Moreover, those so-called leaders – I say so-called, because I don’t care what they really are, and God doesn’t make distinctions – they didn’t add conditions to my endorsement. Instead, when they saw my mission was to take the Jesus story to the heathen, just as Peter’s mission was to Jews, and that Jesus was working through Peter’s efforts with Jews and also through mine with pagans, and when James and Cephas and John, who everyone agreed were the “pillars of the church” gave their okay, they gave Barnabas and me their endorsement to go to the heathen, while they tended to the Jews. The only thing they wanted was for us to take care of the poor, which I readily agreed to do.
It’s a simple plan. Paul goes to convert the pagans, and Peter (with the old guard in Jerusalem) takes care of the Jews. You do your thing, we’ll do ours. Maybe we can get together and talk about how it’s going every couple years, but otherwise we’ll just stay out of each others’ way.
The fly in the ointment is that little side remark about “God doesn’t make distinctions.” Paul means it as a backhanded insult to the Jerusalem leaders, who Paul sees as having gone back on the deal. But Paul says more than he knows. It’s the reason a deal to parcel out different kinds of folks as being the exclusive domain of a certain faction just won’t work. As much as Paul opposes adherence to “Law,” this deal merely legislates that certain people are fair game and others are off limits. It’s no better than any other kind of competitive “empire building.” It’s the first church arms race, and Paul is determined to win it.
If God doesn’t make distinctions, though, you can’t expect people to follow that God from different walks of life, and remain only theologically, theoretically equal. At some point they have to mix in real life. And if Jesus is really about setting people free, you can’t build a Jesus movement on the assumption that people are pawns that can be shuffled around on a denominational battle map. You have to treat them like – well, people.
The same is true for any strategy to grow a movement. Those who insist that the only way forward is “divide and conquer,” will eventually end up divided against themselves.