Friday, February 15, 2013

The First Century Change Agents

The First Century Change Agents

Departure from the faith is not something new.  Getting people on board the “non-traditional” wagon is not something new.  Promising liberty is not something new (2 Peter 2:18f).  It has always been going on. Among the churches of Galatia Paul was shocked that they were “so soon” removed from Him who called you into the grace of Christ to “another gospel”(Gal.1:6-10).  They were soon tired of the traditionalism that kept them under threat of rejection or persecution.  It was uncomfortable to live in Galatia where Judaism had a large influence and talk like Jesus was the only way.

These change agents were not mentally ignoring the truth that Jesus was and is the Son of God, but they felt that we were making Jews unnecessarily mad at us for teaching that the law of Moses was nailed to the cross and that we are now to be exclusively under the authority of Jesus alone.  They simply wanted to repackage themselves as teaching what a large element of society thought the church of Christ ought to teach if they want to fit in with the rest of society.  A more appealing way to win people over is to make the gospel more appealing to those who want a teaching program that is more accepting of the religious faith of others.

The early change agents were wanting to “make a good showing in the flesh”(Gal.6:12). They were feeling the effects of social rejection and wanted to make the gospel more palatable.  This is also the way change-agents operate in churches today.  The gospel is inclusive of all who will obey Jesus  and exclusive of those who only want to obey certain choice items.  Of the early change agents, there was fear of rejection and persecution that socially comes when you believe that Jesus’ way is the ONLY way.  Consider the spirit of those wanting to “make a good showing in the flesh”.


[A fair show in the flesh.] The Jewish religion was general in the region of Galatia, and it was respectable, as it appears that the principal inhabitants were either Jews or proselytes. As it was then professed and practiced among the Jews, this religion had nothing very grievous to the old man; an unrenewed nature might go through all its observances with little pain or cross-bearing. On the other hand, Christianity could not be very popular; it was too strict. A Jew made a fair show there, according to his carnal system, and it was a temptation to a weak Christian to swerve into Judaism, that he might be exempted from persecution, and be creditable among his countrymen. This is what the apostle intimates: "They constrain you to be circumcised, lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ."(from Adam Clarke's Commentary)

Barnes observes:  If they insisted on entire dependence on the merits of his blood, and renounced all dependence on rites and ceremonies, they would suffer persecution. This verse shows the true cause of the zeal which the Judaizing teachers evinced. It was the fear of persecution. It was the want of independence and boldness in maintaining the doctrine that people were to be saved only by the merits of the Lord Jesus. By attempting to blend together the doctrines of Judaism and Christianity; by maintaining that the observance of the Jewish rites was necessary, and yet that Jesus was the Messiah, they endeavored to keep in with both parties; and thus to escape the opposition of the Jews. It was an unhallowed compromise.  It was an attempt to blend things together which could not be united. One must really displace the other. If people depended on the rites of Moses, they had no need of dependence on the Messiah; if they professed to depend on him, then to rely on anything else was in fact to disown and reject him.  Embracing the one system was in fact renouncing the other.  Such is the argument of Paul; and such his solemn remonstrance against embracing any doctrine which would obscure the glory of simple dependence on the cross of Christ.(from Barnes' Notes).

The first century change agents simply wanted to find ways to believe in Jesus without offending people, and it did not seem to occur to them that they were offending the Lord by making His gospel insufficient for all the truth that all men needed.  Change agents then did not consider how offensive they were to the apostles who stood their ground and engaged “much dispute” in the same matters discussed in Acts 15. The change agents had so leavened the churches in this teaching that it does not hurt to mix a little of the Law of Moses into the gospel since people might be more inclined to accept us if we were not always being so negative about their traditions.  Change agents then and now have a lot of similarity. It may be different traditions that they want to adopt, but it is usually for very similar reasons: to be able to be accepted by the denominations around us.  A fair showing in the flesh does not help to change the world, but always works to change the church so that she looks like a close friend, and Jesus, well, He is such a nice fellow who accepts everyone just as they are. Never mind that it is “another Jesus”, not the One the apostles presented.  Terry W. Benton