Monday, January 2, 2012

Galatians: One Big Application

Now that Galatians is in the books, I feel that I must ask what I've learned. What made the study fruitful? One thing that became crystal clear to me was the source and importance of unity.

There is a lot of discussion in the parts of the Evangelical world today about gospel unity. In short it seeks to ground unity in the gospel, meaning that we are united to one another by virtue of having a similar confession and we can work for the kingdom with anyone who agrees with us on key doctrinal issues and a particular formulation of the gospel. I want to rain on this well attended parade. I don't find this to be a helpful way to ground our unity. Galatians (and Paul generally) presents a different source, and to be very provocative I fear that this approach runs far too close to that of the false teachers who had infiltrated Galatia (though I certainly would not call them false brothers).

Orthodoxy isn't the source of our unity. The Holy Spirit is. Full stop.

What is the problem in Galatia? It's exclusion from fellowship. Why? Because of a doctrinal disagreement. Full stop.

The Teachers excluded the Gentile Galatians because they had not been circumcised, saying that they had not become full members of the people of God. Their understanding of what it meant to be part of the people of God caused them to insist upon Torah as the defining mark. Paul says, 'Nein!' You are part of the people of God if you have received the Spirit. The Spirit is what defines Christian community and is the source of our unity. Thus to impose the necessity of Torah or particular stances on the atonement (or more secondary matters like inerrancy or evolution) as a litmus test for association is dead wrong. It's opposed to the gospel. The true measure is the presence of the Holy Spirit. Do these Christ-confessing communities demonstrate love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? If they do, then they're your brothers and sisters in Christ, whether Calvinist or Arminian; Evangelical or Mainline; Protestant, Roman Catholic, or Orthodox.

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