The early church flourished at an astonishing rate. People who embraced the meaning and intent of God’s grace were flocking together and spreading the good news wherever they lived and travelled. The Messiah, the Christ, The Son of God had been given to the world so that anyone who believed in Him shouldn’t perish but have everlasting life! He didn’t come in condemnation, but rather that we should be saved by Him. (Cf John 3:16-17)
It is understandable that liberating so many lives would be seen as an existential threat to those who owed their privileged positions to keeping the masses either physically, mentally, or emotionally enslaved. And so opposition arose.
The Apostle Paul was on a murderous mission to Damascus as part of that opposition when he was confronted by the reality of the power of the risen saviour, so it is safe to say that he understood the forces trying to undermine this new faith that was sweeping the Middle East.
The initial tactic employed by those seeking to wipe out Christianity was plain unvarnished terrorism; murder and mayhem in the guise of religious orthodoxy. But ironically that only led to increasing numbers of converts to “The Way”. The teachings of Jesus only emboldened his followers and made them brave and joyful in the face of death, because He had already proved that it held no sway or terror over the redeemed.
The follow-on approach was a little more subtle in that it tried to confine the freedom of belief of Christians and especially non-Jewish believers — “gentiles” — to the strictures of the man-made laws that were choking the very life out of Judaism, the Talmud. This made some progress until Peter and Paul both were explicitly instructed by the Holy Spirit that life in Christ was one of grace and not law.
The next wave involved the Gnostics (from the greek “gnosis” or “knowledge”) who claimed to have special knowledge that would guarantee a seeker’s entrance into a state of grace, but for a fee of some kind. It was inherently discriminatory and only those favored by the hierarchy, or rich and powerful enough, could be invited to join the circle of the cognoscenti. Considering the words of Jesus that “whosoever” and “all” could be saved it’s amazing that so many could be fooled by this. It is reminiscent of the numerous stories of imposters collecting parking fees for cars entering a car park which is clearly advertised as “free”!
The most insidious attacks, however, gained power when those within the church started just making things up about what the gospel really meant. It was stuff which “sounded good” but had no basis in the teachings of Jesus even while using the same words.
This was the problem Paul was confronting in the Galatian Church.
New “doctrines” were being adopted because they allowed people to behave outside the ethical and moral lines that Jesus had established. It was a story as old as the Garden of Eden. When told not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because it would kill her, Eve’s reply was “Nah! Doesn’t mean that!”
Didn’t end well! But people still think they can twist the gospel to suit their own ends.
Paul takes an approach with the Galatian church which appears to be harsh, but is the only viable alternative, when he says,
“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!” Galatians 1:8-9 NIV
His meaning is perfectly plain, the gospel needs no revision, addition, subtraction or extension and any doctrine which seeks to do so is not of God.
Sadly much of this still goes on today. It is particularly rife in so-called TV evangelists, and preachers of prosperity, and proponents of various “-isms” — marxism, communism, nativism, feminism, racism, individualism, humanism, progressivism, evangelicalism, Calvinism — to name a few, which purport to “improve” or “enhance" our christian thinking.
Jesus made it quite clear what he expected of his disciples:
Love God above all and with all you’ve got;
Love each other; Love your neighbor like you would yourself; Go and make disciples.
It’s a short but powerful set of commands which are hard enough to implement on their own without embellishing them with man-made qualifications.
If you find yourself hearing teaching which doesn’t wholeheartedly conform to these commands of Jesus, be like Paul and reject them out of hand. It’s a distraction from the truth and it’s not in God’s will, no matter how enticing or logical or emotional it sounds!
“We have no other argument, We want no other plea; It is enough that Jesus died, And that He died for me.” Charles Wesley SASB # 84
Back to the basics!
Blessings on you and yours, Jim Black