“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
This sentence from Galatians is a foundation scripture for much anti-racism work in the larger church. I will say more about that later but first I want to examine today’s Epistle in more depth.
As Todd Daley mentioned in his sermon regarding the Trinity last week, throughout church history there have been many theological disagreements involving councils and conferences. These have produced faith statements and creeds, some of which we still use today. In the earlier days the losers in those arguments were often excommunicated or exiled or in some cases even put to death. Some of these disagreements produced splits into various groups or denominations. This continues even today. Of note in the recent news some Illinois politicians have been restricted from taking communion in the Catholic Church due to their voting position on abortion. And the denomination currently divided over sexuality questions is the United Methodist Church which may result in a split for them in the year ahead. We Episcopalians are currently on the quiet side of the news on doctrinal issues but we also have had our turn.
One of the first theological issues facing the early church is what Paul addresses in his letter to the Galatians. This major disagreement was to answer the question, “Does a Gentile have to become a Jew before he can become a follower of Christ?” Or, are the followers of the Way (what we now call Christians) a sect of Judaism or is something entirely new going on with these believers?
If believers are a sect of Judaism then yes, they must follow the law with all its requirements of circumcision, clean and unclean foods and so on. If however, God is forming something new in establishing his church then no, the law is no longer a requirement.