Monday, December 10, 2007

Wrested Scriptures (5) - "another Gospel"

It is often argued by some Christadelphians that any variation from the one true faith falls under this condemnation of Paul:
"If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed" (Gal 1:6-9)
This text is interpreted to mean that unless someone is preaching the one true faith in its entirety then they are preaching "another Gospel". It's argued, for example, that trinitarianism is "another Gospel". So too is heaven-going at death. Some Christadelphians go even further and accuse other Christadelphians of preaching "another Gospel" if they hold different views on the atonement, the nature of Christ, resurrectional responsibility, inspiration, divorce and remarriage, the extent of the Kingdom, or even the identity of Gog and Magog!

What did Paul mean when he wrote about those preaching "another Gospel"?

The best way to get an overview of Galatians is to read it through in one sitting, preferably in a modern version. The Message is excellent for this purpose, and it won't take long at all to read the whole letter. If you read Galatians this way you will notice that Paul is very single-minded and that he really has just one objective in writing this letter. There was only one issue that he wanted to deal with in this letter and he gets straight to the point in the opening verses.

Paul doesn't leave us in any doubt as to the problem: certain teachers from Jerusalem had visited the churches in Galatia and attempted to bring them under some of the rules and regulations of Judaism. Paul is very outspoken in his opposition to this "Judaizing" of Christianity and makes it very clear indeed that the Gospel he preached, and through which the Galatians were converted, was a message of freedom in Christ. He tells them again that we are saved by grace, and not through the keeping of any rules or regulations. He explains that any human efforts to please God and gain salvation through rituals, law-keeping and 'legalism' of any kind will end in failure. No less than seven times he emphasises the importance of grace.

In contrasting the false teachings of the Judaisers with the message he preached, Paul says "You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace" (5:4). To abandon the Gospel of grace is "apostacy" - a fall from grace. He says that if righteousness could be gained any other way than by grace then "Christ died for nothing!" (2:20-21).

Right from the start of this letter Paul makes it clear that this is about grace versus legalism. He says that the Gospel of Christ which they first heard and embraced was about "the grace of Christ" but that now they were deserting this Gospel of grace and "are turning to a different gospel - which is really no gospel at all" (1:5-7).

So its really quite plain here that the "other Gospel" which was being preached was about legalism, rule-keeping and attempting to gain righteousness through "works of the law".

This explains why Paul says that "if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed". Later he said that "all who rely on observing the law are under a curse" (3:10). Legalism brings a curse on those who try to live by rule-keeping.

In earlier posts in this series I noted that many of these "wrested Scriptures" are used by the very people the texts are speaking about and given another meaning contrary to the one that was intended and turned against the believers. Paul wrote: "some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves" (2:4). Not surprisingly then this passage in Galatians 1:6-9 is also often used by legalists in their attempts to rob believers of their freedom in Christ and to bring them into bondage to a doctrinal creed, a style of worship, a manner of dressing, an organisational structure, or some other man-made way of practicing religion.

1 comment:

Cliff York said...

Amen and Amen!!!

What a brilliant post, Steve. I was once one of those who tried to wrest these very scriptures myself to prove that any deviation from (our interpretation of) The "Truth" was actually apostasy and to be dealt with it the swiftest manner.

After all, "a little leaven does leaven the whole lump", says Paul in Galatians. So, (I believed) because "The Truth" has gone into apostasy since Jesus went to Heaven, and that Apostasy went on and grew to produce a huge "harlot system," and because Jesus asked the question, "When I come will the Son of Man find (the) Faith on the earth...?" - I felt justified in applying some very harsh censures on those who were (and still are) our Brethren.

In hindsight, I can see now, that all I actually proved by these actions was that I was dogmatic, narrow minded, bigoted, and carnally minded. I was like Cain... a murderer and a liar, denying that God is in control by His Spirit. I was a man of the flesh, motivated to do the works of the Flesh, resulting in division, disunity and disharmony. All of this, to make myself feel “whiter” by painting others “blacker!”

It truly is a wonderful feeling to have all of that behind me now, having passed over from Death unto Life and to know that the passage has been successful based upon Johns' rule of thumb shared with us in 1John 3:14.

How true it is Steve, that the very folk who use the verses you mention (and many more besides) to prove that those of us who are doing things differently from the "Traditional" way, are (to use their own language) "muddying the waters" and "watering down The Truth." As you said in your post, that is the whole burden of the letter to the Galatians.

In actual fact, God has plainly revealed that insisting on conformity as a basis for Unity, and unthinking adherence to Tradition and/or law keeping as a basis for worship, and cutting people off instead of including them as Jesus did, is the REAL apostasy the scriptures warn us of. See Ezekiel 34.

One of Jesus' commandments that He left for all His followers, was that His followers must be FREE. How often I have broken THAT commandment by insisting that others conform to MY idea of following Jesus. Paul's point in Galatians is, that once a person has been freed, why on earth would they want to be brought back into any form of bondage or slavery? After all, James says that we are going to be judged according the perfect paradoxical "Law of Liberty". In other words, Jesus will judge us for 'not being Free indeed,' when that was one of the very reasons that He died for us... ie. that we might have the freedom to be led by His Spirit to worship Him in Spirit and according to the Truth that He and His Father are "for us," not against us. We cannot truly be "Free" if we are still bound by the traditions of men, or if we are still men pleasers, not God pleasers.

A Brother recently shared with me a good thought. He said, (in discussing the problem of the "herd or pack mentality")... that 'Only those animals who walk outside the herd have clean hooves'.

Jesus taught the same lesson a different way, when He said to Peter, that the only way you will be able to walk on water, is to first get out of the boat. Be like Daniel, and Peter, and Noah, and Abraham… dare to be different.

The definition of insanity after all, is to continue doing what has always been done.... and to expect to get a different result.

Keep up the good work Bro
Live Forever
Let the Sonshine in
Cliff York