Acts 4:32 tells us that “the community of believers were of one
heart and mind” and that is how the apostles themselves are generally believed
to have been, and —I surmise— that is also why Peter and Paul are celebrated
together as pillars of the Church forming a harmonious dyad. Pillars they
were all right and I have no doubt they were “of one heart.” But “of one
mind”? They were that too, at least when the first Council of Jerusalem
discussed essentials. However oneness of mind in essentials did not mean
oneness of mind in every single issue.
Even when enlightened by the Spirit, Peter’s mind remained ultimately
the mind of a good fisherman: down to earth, but not necessarily sophisticated,
at least not in comparison to Paul’s. Peter himself seems to admit to that
much, when in his second letter he writes: “...our beloved brother Paul...
wrote to you, speaking of these things in all his letters. In them there
are some things hard to understand...” [2Pet. 3:16] One in
heart they were, but oneness of mind was not to be taken for granted on
Or on Paul’s side for that matter. It was not often that the two of them
were together in the same place, but it did happen in Antioch. There Peter
seems to have been backtracking on his conviction that associating with
gentiles was not forbidden to the followers of Jesus. Paul remembers that
encounter very well: “...when Cephas came to Antioch, then I did oppose
him to his face, since he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain people
from James came, he used to eat with gentiles; but as soon as these came,
he backed up and kept apart from them for fear of the circumcised.” [Gal.
2:11-12] Not of one mind in that issue. Was Paul afraid that out
of fear Peter could be sliding back into the dissembling that led him to
deny —also out of fear— that he even knew Jesus?
Oneness of mind and heart speaks of unanimity, not necessarily of uniformity.
The apostolic faith planted by both Peter and Paul remained the same in
its essentials, but in its details it was not cloned in every one of the
many faith communities that sprang from their proclamation. Each exhibited
its own identifying characteristics without being perceived as a threat
to unanimity, a growth that in its diversity was seen as guided by the Holy
Spirit. Today’s Church extends over clearly diverse societies and
cultures and, taking a clue from Peter and Paul, it strives to preserve
unanimity. Micromanaging the growth of each local church over the planet
may achieve the external impression of uniformity, but in disregarding what
is legitimately proper to the local church it could hurt unanimity. We need
Paul’s freedom to disagree with Peter and Peter’s honest acknowledgment that
there are levels of sophistication and depth in the grasping and articulation
of our common faith, levels Peter was not always in a position to understand.