Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. (Acts 15:1–2)
We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. (Acts 15:24)
Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. (Acts 15:37–40)
Disputes, disagreements, and debates – all normal for Kingdom leaders. Nothing new under the sun.
In the first incident we have Paul and Barnabas entering into a debate on the purity of the gospel – a doctrinal issue. This dispute could not be settled locally, thus a meeting was set to determine the solution to the problem. Yes, even in the early Church meetings were common.
Arguments were presented and discussed and a final decision reached. This decision was placed into writing and hand-delivered to the offended parties with some explanation of background and future expectations articulated. A process to determine a solution to the problem was well executed.
The second disagreement was over a personnel decision – John Mark – and involved Paul and Barnabas. This was resolved locally with a decision to go their separate ways. Who was right or were they both wrong? Perhaps it depends on one’s perspective.
Barnabas saw the potential in John Mark (his nephew) and was willing to give him another opportunity, not holding his past failure against him. Paul, perhaps looking at this decision from a task orientation, did not want to jeopardize the mission by having a team member who had not proven himself faithful previously.
Perhaps they were both right. Barnabas’ investment in John Mark proves well worth the time as Paul admits later in 2 Timothy 4:11. Paul’s second missionary tour also proved profitable as he took Silas with him and opened Europe to the gospel.
Not all disagreements can end well. But God’s purposes are not frustrated by these challenges. Do your best to live at peace with all men (Romans 12:18) and trust Him for the outcomes.