations.” John Schaver says, “The true preaching of the Word, the proper administration of the sacraments, and the faithful exercise of discipline are the three marks of the true Church; and the third of these is essential to the other two.”
In the practical application of these teachings, however, the leadership of a congregation must make sure the membership is fully informed on what the Bible says about discipline in the church. Then they must seek wisdom from heaven as to how and when to act upon scriptural principles. Finally, circumstances dictate that they fully take into account all legal aspects relating to such actions.
Church history reveals varying degrees of response to the teachings of the Bible on church discipline.
They range all the way from leniency with virtually no disciplinary action to extreme severity in carrying out biblical instructions. Schaver offers an example of the latter when he reports that some segments of the church came to view certain evils as mortal sins. He writes: “The punishment for these was excommunication, which deprived the erring member from the right of attending any church service and from fellow¬ship with the believers. Repentance shown by way of prayers, fasting, and alms deeds was acknowledged, but the path to restoration was hard and long all the way from one to twenty years.”
A further example of such extremes in church discipline comes from the third century. John McNeill reports that, by then, a fallen member had to move through four stages in being restored to fellowship with the church. The “mourners” stood outside the church door begging to be re-admitted. The “hearers” had a place just inside the church where they could listen to the sermon. The “kneelers” bowed shoulder to shoulder with the worshipers but engaged only in the kneeling part of the ritual. The “co-standers” had more liberties and yet still could not participate in communion. Only at length was one returned to the place of a full communicant. McNeill indicates that in some places the process could take as long as eleven years.
Congregations of other time periods followed biblical instructions on church discipline more closely.
Laney writes: “Church discipline, applied strictly according to biblical guidelines, is a rare occurrence these days. During earlier times church discipline was a regular part of church life. In Scotland, for instance, during the time of John Knox, church elders were expected to visit the homes of the parishioners and inquire whether there had been any quarrels; and any family members who had were to be reconciled before they received communion. Only those who had received metal tokens of fitness would be allowed to participate in the Lord’s Table.”
In recent years the writer has witnessed similar disciplin¬ary strictness in churches of West Africa. Those on probation cannot participate in communion nor engage in any ministry to the congregation. They must sit on a bench at the rear of the sanctuary. One church painted it black with the word Discipline written conspicuously in red on it. Those occupying it must refuse to shake hands with any who offer, explaining they are not in full fellowship with the congregation.
Of course, neither church history nor current religious policies of a body of believers in any part of the world provide an authoritative guide on discipline. In the world of reality, to follow even the teachings of Scripture on -the subject requires wisdom from above. It certainly is not something anyone should rush into apart from much study and prayerful preparation.
With appropriate words of caution, Jay Adams writes that successful discipline “presupposes the knowledge of a number of principles and practices relating to the intricacies in the interrelationships that develop in the process of discipline. Apart from such knowledge, the participating believer may fail to act as he should and, in the end, may do harm rather than good.” He concludes that because of prevailing ignorance concerning the subject of church discipline, “Pastors and church leaders should regularly instruct their congregations in the full range of its princi¬ples and practices. This would work to help avoid needless injury.”
Experience teaches that, to be effective, church discipline of necessity must be church-wide.
Emphasizing this, John White and Ken Blue say: “The commonest error is to suppose that authority figures administer discipline best. Awe of them will bring repentance and love of them good behavior. However, parents and school teachers are painfully aware that habits and characters are powerfully shaped by peer pressure. It is the censure of the community that brings repentance, and the plaudits of the community that stimulate exemplary behavior.” When congregational leaders attempt it without the support of most of the people, they fail in their efforts and make bad matters worse.
Further, Lynn Buzzard and Thomas Brandon reason that church disci¬pline must be viewed as more than just a procedure mandated by the constitution and by-laws of a congrega¬tion. It is a way of life. They write: “Discipline assumes mutual accountability. The whole church is always under discipline, including those who carry out discipline. Discipline is not an incident in which some rare bylaw is invoked, but a process of mutual care. Discipline is not even an act, but a style of submitting ourselves one to another, calling each other to what we ought to be, not letting each other alone.”
In today’s world, of course, the question of legal risks in practicing church discipline arises.
Richard Hammar, a noted attorney who specializes in church law, draws attention to the landmark United States Supreme Court case of Watson v. Jones in 1872, which established the “non-intervention” policy in matters of church discipline for the civil courts of America. Recognizing exceptions, he declares that many courts still follow the century-old rule “concluding that the discipline and dismissal of church members is exclusively a matter of ecclesiastical concern and thus the civil courts are without authority to review such determinations.”
In dealing with some exceptions to the usual practice, Hammar points to the widely publicized case of Guinn v. Church of Christ of Collinsville in Oklahoma in 1989 as one that has brought the question of civil court intervention into matters of church discipline sharply into focus. In the litigations Mirian Guinn sued the church over its handling of her dismissal from membership in the congregation. She won a judgment of $390,000. The Oklahoma Supreme Court upheld the verdict though it ordered a new trial to reassess the amount of damages awarded. Jay Quine reports that the case was finally settled out of court.
Still, as Adams observes, “Even though discipline is difficult and runs many risks, churches dare not run the greater risk of withholding a privilege and blessing provid¬ed by Christ, thus depriving sinning members of all the help He has provided for them.” Adams recommends that churches keep good records of all disciplinary procedures. He says, “In this time when people are suing the church for obeying God, it is especially important to be able to substantiate the fact that you have followed your procedures as they are laid down in your denominational book of discipline or in the bylaws of your congregation.” These procedures must have been given to the member at the time of joining the church, and the member must have signed an agreement to live by them in submitting to the authority of the church.
Laney provides a helpful list of nine things a church should do to avoid lawsuits over its disciplinary actions.
The list elaborates on the suggestions of Adams. Buzzard and Brandon, both attorneys, offer detailed sugges¬tions as to what a church practicing discipline can do in efforts to stay out of court. They even offer convenient “sample forms” for use in church discipline. Hammar presents a similar list with some of the most noteworthy written legal counsel available on church conduct in matters of disci¬pline. No doubt the wisest course for the leaders of any congregation, however, is to seek professional legal advice from a competent attorney before they proceed with the discipline of any member. Even so, Buzzard and Brandon remind their readers that “the church’s sensitive and biblically rooted practices will be more important than lawyers.”
Still, the question is not whether a church should or should not include the practice of discipline among its ministries. Rather, it is a matter of determining how to offer that needed service to members scripturally, wisely, and legally.
Instead of leading to the death of a church, consistent discipline promotes a strong, healthy congregation. Dean Kelley’s study revealed that lenient churches are dying while strict churches continue to grow, even in today’s world. His research led him to depict a “model church.” Among its several traits he declares that its “members would willingly and fully submit themselves to the disci¬pline of the group, obeying the decisions of the leadership without cavil and accepting punishment for infractions without resentment, considering any sanctions preferable to being expelled.”
Buzzard and Brandon conclude, “We rob people of their right to be forgiven when we fail to confront them. We need not think of church discipline as a necessary evil.” They observe further, “We desperately need that church discipline to provide healing, release, and forgiveness to the burdened and trapped members of our own communi¬ties. Without it we consign people to the privacy of their guilt.”
In conclusion, church leaders and local bodies of believers can no more ignore the passages of Scripture that instruct on discipline of members than they can disregard any other passages from the Bible.
In the practical application of these teachings, however, the leadership of a congregation must make sure the members are fully informed on what the Bible says about discipline in the church. Church history provides some lessons on the subject, including extremes that the local congregation must avoid. Though the Bible is clear in its teachings on a church’s proper actions in the discipline of its members, congregational leaders must seek wisdom from heaven as to when and how to act upon scriptural principles. Finally, circumstances dictate that they fully take into account all legal aspects relating to such actions.
Values of Local Church Discipline, Pt. 5
When You Are the Only One That Is Right – you may be wrong!
Most people have experienced what it is like to be around a person who knows everything about everything. Mention any subject, and immediately a friend becomes an expert on whatever it is. If one makes any effort to correct some lack of knowledge about the matter under discussion, he seems not to hear. He appears not to realize that at times, at least, he does not know what he is talking about. In his eyes he is always right. Proverbs cautions such persons repeatedly with words like, “Hear instruction and be wise, and do not disdain it” (8:33). One would think that no person would ever knowingly want to be such a know-it-all individual.
Then some other person will act as if he is never certain of what he believe about anything. If one happens to be with him in different settings, he is surprised to hear him side with whatever view those hold who discuss a given subject. He is not only surprised but actually irked by the experience. The Bible refers to such persons as those who are “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:7).
Then, not infrequently in moments of discouragement one may feel that he is the only one who is right, when in fact many others hold to the same views as he does. This happened to no less a mighty prophet than Elijah. He fled for his very life from Jezebel, his archenemy. Understandably despondent, Jehovah came to comfort him. The man of God poured out his heart before the Lord. He told Jehovah that he had been very zealous for Him while others in the nation had torn down His altars and killed His prophets. Then he declared, “I alone am left; and they seek to take my life” (1 Kings 19:10). The prophet may have been surprised to hear the response, “I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal” (18).
While most want to avoid dogmatism in their lives, the Bible provides directions for a balance between the extreme personalities illustrated above.
On the one hand, this requires that one not be an individual who is “carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14). What he must do instead is, as Paul said, to “test all things” (1 Thess. 5:21a). Then having determined what Truth is, he must “hold fast what is good” (1Thess. 5:21b). Further the apostle repeatedly taught young ministers in the Pastoral Epistles that they must maintain sound or healthy doctrine at all times (Titus 2:1).
Sometimes a person must actually “contend for the faith” (Jude 3), even when it seems he is the only one who is right. Paul was once in that position. He felt forced to confront Peter concerning a critical error in his theology and practice (Gal. 2:11-16). The error centered on the question of whether or not Gentiles must keep the Law of Moses in order to be saved. Earlier the two apostles had stood together by answering, “No,” to the question (Acts 11:1-18).
When confronted by Judaizers at a hearing in the Church Peter recounted his ministry to Gentiles in the house of Cornelius (Acts 10:24-48). At the end he boldly proclaimed that those Gentiles were saved by faith in Christ alone.
However, later in a visit to Paul’s home church at Antioch Peter withdrew from eating with Gentile converts out of fear of the Judaizers (Gal. 2:11-12). Even Barnabas, along with other Jewish believers followed his lead (13). That is when Paul publicly “withstood him [Peter] to his face because he was to be blamed” (11). Apparently at the moment he stood alone in defense of the purity of the gospel.
Would it have been better if the apostle had approached Peter privately about the matter?
Certainly, what he did was better than discussing the matter behind Peter’s back. MacArthur responds with, “Because Peter’s offense was public; Paul rebuked him in the presence of all, unmasking his hypocrisy before the whole congregation. Every believer in Antioch and doubtlessly many unbelievers as well, knew that Peter was no longer associating with Gentiles as he had once done so freely and openly. Unless the sin of a believer is dealt with publicly, people will think the church does not take sin seriously and therefore gives tacit approval of it. A church that does not discipline sinning members (including the most prominent members) loses its credibility because it does not take seriously its own doctrines and standards.” (John MacArthur, Jr The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Galatians. [Chicago: Moody Press, 1987], p. 54).
Is it possible that Paul was so disappointed with Peter and even Barnabas that he momentarily lost control and showed an unchristian attitude in what follows in this account?
Some scholars suggest that to be the case. Instead, Paul’s public confrontation served the brethren well. Subsequent history suggests they accepted his correction. MacArthur counsels here that. “Truth is more important than outward harmony and peace. Christian fellowship and unity are built on truth, never falsehood. No matter what the beneficial prospects might seem to be from a human perspective, compromise can do nothing but weaken the church. Peace that is preserved by compromising God’s truth is the pseudo-peace of the world and is not of God.” (MacArthur, p. 52);
Much more than insignificant hair-splitting arguments between theologians is involved in this case.
At issue is the whole matter of eternal life or eternal death. If Paul had not stood almost alone in this case and others, including his defense of the gospel against the inroads of Gnosticism, its message would have been lost in that syncretistic heresy or it would have become no more than an appendage to Judaism.