Saint Peter, the Hypocrite

   Peter the apostle spent time with Judaizing Christians after the Resurrection of the Christ. When they argued that anyone who wished to become a Christ-Follower must first take on them the ritual elements of Judaism, including circumcision, he agreed.

   Peter, the apostle, spent time with Greek-speaking Christians after the Ascension of the Christ. When the Greeks argued for no intermediate step between paganism and Christ-following, Peter agree with them. They need not take on them the ritual marks of Judaism.

   Paul confronted him about these seeming contradictions. Paul offered his evidence to Peter's face before the council. He did not record Peter's response. Supposedly, Peter may have said he was misquoted.

   In fact, the Judaizers needed to hear their faith is complete in Christ. As such, no ritual sign beyond baptism is required or necessary. Baptism itself is not required to complete some cycle of salvation but it is necessary (and lovely) because our Lord practiced baptism.

   In fact, the Greek speakers needed to hear about the distinctly Jewish, this-world flavor of Messiahship. The Jewish heritage of faith is not a Book Faith, regardless of their high regard for the Hebrew Bible. Jewishness feeds Christianity from its perfectionism, which Christians call discipleship. Jewishness nurtures Christianity with its emphasis on care for human life and creation, which the post-Modern Christians are starting to adopt with their eco-theology. Christianity lost as much  when it left Judaism as Judaism lost when it pushed out the Christians

   Peter must have despised both crowds. He never willingly told them the truth.

   Peter must have had enormous political pressures brought on him by both sides. Imagine, it is tougher for leadership when their movement becomes a success.

   To maintain a relationship with one group, Peter must be a Jew of Jews. To establish a connection with the other group, Peter must practice a variety of antinomianism. He must oppose the Law. Peter does everything except tell the truth to either group. Paul confronts him as a hypocrite.

   This confrontation comes from the man, Paul, who says he becomes all things to all men, in order to save whom he may. Paul draws lines, Peter draws lines; the difference is between necessary truth telling and tact. For Peter the movement has become the moment. For Paul, still new at institution building, individual salvation is the sunnum bonum of the faith.

   Peter experiences his salvation within the context of the (small) apostolic band and then watches the number grow exponentially. Paul experiences his salvation on the Damascus Road. He enters into a period of personal hell, out of which comes his complete conversion. For Paul, individual salvation to prepare a convert for entry into the organization is primary.

   Christ-followers and the Institutional Church have been fighting this battle since Peter and Paul. 

   Christ-following is life-saving, life-seeking and life-affirming. This (now) two thousand year old Faith cannot brook the nostrum of eastern mysticism, the anomie of secularism or the lacuna of paganism. For the Christ-lover, Love is the premier virtue. The Love Ideal of the Christ-follower is the Christian High Virtue. Kant understood this when he decided humans could be ends but never means to an end and so re-coined the Golden Rule for his day.

   Peter is trying to hold together a Movement and move it forward. Paul, the Pharisee, tries to purify the Movement for its own good. Peter comes off as the practical hypocrite because the institutional need demands a fluid stance largely devoid of a set position. He must hold two opposing thoughts in perfect tension. The idealist Paul cannot allow him to hold both. He must choose between one or the other.

   So, the dilemma at hand seems to be this; how to tell a seeker enough truth to see them make progress toward Christ-following without allowing personal bias or cultural ethos from characterizing (one might say parodying) the one true faith? We all draw lines. Where do we draw them and why? Peter may not be a hypocrite is we see his first mission is to help persons move closer to Christ-following within their own cultural context. Peter is more properly seen as a hypocrite if his dual position on Judaizing is shown to be a patent falsehood intended to curry favor for him personally but without basis in personal conviction. Who but Peter could answer this question? It is a shame we do not have his answer.





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