Archive for June 7th, 2006

Recognizing Grace

Wednesday, June 7th, 2006

Please read Galatians 2:1-14 (NRSV) (The Message) out loud if possible.

As you read, consider these questions: What might God be saying to me in this passage? What jumps out at me? At the end of the reading, try to summarize your thoughts in a sentence or two before reading on.

My thoughts on this passage (Rev. Jeff Miner):

The book we are studying this week — Galatians — is regarded by theologians as one of the most important in the New Testament. Galatians focuses on a huge conflict brewing in the early Christian Church — less than 20 years after Jesus’ resurrection.

Paul (the author of Galatians) was preaching that salvation is available to everyone who “confesses Jesus as Lord.” Romans 10:9. The term “Lord” means boss. Paul taught that anyone who believed in Jesus enough to follow him as boss of his/her life would be saved. Many Gentiles — i.e., people who were not of Jewish heritage — were embracing Paul’s message.

This alarmed other Church leaders. Remember, the majority of the early Church was comprised of people from a Jewish background. It came natural to them to continue following the rules of Moses from the Old Testament, even while believing in Jesus. To them, the Gentiles were frightening. Not only were they culturally and ethnically different, they didn’t keep all the traditional rules, including the rule that all males should be circumcised.

For many Jewish Christians, this was just too much! “If we don’t require them to be circumcised, what’s to keep them from disregarding other rules in the Bible – and before long it will be anything goes!” Sound familiar?

In the book of Galatians, we will see that Paul was adamant that this rules-oriented approach to the Faith was terribly wrong. In fact, later in the book, he will warn that anyone who thinks keeping rules is the way to salvation will “cut themselves off from Christ.” Eventually, Paul’s perspective prevailed and became the norm in the early Church.

What makes Galatians so fascinating for us today is that we seem to be embroiled in a similar debate. Many straight Christians see gay and transgender Christians the same way Jewish Christians saw the Gentiles. To them, the gender of one’s spouse is as critical as circumcision, whereas to gay and transgender Christians the gender of a spouse seems every bit as external as circumcision was.

In today’s reading, Paul describes the history of how this dispute unfolded in the early Church. By reviewing his description, we can glean lessons for today. Two things catch my eye:

First, some of the most prominent leaders of the early Church were on the wrong side of the circumcision issue, at least for a while. Peter and James defended circumcision, while Paul opposed them. You and I should not be shaken by the fact that today there are prominent Christian leaders who oppose admitting gay and transgender Christians to the Church. Just because someone is a prominent leader doesn’t mean he/she is always right.

Second, as we can tell from Paul’s description, the struggle to find unity was a long one. It sounds like Peter himself waffled a good bit. His heart was with Paul, but there was much pressure from others to side with James. It took a while before Peter (and eventually James) came around and stood firmly with Paul. As we seek to persuade our fellow Christians not to get hung up on superficial gender issues, we need to be patient, very patient. It will take time — and many will flip flop back and forth for a while until gaining clarity in their souls.

Thought for the day: Like Paul, we must be prepared to be patient, strong, and unflinching in our struggle to maintain the purity of the Gospel. Like him, we stand for the proposition that salvation is available to everyone who confesses Jesus as Lord. Like Paul, we must not be bullied into backing down.

Today, let’s join together in prayer for: Dan Funk, our Justice Minister and Exectuive Director of the Interfaith Coalition on Nondiscrimination.

We encourage you to include a time of prayer with this reading. Use the item above as a starting point, or consider the guidelines on the How to Pray page.

"Be still, and know that I am God." Psalm 46:10
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