CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CONGREGATIONS OF BELIEVERS

CHAPTER TWO (Lesson XVI)

Calvin then goes on to note that when our Savior “ascended far above all heavens” that He might complete the teaching staff of His earthly congregation, He gave some to be Apostles, and some, prophets; and some, evangelists, and some, pastors, and teachers for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of the Anointed One till we all come in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.[1]  Therefore, since we all are of Him, in Him, and do our ministry through Him in order to maintain our unity with Him, there should be no disunity among us.

Yet in Calvin’s day (as well in our day), there are some having disputes over who is more important to the congregation? Apostles, Preachers, Teachers, etc? But Calvin interjects that we must determine if we are talking about the local congregation, the congregation’s denomination, or the universal congregation. No matter which one you may be talking about, it is part of the congregation that stands before God, of which all members are added by adoption through the Anointed One, by God’s choice. This seems to be the point the Apostle Paul was trying to make to the Galatians when he says here in verse eight that the same God who worked through Peter as the Apostle to the Jews also worked through him as the Apostle to the Gentiles.[2]

But Calvin is not finished. In another writing, he focuses in on the claim of the supremacy of one congregation over all the others. In his day, it was the Roman Catholic Church that saw itself as the original congregation that came down from the original Apostles. Therefore, any congregation that did not give its allegiance to them was considered to have been founded by heretics. Thank goodness that today it’s quieted down quite a bit which allows for more fellowship between Catholics, Protestants, and even Jews. But Calvin is troubled that any one church or Christian denomination should assume that it is above all others so as to be the head of the whole Body of the Anointed One. There is only one head, and that is the Anointed One Himself.[3] It is to Him alone that all churches owe their allegiance.

Calvin sees the Roman Catholic Church’s claim of supremacy a real problem. Just because they alleged that the primacy of the church was transferred from Antioch to Rome, did that mean that the congregation in Antioch was now reduced to second place?  Was Rome now first simply because of their dubious claim that Peter was their founder? That’s why it is so important that we see who Paul mentions as leaders of the entire congregation: Peter, James, and John. But nowhere does he say that one was more important than the other. When John ended up in Ephesus, he didn’t transfer the primacy there because he was the disciple whom Jesus loved.[4] Nor did James insist that the congregation in Jerusalem be seen as the Mother congregation just because he was the brother of Jesus. So, reckons Calvin, let them confess their preposterous claims and let them concede that it is not always true that each congregation is entitled to the degree of honor which its founder possessed. But to say that an Apostle of whom is never recorded that he visited Rome, and was the only one of the three that told Jesus He was wrong about His needing to die, and the only one of the three that denied Jesus three times, is their founder![5] [6]

Jakob Arminius says a few things about Peter, James, and John being leaders in the early congregation and how Paul desired their approval to validate that Gentiles did not need to go through or observe Jewish rites in order to be considered genuine Christians. This was necessary because once these original Apostles were dead and gone, there existed no plans for God to reveal anything new that was not already revealed to them by His Son and with the help of the Holy Spirit who inspired all Scripture to be written through His anointing. So Arminius is convinced that all the doctrines necessary for the salvation of sinners and their new life in the Anointed One by being part of His Body – which is the congregation, that no tradition needed to be given later by the Holy Spirit that started any new ceremony found to be necessary for the salvation of sinners.

Arminius goes on to say that because in the Anointed One and His Gospel “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are revealed and fulfilled in the Anointed One.”[7] But the Apostles explained in its entirety all about the Anointed One and His Gospel;[8] so that anyone who preaches any other gospel than that which the apostles preached and the congregations received is to be shunned. Furthermore, the congregation is built upon the foundation of what the Prophets and Apostles said.[9] Therefore, the universal congregation is one body, possessing the same nature and principles which is put into action by one Spirit that leads to one hope and salvation, and enjoyed in one communion that represents the body and blood of the one Lord and one Savior, Jesus the Anointed One.[10]

Then Arminius acknowledges that some of the Roman Catholic professors and theologians accepted this as the truth. But in his experience, Arminius says that there is very little evidence of this in any of their writings, and especially in the writings of those appointed to develop a system of laws and legal principles that ended up canonizing the Mass, the Rosary, difference between mortal sins and venial sins and all the sacraments of grace, the veneration of Mary, and praying to the saints, etc.[11]

In the first place, the edicts issued by Jesus the Universal Bishop, Supreme Pastor, Prime Head, Bridegroom, the Perfecter and Illuminator of His body – the Church, is now ascribed to the Roman Pontiff. This means that there are no limitations on the introduction of new traditions and church sacraments. That means then, that the authority of governing, commanding, and forbidding of establishing, and abolishing laws, of judging and condemning, and of loosing and binding,[12] now have an immense and infinite authority, which is not merely attributed to the Pope, but is actually assumed and practiced by him without limits.

Another thing that bothered Arminius and his fellow Reformers is that certain rites or rituals were now added by Decree as necessary for salvation, that every human creature is placed in subjection to the Roman Pontiff. It is also the method used by which authentic authority is ascribed to the ancient Latin translation of the Scriptures. Arminius said, there are many more but the general point is obvious that in multiple instances this became the central point between the Reformers and the Roman Catholic Church leadership. All that was being asked at first was that they agree to put a number on how many of these unwritten traditions were acceptable. However, they avoided this so that they may reserve to themselves the power of producing a new tradition if necessary, to handle any disagreements. Some of them, therefore, assert that other doctrines are necessary as the congregation changes over time.[13]

John Bengel surmises that Peter, James, and John held different opinions on whether or not Gentile believers should be held to certain Jewish traditions, rites, rituals, and ceremonies. However, he believes that James was the swing vote, so to speak, and convinced the other two to accept what Paul was saying as worthy of their approval for the Gentiles’ sake. Nevertheless, the dispute continued when it came to satisfying the Judaizing faction. That continued for some time before the Jewish influence in the congregation was finally gone.

Bengel also chastises Luther for calling the Epistle of James an epistle of straw. It involved James’ statement that “faith without works is dead.”[14] Bengel feels that this came from a misunderstanding that James was referring to works after justification, not works that merited justification. He also believes that this whole affair was arranged by Divine Providence that James, who was more inclined to view the Law favorably was the spokesman for the Jewish contingent while Paul was more attached to faith and liberty for the Gentiles. As such, each one brought a character and qualification to be adopted in the best possible manner to their individual ministries. In other words, they agreed to disagree with mutual respect.[15]

Minister Charles Simeon believes we learn a lot from these verses on how to exercise fair-mindedness and patience towards those who differ from us as our duty to everyone. Yet, there are boundaries beyond which fairness becomes irrelevant, which equates to treason. It is only on those things which are incidental and only of passing importance we need to be less rigid. Since we have the right to form our own opinions, the same right should be given to others to follow their own conscience. In fact, rather than grieve them by an unnecessary demand to accept our ways, or force ourselves to accept their position unconditionally, we should simply appreciate each other’s points of view.

This was the attitude of the Apostle Paul.[16] That’s why he went ahead and circumcised Timothy in order that he might be able to reach the Jews with the Gospel.[17] This is something Paul practiced when it came to integrating himself among both Jews and Gentiles.[18] The whole idea was not to end up being the winner but keeping less informed believers from becoming losers.[19] However, was this his practice when he came to essential doctrines? Did he express concern when he saw the whole city of Athens given to idolatry? Yes! In fact, Paul confesses that troubled him deeply,[20] but it did not keep him from openly and fairly discussing it with the Athenians.[21]

[1] Ephesians 4:10-13

[2] John Calvin: Institutes, op. cit., Vol. 4, pp. 1047-1055

[3] Colossians 1:18

[4] John 13:23

[5] Luke 22:61

[6] John Calvin, Institutes, Vol. 4, Ch. 6, pp. 1143-1144

[7] Colossians 2:3

[8] Acts of the Apostles 20:26, 27

[9] Ephesians 2:20; Revelation 21:14

[10] 1 Corinthians 10:16-17

[11] Ibid. 4:4, 6

[12] Matthew 18:18

[13] Jakob Arminius: op. cit., Vol. 1, Disputation 3, On the Sufficiency and perfection of the Holy Scriptures in Opposition to Human Traditions, para. 7, pp. 377-378

[14] James 2:14, 26

[15] John Bengel: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 578

[16] See Romans 14:1; 15:1

[17] Acts of the Apostles 16:1-3

[18] 1 Corinthians 9:19-22

[19] Ibid. 8:13

[20] Acts of the Apostles 17:16

[21] Ibid. 17:22

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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