Filed under: Uncategorized
The book of Romans is one of the seminal early books of theological writings in the formative years of an infant Church. The pole between it and the book of Galatians are the poles between the infant Gentile communities of faith discerning their place in what had been heretofore an exclusively Jewish offshoot of religion. Yet, Paul saw something that was much broader, much more inclusive of those God fearers who listened in at the edge of the temple and thought there may be something transformative about this movement that Jesus was creating all across Palestine and Israel. His vision was of an inclusive church without the obstacle of particular laws that would have turned new non-Jewish converts away.
He is not alone in this seismic shift away from any punitive view of the law. Jesus had the rabbinical fight over whether it was a sin for a person to be healed on the Sabbath, whether his disciples should gather food on the Sabbath or whether he should acknowledge the touch of a woman who had the issuance of blood. To these concerns about lawbreaking and sin he makes a bold interpretation of the entire Hebrew Law. The law was created for humanity, humanity was not created for the law.
Paul fits well within that tradition. It is not a mere negation of the law, but a his contention that the law can only go so far. Now there is an opportunity to reach beyond law and participate in the life of God directly. These early Jews appear to believe that they are fulfilling the law and taking it to its logical conclusion. When looked at this way it appears to be an internal, philosophical argument about theology.
Paul believes strongly in broadening the sphere of this nascent movement of Jesus followers. From our Western, Evangelical dominated perspective we have a very different view of Paul. A view of Paul that is strangely similar to us. The only problem is that he is nothing like us. Although he advocated for the inclusion of gentiles like you and I, Paul was no Jewish outsider and neither was Jesus. Their ability to conceptualize beyond the circles of faith into which they were historically, culturally and geographically is amazing for coming from the center of Jewish religion.
So, what is the difference for us as followers today of this Jesus? What makes us any different 2,000 years removed from the tentmaker whose words angered the people inside his own faith? It appears that Paul’s followers have far exceeded and taken over the small movement long ago. It has long since broken away from its Jewish roots and does not see the synagogue as its central locus of religious activity. So dominating are the gentile Christ followers today that it is almost impossible for us to remember its essentially Jewish origins.
It is also considered a rare thing to find Jewish Christians. Whereas the entire discussion originally highlighted philosophical and theological discussions amongst the learned Jewish scholars and teachers today these types of discussions with Christian and Jewish leaders are considered interfaith dialogues amongst two distinct faiths. I suppose it becomes an irrevocable breach when a group casts the original religious and civic laws to follow something new, something that is the Spirit of Christ. There are so many things that are drastically different today than when this text was originally written.
If we are so different than the original church what keeps us going on this path? It is the Spirit within us. We are not required to replicate the church of old but to live out the Revelation that the spirit within us agitates us to perform. That is the extreme wisdom of being a follower of Christ in the 21st century, it is that the Spirit is always moving in new and radical ways to conform our faith toward things that are life giving. We cannot go back and replicate the first century church, because we live in the United States of 2011. When we attempt to go back we are always discipline by the Spirit of Christ to turn our eyes to the new challenges and opportunities for service that surround us in our current ethos. It is only when we allow that Spirit within us to guide our path here and now that we have the transformative opportunities in our worlds.
It is often instructive for us to time travel back to the first century to understand the context in which certain passages where created. Yet, we should not worship the text as some pristine museum piece of past glory. It is the Spirit that keeps those texts vital and creates new texts out of our lives. The canon will never be complete as long as we have the Spirit within us. It will be writing new and wonderful things about faith every day when we allow it to work in and through us in the world.
Leave a Comment so far
Leave a comment