2. Paul’s Reaction to Error (1 Corinthians)
In a broad view of the brotherhood in the first century, one
point becomes very clear. Newly baptized brethren and even entire ecclesias in
the formative stage were treated by the apostles with a great deal more patience
and sympathy than is customary in these days. Even extreme errors and gross
misconduct were the subject of careful explanation and entreaty, not broad and
The best example of this is the Corinthian ecclesia, which
seemed to lack a comprehensive grasp of one of the greatest of first principles
— the resurrection (1 Cor. 15)! Can we imagine the reaction of many
Christadelphians today? ‘Why, these people are obviously not in the Truth
at all! How can we have anything to do with them?’
In contrast to this attitude, the apostle Paul strives
mightily and tirelessly to reclaim those who have been misled — while at
the same time strenuously repudiating the false doctrine. Obviously, as far as
he was concerned, these Corinthians were brethren. Admittedly, they were
brethren who very much needed assistance, but they were brethren
In a similar vein are Paul’s words to his Galatian
brethren, who were sorely beset by error:
“O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you?” (Gal.
Paul does not consider the false teachers and those brethren
who are falsely taught to be in the same category. He bluntly exposes the wrong,
attempts to isolate the perpetrator of the wrong, but still patiently and
lovingly instructs the ones who are misled. This is a theme which will recur
time after time in this survey, and it would be well to watch for it.
“An important distinction is made — between the urgent need to
disfellowship the circumcisers and their advocates and the treatment urged upon
those Galatians who may have been gullibly led astray: ‘Brethren, if a man
is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a
spirit of gentleness.’ They were to remember that self-examination,
not self-conceit, is required of all who would thus assume the role of ecclesial
monitors and shepherds. Such are not free from temptation themselves! (Gal.
6:3)” (A. Eyre, “Problems of Fellowship in the First Century
Ecclesia”, The Christadelphian, Vol. 108, No. 1281 — March
1971 — p. 106).
It must not be contended from such passages that we (either as
individuals or ecclesias) are at liberty to overlook error when we
encounter it. And yet an enlightened view of the first-century ecclesias as
presented in the New Testament must encourage a substantial measure of restraint
in our actions. Perhaps there is less reason for patience and latitude today (it
may be argued), since Christadelphian doctrines and practices are so solidly
established. Yet human nature never changes, some brethren will always develop
slowly or erratically or not at all, and some ecclesias will always be in
formative or turbulent periods. Consequently, those who are most firmly grounded
in the Truth will always be building, always desiring maturity (yes, even
perfection) for themselves and their brethren, but never quite attaining it. And
so it must be until Christ returns.
Again, with regard to the Corinthians, Brother Roberts adds:
“There were men among the Corinthian brethren who denied the resurrection;
did Paul charge the [other] brethren with complicity with that heresy because of
the presence of such among them? Doubtless their rejection of the resurrection
nullified their claims for that place [i.e. among the brethren], but
still it did not make the true brethren guilty of their false doctrine while
merely tolerating it, pending an appeal to Paul” (“True
Principles and Uncertain Details”, p.
Some of the other above-mentioned examples of error and
misconduct in the first-century ecclesias are listed below:
We notice that in latter times Nos. 2 and 3 have, on a local
level, been the cause of many ecclesial problems; and that No. 5 has been the
basis for numerous local problems. Also, that the questions of the precise
nature of Christ (Nos. 7 and 8) and details about resurrectional judgment (No.
1) continue to bother Christadelphians.
- There is no resurrection (1 Cor. 15:12; 2 Tim. 2:18).
- Suing at law (1
- Fornication, incest (1 Cor. 5:1).
- Drunkenness at the
“love feast” (1 Cor. 11:21).
- Women speaking (teaching) in the
ecclesia (1 Cor. 14:34; 1 Tim. 2:11).
- The Great Heresy: “Circumcision
is essential to salvation”, or (in its milder form) at least preferable
(Acts 15:1; Galatians, esp. 2:12,13).
- Jesus was merely a man, and not the
Son of God (1 John 2:22; Luke 1:35).
- Jesus was “God”, not man (1
But also, the “Great Heresy” of the first century
(No. 6) is quite interesting, in that it practically reproduces the
“fellowship” viewpoint of some groups of believers even today. If we
simply substitute “cutting off doubtful brethren” in place of
“cutting off the flesh” (in circumcision), the parallel becomes
obvious. The unwarranted division is described as follows:
“Perhaps news of this (Peter’s reception of the Gentile Christians
in Antioch) reached Jerusalem and encouraged the
‘ultra-conservatives’ to make investigations. Perhaps the death of
Herod encouraged Judaean brethren to go and fetch Peter back to Jerusalem.
Whatever the reason, a disastrous visit was made by some ‘from
James’.... These visitors to Antioch forced a division in the ecclesia
by demanding that circumcision be made a matter of fellowship.
And so, in the first century, there existed for a time a
second or “elite” “fellowship”. No doubt, like similar
associations today, it included the most radical — who urged that their
peculiar viewpoint was essential to salvation — as well as the more
moderate element. These moderate ones did not deny to the “others”
the possibility of acceptance at the judgment seat, but merely wished to remain
separate either for expedience’s sake or for fear of personal
“contamination”. How little the ecclesial world has changed from
that day to this!
“We have very sparse details of the actual course of events, but there is
no doubt that it took a very serious turn. Peter, challenged by those from his
own ecclesia, afraid of conservative reaction and failing to face up to the
implications of the vision in Joppa (Acts 10), crumbled under the attack of the
Jerusalem bigots. He ‘stood aside’ and withdrew his fellowship
from his Gentile brethren. The Jewish members of the Antioch ecclesia, faced
with this lamentable lapse of one so prominent, had little alternative but to
follow suit. Paul says they ‘acted insincerely’ (Gal. 2:13), the
implication being that they viewed the division as being expedient, with
fellowship to be resumed perhaps when Peter and the others had gone. Even
Barnabas was carried away and met with the ‘circumcision
fellowship’. Perhaps it is something of a comfort in our own problems
to know that for a time two great apostles were not in the same
“How the division was resolved we do not know, but resolved it must have
been, for shortly afterwards an apparently united Antioch ecclesia sent Saul and
Barnabas forth together on their first sponsored missionary journey.
Probably, Paul’s forthright yet sincere stand on the matter may have
helped; in any case, in God’s providence such a disastrous division
was not to be” (A. Eyre, Vol. 108, No. 1280 — Feb. 1971 — p.