Thursday, March 29, 2007

Circumcision

This is an excerpt from the book, "Paul, Envoy Extraordinary," by Malcolm Muggeridge and Alec Vidler. Muggeridge is regarded as C.S. Lewis' successor as he was an apologist and for his time (1903-1990), the best known T.V., and radio controversialist. The book proceeds in a conversational manner [my comments are in green], check it out:

Alec:
[quoting Scripture] Oh foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? (Galatians 3:1)

He means that he had told them that they got right with God by putting their whole trust in Christ crucified and that they didn't have to depend for their justification on doing all the works of the Law.

Malcolm:
That surely was the essence of the whole matter - the contrast between faith and law.

Alec:
Yes, Paul kept on driving the point home. 'For freedom', he writes, 'Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. [That is, the slavery of having to obey all the precepts of the Law, which Paul's judaizing opponents were trying to impose on them.] Now I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.' (Galatians 5:1)

Malcolm:
I suppose that circumcision was a kind of outward and visible manifestation of an inward and invisible adherence to a whole body of law. Is that right?

Alec:
Yes, 'The Circumcision' was one of the names - a sort of nickname - for Judaism. Just as the Baptists are so called because they practice adult or believer's baptism, although there is much more to their faith and practice than that, so Judaism was called, 'the Circumcision', although there was much more to it than that. Circumcision figured prominently and was a matter of contention, because it was the most difficult thing for a Gentile , who was attracted to Judaism, to accept. for adult men it involved a painful operation. Then it was mocked at by non-Jews. Moreover, it was a thing that couldn't be kept secret in those days, when men went to the public baths, they went naked.

Malcolm:
Anyway, the question of circumcision became a sort of crystallization of this row [British for argument]. Paul's opponents said that in order to become a Christian a man must be circumcized and accept all of the obligations that went with it. And Paul said, No. Now, as regards the Law, it seems to me [this is my favorite part] that in men's minds there always exists the illusion that they can find a basis for living in a law - in the case of the Jews, in propositions which they believed had been revealed to them by God. Paul's gospel was one of liberation because he declared that what really mattered was not obedience to any law but faith in Christ.

Alec:
Yes, that's right. I would put it like this. All men are enslaved, some to law and some to absence of Law, and Christ liberates all men, whatever the slavery in which they are involved. One can be enslaved to one's own passions, or to conventional standards of conduct, or to the American way of life, etc.

Malcolm:
Or take the idea of progress, that's a law isn't it, which in our time has imprisoned men utterly?

Alec:
I don't follow you there; it seems to me a rather far-fetched idea that would need a lot of elaborating. I regard the idea of progress as highly ambiguous and in many respects illusory, but I wouldn't call it a law in this context.

Malcolm:
I would, because I think it is something that enslaves men. I mean the belief that through the notion of progress they can live satisfactorily in terms of this world alone. But, however that may be, the Law, as Paul saw it, was quite specifically the Law of Judaism, the Torah, handed down as they believed by God.

Alec:
The heart of Paul's message comes out in this great passage in Galatians (5:18-23):

...if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are plain: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. [All those things are included in what Paul means by 'the flesh'.] I warn you [he continues], as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control..

Malcolm:
Exactly. So this man indomitable, fearlessly, tirelessly went travelling about the world, to tell people this truth that he had learned and that had changed the whole course of his life.

"Paul, Envoy Extraordinary", Muggeridge and Vidler, 1972, p. 90-92

How many laws do we subscribe to just to find our security in something tangible? To know we are completely free (beyond our own understanding free) in Christ, and yet still chain ourselves to laws and security blankets that only obscure our vision of Him. Hmmm...

1 comment:

Chris said...

You tell 'em, Becca. I still struggle sometimes with the balance of freedom & law. The law still exists to point us to God, but we aren't enslaved to it any longer. It's our attitude that matters most, I think. We are free to obey the law and/or the conviction of the Holy Spirit out of love and obedience rather than out of fear or out of the delusion that we can do any good thing apart from God's grace. We are slaves to Christ rather than to the law. And praise be to Him for His yoke is easy and His burden is light.