You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified! The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? Did you experience so much for nothing?—if it really was for nothing. Well then, does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?
I wonder what it would take for a United Reformed Church minister to tell the members of a URC congregation that they were all idiots. I think that it would take a lot, and that’s not just because of the likely consequences for the minister, whether they wrote it in a letter or, even more “courageously”, declared it from the pulpit.
Granted, Saint Paul gives the impression of being someone never afraid to say it as he sees it, as Saint Peter could have told you after their set-to in Antioch (2:11-14). Yes, Paul was a passionate character, capable of language even more cutting (see 5:12), but this is not about one man’s personality; this is about a big faith issue.
Asked to define a church many people describe a building. Asked to explain the URC many of us begin with how we organise ourselves differently from other Christians, perhaps referencing Elders and Church Meeting. Saint Paul would not be impressed and would not hesitate to tell us so: “Foolish URC ones! Who has bewitched you! Does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by virtue of you having Elders and Church Meeting?”
Our Christian identity starts by knowing about Christ, so maybe we would be better to start by pondering a question like, “When did I first hear about Jesus Christ and recognise this as good news?”
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with Elders or Church Meetings, or many formal and informal rules of Church life. Just like the Hebrew scriptures, which includes Jewish law, they can be a great resource for our shared life. They don’t make us Christian, however, and we spurn their potential for Christians if we try to have them without Christ. To believe otherwise would be foolish.
We thank you, God That you have made yourself known to us in Jesus Christ. Give us the wisdom of your Holy Spirit, we pray, To order the life of your Church, And to live in your world, With Christ as the enlivening cause Of all we think and say and do. Amen.
The Rev’d Trevor Jamison is Environmental Chaplain for Eco-Congregation Scotland.
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