Copyright © 2011 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved.
Paul reminded the church in
that he had been very religious. He wrote, “I advanced in [religion] beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors.” What that meant was following to the letter every religious law and performing every required religious ritual. But what that also meant for him was intolerance of any who did not rigidly adhere to the same laws and rituals—thus his persecution of the freewheeling sect who were followers of Jesus. Galatia
But then Paul had a spiritual experience. It was a spiritual experience that did not conform to his tradition. As is true throughout the Bible, personal experience is thus counted as a sacred source, alongside religious teaching and ritual. Our lives are sacred texts that we may consult alongside scripture and tradition. Spirituality is not something imposed by external requirements, such as circumcision. Spirituality is something inspired by internal freedom, a circumcision—transformation—of the heart.
The apostle Paul addressed a crisis in the life of the congregation in
in which some of its members were trying to impose traditional rituals and requirements on its converts. “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery,” Paul virtually shouted at them. But freedom itself can be inhibiting, when we face so many possibilities! What do we preserve and what do we transcend? How do we make the choice? Who makes that decision? Galatia
From childhood I remember an episode of a TV program called Crossroads in which two angels come to a village. The angel in the white suit claimed to have come from God, as did the angel in the dark suit. The villagers did not know which angel to believe, so they challenged them to engage in a staring match. Two chairs were set opposite one another on the main street, and a wide circle was drawn around them, lest someone get in the way of their spiritual warfare and be harmed. The angels sat in the opposing chairs and stared intently into each other’s eyes without blinking.
Unaware of what was going on, a little girl playing nearby chased her ball into the circle, to the alarm of the villagers. Suddenly she was struck down by the spiritual powers wrestling for control. But before she fell to the ground, the angel in the dark suit turned to catch her before she hurt herself, breaking his gaze at the angel in the white suit.
“Ah, now we know which angel is from heaven,” some villagers concluded, “The angel in the white suit did not look away.”
But other villagers wondered allowed, “But wouldn’t an angel from heaven be more concerned for the child’s welfare than with winning a stupid contest?” And so the villagers were divided between the angel with power and the angel with compassion.
It has been said of our own era that the most needed spiritual gift is an ability to discern the spirits. The Galatians were similarly torn between the traditions of their spiritual ancestors and their newfound Christian freedom. So Paul gave them a way to test the spirits in their freedom: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” But lest we focus on judging others, Paul continued, “All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride.”
A conservative Christian once remarked about a festive gathering of progressive Christians, “You do seem to have better parties.” The progressive Christian to whom he spoke laughed, observing, “There may be a theological reason for that!”