Saturday, November 28, 2009

Switching gears

I hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving this year, and that for those of you who traveled to have Thanksgiving with family, that you're arriving safely back home.

Anyway, I thought it might be a nice change of pace to switch gears a little bit, so I'm recommending that you visit Craig Winn's Yada Yahweh blogtalkradio program when you get the time. Specifically one or more of his shows in the very intriguing "The Great Galatians Debate" series which are accessible at the site.

Let me know what you think, if you should like, in a comment to this entry.


Anonymous said...

I must admit I've never been able to make much sense out of the controversy over faith and works, or grace and the law. As Paul says, "Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith."

In other words, if you do not learn from the law, you come not unto Christ, and partake not of grace. Paul is pointing out that the law is insufficient of itself, one must view the law in the context of what it is actually intended to accomplish. That is, the particular rituals of the law as it existed for Israel were suited to instruct a people with a language and heritage which made those rituals powerful lessons about the nature of the Messiah to whom they should look for salvation. But for the people who did not share that cultural context, it was needful that the rituals should point them directly to the life and teachings of Christ in His earthly ministry.

Thus the church laid down rituals and symbols taken directly from Christ's life, and administered them in the common language of the civilization to which they were given. Later the Protestant movement undertook to do the same again. Of course, whether it was done properly in either case is a matter of opinion, but that such a thing is necessary is implicit in the teachings of both the Old and New Testaments.

Of course, ritual (which was the basic point Paul intended to address in his letter to the Galatians) aside, the question of real sin and real guilt does need to be considered. Paul sometimes says that the law came because of sin, sometimes that sin came because of the law.

Both are true. If God had not commanded Adam not to partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, it would not have been sin for Adam to partake of it (though it would have made Adam subject to the effects of mortality, the eating itself would not have been sinful). But if Adam had not been prone to do it, God wouldn't have bothered to forbid it.

From this first starting, sin and law continued to evolve, the law being elaborated to forbid the increasing number of temptations, the possible sins being multiplied by the provisions of laws. But the law does not make the sin harmful, it only calls our attention to our tendency to choose evil rather than good by labeling the two before we make our choice. And it is our awareness of this depravity which allows us to understand our need for salvation (well, those of us that would prefer eternal life to eternal death, anyway).

The law of rituals exists to formally teach us of Christ, who He is, what He taught, how we may follow Him. The form of this law is dictated by the culture and language of those for whom it is given, just as the outward form of the scriptures must be changed for each nation. But the law of sin teaches us why we need Christ. This law is dictated by the essential human tendencies towards spiritually destructive behavior, and thus changes very little in response to culture or language.

Of course, it is this law that makes humanity really uncomfortable in our sins. That discomfort is essential to motivate a sincere desire to escape sin through Christ's Atonement, but it is...well, uncomfortable. So people try to evade it, one way and another. Which, to my way of thinking, is still not very sensible. I'd rather face up to my sinfulness now than fry in hell, and I'm not even particularly averse to hellfire.

Terry Morris said...


From what I've heard (Great Galatians Debate editions I've listened to) and read (Yada Yahweh by Craig Winn -- first two chapters) so far, I imagine that Mr. Winn would likely say that "faith" in the passage you cite above is a bad translation in the first place; that a better translation would be "trust" or "belief." But don't nail me down on that, it's just a feeling I get from what I've gleaned so far.

In the second I myself have seen so much "easy believism" (my term) propagated by the church and those who profess to be its pastors and teachers based on the "gospel of faith" (Winn's term) in exclusion or by direct rejection of the old covenant law or Torah that I think I understand to some degree why the controversy exists from Winn's perspective, why he seeks to raise it and set the record straight(er).

It is truly insulting, disgusting and demoralizing that the "church" has become so corrupted that it teaches or otherwise tacitly approves of, as a matter of course, doctrine(s) that tend to destroy the importance of the Torah as an essential component of His-story. I mean destroy its importance to the minds of 'believers.'

Anonymous said...

Well...I always seem to take the least common position, somehow. For the modern divorce between faith and works, I'm certainly inclined to blame the 'works are hard' crowd. They don't want to do the works, so they seize on the idea that 'faith' (whatever it means) is more important.

That the 'works are hard' crowd survives at all is largely the result of the remarkable abundance of modern society. I'm not saying this is a bad thing, but it's certainly quite different from how things were in Paul's day and most of the rest of history. And...well, we're witnessing the end of that modern society now. That abundance isn't coming back anytime soon. The 'works are hard' crowd aren't going to be a significant force anymore. Those that survive will do so by being quiet about their philosophical penchants.

At the same time, America (and the rest of the world) will become reacquainted with the practical value of Christian works, keeping the Commandments and the law and all that. And those blessed with prosperity because of their adherence to the law have ever been prey to a terrible spiritual danger.

In Paul's time, and probably since the inception of the divide between grace and the law, it was mostly the view of those who were materially blessed by keeping the law but did not wish to confront their essentially sinful nature.

Galatians may not be the most eloquently written of the scriptures, but I would not lightly discard it. There are other sources for the essential incapacity of man to effect his own salvation, though scholars are always eager to discredit each of them, from the book of Job to the words of the Savior Himself.

It is beyond dispute that true faith will yield good works. For Christ verily did say, "by their fruits ye shall know them." But not every work that leads to temporal prosperity is a good work, and no collection of good works will save any man from death and hell. It is not the works, but the faith which motivates them. Because no work a man can do changes his heart, but the heart changes the work he does.

What did Christ say of them that do their good works in order to receive worldly praise? "They have their reward." That actually seems a bit harsh to me, but I'm not exactly the one with salvation on hand to offer. He as has the goods, sets the terms.

In the end, Galatians does not disparage the value of good works and the law. It rather reaffirms the reason that both are necessary in man's spiritual development. Nor does Paul teach any novel doctrine, much of the text is (rather messily, I admit) quoted from other scriptures. Paul did not believe, nor mean to say, that faith and works are exclusive of one another. The intention of his letter is to remind the Galatians not to reject either.

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