Visions of Christ or Fear of Persecution

15 03 2008

Scripture:

Galatians 6:7-15 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. 9Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

11See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand! 12Those 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. 13Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh. 14May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which[b] the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. Observations:

OK, this text really struck a chord with me. These people, who in Paul’s day urged others (non-biological Israelites) to get circumcised, remind me of the modern-day Pharisees within the Church today. They urge and compel others to obey rules and rights that they themselves have deemed to be crucial to one’s salvation and experience. However, often the ones being compelled are beginners in their walk of discipleship, or they have “bigger fish to fry.”

A few years ago, a young adult member (at one of the churches I led) was telling me how he never prayed and that his spiritual experience was virtually non-existent. A week later at a church function, the patriarch of the church was chastising this “kid” for not wearing a sport coat or suit to the church services. It was all I could do to not lose my temper right there. However, I waited and later talked to this so-called leader. “How dare you get on his case about his attire,” I exclaimed. “He doesn’t even walk with God. What he wears is insignificant.”

At the church I’m currently leading, we have a man who will corner people and chastise them for not obeying certain health or theological minutia. I’ve noticed that he will rarely approach strong people with a healthy self or spiritual walk. It is usually socially unique individuals or individuals who are less capable of defending themselves against this sort of abuse.

The comparison with this text seems to break down at a certain level though. Paul says these folks seek circumcision in order to avoid persecution. I can only surmise that this was because the faithful Jews were persecuting the radical new sect of “The Way (i.e.; the new Christians).” The Jews have a horrible history of being isolationists and disregarding anyone who was not a part of “the chosen.”  Of course this was completely contrary to God’s plan, but through their ignorance, they failed to see the bigger picture of being a light to the darkness.

A good number of the Jewish Christians were able to fly under the radar, as it were, and hide their new-found faith.  The fact that they were circumcised made it all that much easier.  However, by associating with those who were not circumcised, they were less able to hide their beliefs.  This opened them up to persecution.  I can only imagine that Paul’s counsel is aimed at people who have dysfunctional motives for urging legalistic behavior in others.

It is easy for me to apply this text to contemporary versions of coercion and spiritual abuse.  Some believe that if they don’t share this micro-truths with others, the blood of other’s disobedience will be on their own heads.   So, by sharing everything they know – often in a 10 minute or less lecture, they feel they have removed their own obligation in the matter and heaped the responsibility on the receiver of that information.

However, the part about avoiding persecution has me puzzled as to how to apply this to today’s circumstances.  Are these modern Pharisees seeking to avoid persecution?  If so, from whom?  Certainly it is those within the church who already draw a certain amount of persecution from the non-believers.  What purpose would be served by compelling others to obey the minuta of current Christian traditions and teachings?

Do those outside of the church concern themselves as to weather a person uses the NIV or the KJV Bible?  I think not?  Would an outside observer care if those attending church wore formal, business, dress, or casual attire?  I doubt it.  Do those non-attenders concern themselves with what believers eat or drink?  Usually not.  So, what persecution are the compelers avoiding?

I see a couple of potential answers to this question.  As I mentioned earlier, many feel that it is their God-given command to “teach people to obey” (Matthew 28)  They believe that if they are not faithful to take this message to the whole world, they will be held personally responsible for the eternal deaths of others.  Another option is that they are feeling persecuted by those inside the church, for their own unique behaviors.  If they can convince others to join their misguided “appease” God, then they won’t feel as persecuted by others.  This is the codependent model of evangelism:  The lemming approach to affirmation.  A third option is that there may be an attempt to make the Church more holy.  In order to respond to those outside the Church, who complain about hypocrisy within the church; the legalists are attempting to raise the bar, so-to-speak, by compelling better behavior of others.  If more people obey ALL the commands, then the unbelievers will have less cause to persecute, or complain, about the church.

I could very well be wrong.  I really don’t see well into this mindset.  However, if I am right, I see any of these motives as being entirely dysfunctional and off-track.  Neither is Christ-centered and neither is casting a vision of revealing God’s character to the world.

Application(s):

No matter where I go, like Paul in this passage, or Jesus when He overturned the money tables, I will not let injustice go un -confronted when it rears it ugly, satanic head.  The vision of holiness should be led by a vision of Christ and His character.  The roles must not be reversed.  Jesus said, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all people to me.”  Let us strive to lift up Jesus.  Let us seek to reveal His character to a lost world.  Let us leave the salvation, sanctification, and justification in God’s hands.

It is our duty to be faithful to His calling, let’s not put ourselves in God’s place.

Prayer:

Father God, please continue to help me to understand the roles and responsibilities that you would have me fulfill.  Teach me to walk with you and to hear your voice.

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One response

23 03 2008
Craig Bennett

G’day. I’m not sure if I have the right Gary or not. Sorry if I don’t! God has had you and your family in my prayers this year and I just thought to Google you and found this site.

Blessings craig b

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