Monday, November 12, 2007

Manners and the Gospel

I'm loving reading the epistles at the moment. The solid, clear and Christ centred doctribe that nflows through them work on my heart as few other parts of the Bible do so regularly. In those ancient letters there is so much to learn, to study, to enjoy. What i really love about reading the through almost back to back is that you start to notice things that are the same.

Paul was obviously, amongst many other things, a man of manners. He'd been brought up well. He was, quite apart from that, someone who alwyas saw and gave thanks for the grace of God at work in the churches that he wrote to. Even the Corinthians, even a church that immoral that he such a complicated relationship with, he still thanks God for. Thats the case in almost all the letters we have in the new testament. Galatians is a striking exception.

Paul starts this letter by introducing himself, making sure the Galatians are aware that his calling is from God, not from man, as that will be important later on. He even says 'grace and peace to you' in the introduction. He has great feelings for the people reading this letter. They need to know who he is, they need to know grace and peace.

But then...no thanking, no encouragement. Instead, 'i am astonished' he starts. Something here has clearly gone wrong. Paul's focus is away from thanking and praising from the off. There is something that is far more pressing on his mind, far more important than niceties, something even that may cancel out the truths that he would share with them in that part of the letter anyway.

And what's happened? It seems that the Galatian church has turned away from the Gospel Paul preached to them. The Gospel of Jesus Christ as crucified and risen Lord. The only real Gospel, the only way of salvation. Paul doesn't mince his words here. He's not entered a popularity contest, but rather is driven onwards by a fierce belief in the centrality of the Gospel in the life of a Christian. He reminds his readers that there is no other Gospel. He goes even further than that, pointing out two things in verse 8. Firstly, this Gospel is not from him, and secondly, that anyone, including angels, including himself, who preaches a contrary Gospel is to be accursed. These are strong words.

We really see here an insight into Paul's mind, the centrality of the gospel and the depravity of the human heart. Paul was driven by a love and commitment to the Gospel. Nothing else shone as brightly in his heart as Christ and Him crucified. He loved his churches, and they needed to know this message. It wouldn't do to water it down or sanitise it. People will only be saved this way. There is nothing else for the church to build on other than the Gospel. That really is it. Good music, fancy PA and AV presentation, soothing messages, great buildings...none of it is as important as the Gospel. Take it all, build churches of cold brick and uncomfortable wooden benches, use a OHP rather than a cinema screen...it doesn't matter, but give us the Gospel. And lastly, we need to see how quickly we can fall away from the truth. It seems that people at the moment are forsaking the Gospel as quickly as they can, for whatever reason they can think of. The Gospel dies on the alter of popularity, or trendyness, or better attended meetings. If Paul could foresee a time when he possibly could move from this message, then there's no reason to think we never would. We must guard our hearts, stir ourselves, read the Bible, and pray. All the time. And the church at Galatia probably didn't think they were moving that far from the truth, because after all, surely the Jewish laws are compliant with Christianity. And almost unaware they say that Christ died for nothing. Because if we move away to a false Gospel this is what we do.

Cross plus, is only ever cross minus.

1 comment:

sheep wanderer said...

I really amen this post. And your conclusion-'Cross plus=cross minus'.

I just finished reading CJ Maheney's Living the Cross-centred life yesterday. I'm appreciating more and more that there really is nothing else to Christian living. Live the cross centred life I'm sorted.

Much less complicated than I often make it.