Galatians 1:6-9 – 6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
We know this passage. It is sobering. It causes us to pay attention. We know that there is one gospel. We know that anyone preaching something other than the one gospel is in serious trouble.
When you think about the urgency and seriousness of this passage, I believe it should cause you to cling to two significant pillars: doctrine and mission. I also believe that, in many a discussion that I have read over the past couple of years, one or both of these is missing. May we be more careful.
In recent days, I have read many people telling other Christians to stop fussing about issues related to doctrine, secondary issues, side issues, tertiary issues. The assumption is that, among the basic group under the banner evangelical or perhaps under the banner of a denomination, everybody already agrees on the gospel and so there should be only focus on mission. So long as we all like the same teacher, sign the same doctrinal statement, or have the same name in our churches, there is no reason to roll up our sleeves and get down to the work of hashing out what is biblical in most issues. Just take the gospel to the world.
On the other hand, there are many other discussions I have read that are all issues. We draw lines in the sand. Are you on my side? If so, you are OK—for now. If not, you are a heretic, even if you agree with me on 99.9% of systematic theology. Perhaps we agree on every doctrine, but we disagree on implementation. It’s time to put you out of the camp.
What should we see from Galatians 1:6-9? First, doctrine matters, a lot. Get the gospel wrong, and it is a damnable offense. If any person suggests that there should be a unity of mission when there is a genuine disunity in significant doctrine, there is a problem. Yes, the gospel is simple. But the gospel is also doctrinally loaded. And we can easily distort the gospel when we also embrace false doctrines that surround it. We would be fools to think that only a basic agreement on the rudiments of the gospel is enough to say that we are doing what we should. Tell people to ignore theological differences on issues, even what you think are secondary issues, and you risk opening the door to them also misunderstanding the gospel or proclaiming a false one.
Second, there is a mission. The genuine gospel needs to be proclaimed. Thus, we cannot spend all our time and energy in polemics. Yes, that group over there may very well be wrong in how they try to accomplish this mission or how they explain that doctrine. Yes, it matters. But if your focus is primarily a focus that makes you angry at other Christians and their folly instead of being a focus that makes you love Jesus more and take his grace to the globe, something is wrong.
So, hear me, proclaim a true gospel. Make sure you know the gospel. Help others know it too. Know it matters. But do not focus so much on fixing others that you stop loving and proclaiming the gospel.