Those of us who follow the discipline of the Daily Office will soon be coming to the point in Acts of the Apostles at which it gets agreed that Peter should minister the Gospel to some while Paul and his associates will minister the same Gospel to others — others who will be held to a different standard of conduct, since they are not Jews but Gentiles. The wisdom of this move was credited by the Apostles to the Holy Spirit.
It appears to me that we have here a model for how to handle disputes in the church. It is not necessary, classical Anglican formularies tell us, that rites and ceremonies be in all places the same; nor would it seem, given the Apostles’ debate and decision, in even weightier matters of the Law, that an absolute uniformity be observed, so long as the heart of the Gospel is preserved.
To use Alisdair MacIntyre’s telling imagery, What deep truths from the narrative of our past, in which the practice of obedience has formed us, will enable us to meet future commitments in such a way that we “make of human life a unity”? What, exactly, are the obligations put upon us by the Gospel, if not those Christ enumerated in the Summary of the Law? And how, in keeping them, do we find ourselves, even if discontinuous on the practice of other virtues — even virtues held by some to be grave and important — how do we find ourselves still able to remain united in spite of these discontinuities?
And can we? This is the challenge that faced the church of Acts: and as the Epistles show, it failed — splintered over glossolalia and circumcision and a handful of other trivial discords that the churches’ warring members allowed to divide them — until the hammer of martyrdom in the Empire’s hand awoke them to a consciousness that there were more serious things in life — and in the life to come.
So can we be a church united in Christ while still some of us are “Pauline” and others “Petrine”? Does the unity of the church depend on choosing between Paul, or Cephas, or Apollos? Upon this set of rules or another? Or upon Christ, who summarized the Law under the rubric of Love, and in whom we are one not by our own virtue, but by virtue of our Baptism, and who has chosen us as much as we have chosen him?
— Tobias S Haller BSG