Pagan Church?

(I borrowed the idea for the title of today’s post from the book Pagan Christianity? by Frank Viola and George Barna. This is a book that is worth your time.)

What Paul wrote, in his letter to the Galatians, in chapters 4-6, was so astounding to me today.

Before you read these three chapters, though, remember the context of this letter. These new believers, called forth from a pagan world, began to dabble in the Jewish law and rituals, as prescribed in the Torah. Paul was hurt, believing, to some extent, that he wasted his time when he taught them. That was how mad he was.

So they were called from the pagan world, to believe in the grace of Jesus, only to enter into a ritualized form of faith, as observed by Jewish believers. They exchanged free grace, for the lie of earning favor with God.

Okay. Once we have that, now we can read these words, in Galatians 4:8-11.

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God —how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.

Paul compared their previous pagan faith, to their current observance of the Jewish law.

This was written by a guy who killed people on behalf of that very same Jewish law.

Paul’s transformation is remarkable. Formerly, he defended the Jewish law. Now, to him, it was nothing more than idolatry.

Thus, according to these words, if you and I believe in any way we can earn God’s favor (in such a way reminiscent of how Paul’s detractors were trying to sway new believers to accept, and adhere to, the Jewish Law) we are, too, committing idolatry.

The modern unbeliever does not want this. I know, because if I were an unbeliever, I wouldn’t want this.

I would not want strings attached to any adventure I would take in faith. I would not want to volunteer, or I would, at least, not want my desire to volunteer be used as a gauge for my devotion to Jesus. Nor would I want any inherent responsibility. I am already overwhelmed with such things. To find a local church that offers me grace, but then demands all of my spare time, would offend me greatly.

I once attended a church where the pastor, after baptizing a sweet, sweet lady, asked if she also would pledge her time to volunteer, and her money, to that particular church. It was a strange thing to me. According to Paul, such activity is a return to the practices of a pagan world, where identity is found in what you do, not whose you are.

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To enforce his argument, Paul included the ways of a very pagan world in Galatians 5:19-21. Here they are, and they are the products of lives lived without the Spirit of God:

… sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.

Very aggressive behaviors. Selfish behaviors. Greedy behaviors. Ambitious behaviors.

There is a great exchange that happens, though, when the Spirit of God invades our lives. It frees us from investment and ambition. These very pagan behaviors are gone. Instead, this is what is produced, from Galatians 5:22.

… love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

The ways of a pagan world are purposeful behaviors. Pre-meditated. But the ways of the spirit are natural. They do not require practice, or ambition.

They do not need to be provoked. These things grow from a person whose nutrition is the Spirit of God.

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One more statement from Paul today. It is one of the final things he wrote in Galatians.

Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised.The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. (Galatians 6:12)

Circumcision, as you know, was the physical proof that one followed the Jewish law. To Paul, though, as he wrote this letter, he saw it as something different.

He saw it as a perceived better choice, for some, than being persecuted for Jesus – because doing something (anything … even this!) was better than dying. Perhaps anything that gives us a sense of accomplishment, or keeps us busy, is far better than being what Francis Chan called, in his book, Crazy Love, radical believers. Here’s what he said, and, could probably be a modern re-telling of Galatians 6:12:

Lukewarm people are moved by stories about people who do radical things for Christ, yet they do not act. They assume such action is for “extreme” Christians, not average ones. Lukewarm people call “radical” what Jesus expected of all his followers.

Galatians 6:12 is so powerful, that I fear any such commentary on my part, and the commentary you just finished, will just diminish its power. I pray that it does not.

 

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Today is day sixty in ninety straight days of reading the New Testament, and posting here, on my blog, each of those days. Thank you for reading today. You can find the all of the other posts here.

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