There was a day when I relished a good theological argument. Jousting with this or that “opponent” over this or that doctrine was as much fun as it was challenging. My favorite fights were over questions about the Trinity or predestination or even the very question about what was salvation anyway. I’d pour over scriptures and read books about apologetics and hone my “arguments” until I thought they were ironclad! And then I’d come up against someone who had done the same and they had come up with a completely different answer than me!
Yep, it was (mostly) a waste of time. Not because we shouldn’t do serious and exhaustive work in learning our faith, but because arguing over it produced so little benefit. Add to this that I was doing all this work disconnected from the timeless Church and I was making final decisions about theology and truth with a huge amount of wisdom missing from the equation. No wonder this effort went nowhere! But there are some issues worth fighting for!
Look at our lesson today in Galatians 1:1-3, 20-24; 2:1-5:
PAUL, an apostle – not from men nor through men, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead – and all the brethren who are with me,
To the churches of Galatia: Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie! Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was still not known by sight to the churches of Christ in Judea; they only heard it said, “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me. Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up by revelation; and I laid before them (but privately before those who were of repute) the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, lest somehow I should be running or had run in vain. But even Titus, who was with me, was not compelled to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. But because of false brethren secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy out our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage – to them we did not yield submission even for a moment, that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.
St. Paul was the apostle that brought the Orthodox Faith to Galatia, an area now in modern Turkey that had been settled by the Gauls, and heavily influenced by Greek culture and language. And this area was dominated by Gentiles and most (if not all) the folks in the Galatian Church were converts to Christianity from the Gentiles. Since this was early in the history of the Church and in Paul’s missionary work, Paul was writing his flock after hearing some very disturbing news. You see, there were still some folks in the Church who really believed you had to become Jewish BEFORE you could become a Christian. And they were spreading this message to the young Gentile believers in Galatia.
Paul begins by reminding these believers that he was the one who had been persecuting the Church before he was converted to Faith by the Lord Himself on the road to Damascus! Paul was a great enemy of the Christians at the beginning and was, himself, a very gifted defender of Jewish theology and Jewish culture. But his conversion to Christ had also lit a fire in Paul that this Faith wasn’t just for one group of people but ALL people. So, when he heard that some were teaching his people that they had to become Jewish BEFORE they could become Christian, well, let’s just say he wasn’t happy about that!
But Paul doesn’t just argue, he relates why his message is completely consistent with the message of the rest of the Apostles of the Lord. In fact, he insists that he wasn’t doing all this work on his own but that he was in communion with the leaders of the Apostles and they approved and blessed his work. He wasn’t doing this by himself! And Paul calls it as he sees it. He calls these “false brethren” out for their dishonest attempts to pervert the Good News with burdens they, themselves, weren’t able to follow. These “false brethren” were wanting to make themselves feel better by insisting that these Gentiles adopt their culture so that they wouldn’t feel bad! Paul said “no!” The preservation of the authentic Good News was more important than the misguided attempts of these “false brethren” to stop the Gentiles from being in the Church.
Today, do you know enough about your faith to know what needs to be defended and what doesn’t? Are you ready to give an answer to those who ask you about Orthodoxy? Isn’t it time that you did the hard work of learning your faith so that you’ll have that answer when you’re asked? That’s one of the many benefits of being Orthodox on Purpose!