I had already planned on having this as my next post, but it works out really well considering that the comments from the last post went in this direction 🙂
I want to say before I even start quoting that I almost completely disagree with the author’s description of Palestinian Jews vs. Hellenistic Jews, but oh well. I’m using his version in order to discuss.
From Chapter 2 of Church History in Plain Language
The Palestinian Christians, steeped in traditional Judaism, said, “Tell them that unless they submit to the Jewish law, in addition to believing in Jesus, there is no hope for their faith.”
OK, I agree with most of his description, but not so much the use of the word “steeped”.
Paul, however, found this impossible. His own experience pointed another way. If a person could gain the righteousness of God by obeying the law, said Paul, I would have been the greatest in the kingdom. But righteousness by personal effort can only lead to failure. Man can be accepted as righteous only through God’s undeserved mercy. That is grace. And grace always arises from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Hmm, so perhaps a middle ground?
Many Christians thought Paul was impossibly optimistic. They were deeply troubled by the decline in Christian morality they felt sure would come in the gentile churches. If you teach justification by faith alone, they argued, people will imagine that once they have accepted Christ by faith it does not really matter how they live.
Again, this is too much either-or thinking. This is exactly what punitive parents say about grace-based discipline. “If you show grace, then people won’t behave appropriately.” Obviously God didn’t feel that way! I almost feel like Bruce Shelley is missing that you don’t have to say that the law was done away with in order to say that we are saved by grace. As I’ve heard it said before, I believe that people who are growing in Christ become more Torah observant whether they know it or not. The spirit of the Torah is all about grace, all about love, and a privelege, not a duty! As Crystal Lutton said – “To the Jewish mind the Torah isn’t restrictions, it’s guidelines, boundaries, the way to be holy in an unholy world!” And I think Shelley is missing that.
On the contrary, said Paul, if they really have accepted Christ by faith, then they have accepted the way of Christ and the mind of Christ. The man who really loves God can do as he chooses, for if he really loves God he will choose to do the will of God.
As my friend said
Paul rebukes the Judaizers. They taught that Gentiles could not be saved UNTIL they became Jewish converts and were part of God’s chosen people. Peter and Paul both experienced God making himself available to Gentiles while they were still Gentiles. Pre-Cross there were Jews, there were converts, and there were God-fearers who lived according to Torah without actually converting. Cornelius was a God-fearer The Jews taught that if they were Torah observant they’d get in to heaven, but they were not allowed to be part of the community in this world. This is what the Judaizers were mixing up. They wanted the Gentiles to be part of the community of faith so they thought they had to BE Jews first. Paul and Peter taught that the Gospel was now for the God-fearer too–that conversion to Judaism was not necessary!
BUT they NEVER taught that what was part of Torah was unimportant or not for the Gentiles too. When I studied the letter from the Council of Jerusalem I found a little gem in the discussionÂ They were talking about what to require of the Gentile in order to *become* part of the community of faith and they settled on the four things. Interestingly, I did a little study into the elements of the pagan communion and it was highlighted by these four things So they had to *abandon* being pagan Then James, I think it was, says, “The rest has been taught in the Synagogues since the time of Moses.” Remember that at this time “The Way” as it was called was a sect of Judaism and they were meeting both in the Synagogues AND in home churches of only believers. (I also believe that the purpose for women being told to stay silent “In Synagogue” was because the non-Christian/Jewish women were not allowed to speak and this was giving them a bad name!). But the new believers were going to learn everything else in time and that was enough according to the Council at Jerusalem.
The ironic thing is, once you actually go and read what is part of Torah, and start talking about the Spirit of it, most people ONLY come back with, “I do all those things already. Just don’t think I could give up pork and lobster” And, tbh, I do believe that the dietary laws are not in effect for cleanliness (though NOT based on Peter’s dream!!!) but I believe everything in Torah to be Wisdom and part of God’s standard and when I studied pork and lobster I realized I didn’t *want* to eat them
I’ve been in the midst of a fascinating discussion with some of my friends on whether or not we have “two natures.” Once we have become a new creation in Christ, are we still naturally inclined to sin? I feel like Shelley is dancing around this topic.
For fellow GCMers, if you haven’t seen the discussion that I’m referring to above, I can send you a link 😉
Your posts on this book has really intrigued me. I’m finding it fascinating. I’ve put a request in at the library, so I’m trying to get it! 🙂
Its a big fatty, but worth it. This is my second time through it 🙂 I think you’ll really like it!