Lessons from the Disciples

The Galatian Church

Introduction

Paul was a special case, as it were, among the disciples and apostles.

Image result for the apostle paulAs he was a shooting star in Judaism Paul was even more of a stellar standout as a disciple of Christ. Formerly a staunch persecutor of those “belonging to the Way,”[1] his perspective, his dedication, and his devotion as a disciple was richer due to his formal training as a rabbi.

Nevertheless it was due to that training  that God had found the need to smack Paul upside the head with the proverbial two-by-four. Christ Himself proclaimed that Paul was “a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel (Acts 9: 15).”

With Paul’s rabbinical training and being a “Jew among Jews” it might seem logical that he should be the Apostle to the Jews. However that was not God’s plan. Whether from a point of retributive justice or a sense of divine humor, or both, God saw fit to send Paul to primarily make disciples of those dogs, the Gentiles.

Image result for the galatiansThe church at Galatia was besieged by legalism apparently brought in by “false brothers.”

When you flip a coin it comes up either heads or tails; the coin of legalism always comes up legalism, or its counterpoint traditionalism. The specific legalistic issue here was to make the Gentile Christians submit to circumcision.

This was the tradition from the Law—this was the Law . . . for Jews. Circumcision was only a sign, now that Messiah had fulfilled the law circumcision was not needed, necessary, or desired.

Tradition

Wrong-headed, non-biblical traditions instituted of men are always problematic. It is faith in God’s Word that justifies us and it is by faith we are to walk. We read that even Peter fell back into traditionalism and had cause to be reprimanded for it by Paul.

Image result for the galatiansActually in Peter’s case it was worse than mere traditionalism, it was returning to the old covenant under the law thereby negating the work of Christ and the New Covenant. Circumcision may not be the issue with us as disciples today, nevertheless there is empirical evidence that we still tend to embrace ill-gotten traditions better left alone.

In my book Before the Final Trump, I chronicle the tradition seemingly inherent in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) from its inception of reinterpreted the Great Commission as meaning evangelism and missions—it is neither.

The SBC report entitled, “The Great Commission Resurgence Task Force Report and Recommendations to the Southern Baptist Convention in Orlando” posited:

“the Southern Baptist Convention came into being in 1845 in order to mobilize the energies of the Southern Baptist churches for missions and evangelism . . . . And yet there are signs that the Great Commission commitment is diminishing among us” (italics mine).[2]

There is only one verb phrase in the Great Commission which is defined in Matthew 28:19 and that is make disciples. All other “action modifiers” are participles, i.e. go, teaching, observe, etcetera.

Christ became a curse for us to redeem us. As Christians we should know we are not justified (saved) by the law.

Paul explains it best, “‘The righteous shall live by faith.’ But the law is not of faith, rather ‘The one who does them shall live by them.’ Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree . . . .’”[3]

Living by faith for many of us is not as easy as it sounds. In my own life I have trouble getting out of God’s way—heck I have trouble getting out of my way! As demonstrated above, traditions complicate the problem even farther.

Regardless whether we were raised in the church or never set foot in one until we put our trust in Jesus Christ, traditions play a part in the theology we embrace.

That is not to say, all tradition is bad. However good tradition is rooted solidly in Scripture. If it is not it should be jettisoned from the church and our theology.

Unfortunately tradition gets in the way of, or masks sound Bible interpretation. Sound Bible interpretation should always, always take precedent over tradition or even teaching.

We must know how to interpret the Bible as nearly as possible for ourselves and not rely solely on our pastors and teachers. Yet statistics show this is a huge problem in the Church today.

The Barna Group, a Christian-based research company that does extensive analysis on the trends within and without the Church. They primarily look at the cultures impact on the Christian faith.

They posted this year-end study in 2010, entitled “Six Megathemes Emerge from Barna Group Research in 2010.” The main points are instructive in themselves:

  1. The Christian Church is becoming less theologically literate.
  2. Christians are becoming more ingrown and less outreach-oriented.
  3. Growing numbers of people are less interested in spiritual principles and more desirous of learning pragmatic solutions for life.
  4. Among Christians, interest in participating in community action is escalating.
  5. The postmodern insistence on tolerance is winning over the Christian Church.
  6. The influence of Christianity on culture and individual lives is largely invisible.[4]

Additionally it is the case that 91% of professing Christians do not even hold a Christian worldview—clearly something is very wrong.

Bible Interpretation

There are a few basics to understanding what the Bible is saying.

Firstly, recognize that when you read anything, anything at all, from your checkbook, to novel, a manual, or the Bible you are interpreting what it means, whether you are aware you are doing it or not. That might seem self-evident to most of us.

Nonetheless a man who has been pastoring for thirty years said this to me, “your problem is you interpret what the Bible says; I just read it.”[5]

Based on some of his theology he wrote about, he definitely needed to start interpreting, and correctly. So do all of us.

Secondly it is important to recognize that the meaning of a text is the meaning poured into it by the writer, not meaning the reader pulls out of it (or read into it).

To do that you must pay attention to the context. Not merely the literary context, but the historical and cultural context. In other words who was the author’s original audience?

For example in the old earth-young earth debate those on the old earth side will use the phrase pulled from scripture that “a thousand years are as a day.” The earliest rendition of this found in Psalms 90, about 1410 B.C. penned by Moses who also wrote all the Pentateuch.[6]

The creation account in Genesis predates Moses by over two thousand year. So the elements in the creation story and beyond had to be given to Moses by God. Genesis tells us the cosmos was created in six days and God rested on the seventh day.

So how would the people of that time period have conceived of a thousand years being equivalent to a day? Indeed the verse in Psalm 90:4[7] is making a comparison illustrating the eternality of God over man’s finiteness. Also it is talking about God’s perception of a thousand years, not man’s!Image result for sir robert anderson

I close with this quote from Sir Robert Anderson :

The cross has shut up man to grace or judgment. . . . Every effort to recover themselves is but a denial of their doom, and a denial too of the grace of God, which stoops to bring them blessing where they are and as they are.

[1] Acts 9:2 ESV

[2] The Great Commission Resurgence Task Force Report and Recommendations to the Southern Baptist Convention in Orlando, Florida (2010), 4.

[3] Galatians 3: 11-13 ESV

[4] The Barna Group, December 13, 2010.

[5] D. D. Edwards, Before the Final Trump, (Nashville: Crossbooks Publishing, 2011), 137.

[6] The Pentateuch is the first five books of the Bible, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

[7] For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it passes by, Or as a watch in the night.

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