When I first attended Lansdowne Baptist Church we used to go to a mid-week meeting called the 20-40 Group. Someone thought we should have a snappier name and someone else suggested that we name ourselves after the one of the young churches of the New Testament. We picked on the Galatians. When we told the Pastor he was distraught. “Don’t you realize that the Galatians were a disobedient church that went astray?
I must confess that all this talk of Judaisers and the Circumcision Party seemed so alien at the time that I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. I am older and wiser now.
In fact the letter of Paul to the Galatians represents the big break between Judaism and Christianity and it is a major point of difference between many Christians today. The Ten Commandments are seen as the basis of Godly religion. They used to be a symbol of American justice. Tablets of stone used to be set up in American courtrooms. The Law of Moses was the basis of the Law of God. But should it be?
A few years ago a dear friend of mine, a pastor of many years experience, remarked on the film, Chariots of Fire, that the story of Eric Liddell, who refused to run on a Sunday had made it so much easier for young people to “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it Holy”. But had it? And should it?
Martin Luther said, “The epistle to the Galatians is my epistle. To it I am as it were in wedlock. It is my Katherine (referring to his wife)” It has been called ‘the battle-cry of the Reformation’, ‘the great charter of religious freedom’ and ‘the Christian Declaration of Independence’.
Here it is that Paul first enunciates, quite plainly, that no matter how we try, we can’t make it on our own; that our salvation is not based on rules but relationships.
There are some doctrines, like infant baptism, or speaking in tongues, which are contentious and cause a lot of heat in the church, but in the end they are secondary that don’t affect our salvation; but failure to grasp the difference that the letter to the Galatians makes can not only cripple our Christian experience, but I dare to say it, may affect our salvation itself. The battle is with legalism. It is one that Jesus faced throughout his ministry and one that I have been conscious of throughout my Christian life. I have seen lives crippled by submission to it and pleasant people turn sour in its sway.
So this is an important series. You can follow how Chris Kelly dealt with it on the Lansdowne website, and I shall be drawing on his sermons, but I shall be going slower.