Thursday, October 29, 2009

Circumcision and the Church

I had just finished up leading a Bible Study last week on “The Allegory of Hagar and Sarah” in Galatians 4. As soon as the students left that morning I opened up my google reader to submerge myself into the blogosphere. Coincidentally, Peter Rollins had a post about what he called the "Circumcision Question”. If you do not know who Peter Rollins is, I highly recommend reading anything he writes. He is one of the most forward thinking Christians I’ve ever had the opportunity to come across. Anyways, in this post he draws a somewhat forgotten line from the earliest church’s debates over circumcision to what the problem equates to for the community of Jesus followers today.

After Paul had left the Galatian church, new persons arrived claiming to the gentile church that they were welcomed into the covenant of the Israelites through the messiah as Paul had claimed, so long as they followed the Mosaic Law and hence became circumcised. Needless to say, Paul found out about this and not only disagreed, but was also unhappy with the situation. The letter to the churches of Galatia is what followed as Paul’s response to this problem.

What we read specifically in Paul’s allegory of chapter 4 is that gentile Jesus followers have a choice: they can either be slaves to the law or free through “ working (or made effective) through love” (5.6 NRSV). At first glance, its tough to find the relevancy for Jesus followers today, especially since we don’t happen to be debating or discussing issues of circumcision often in our gatherings. But in reality, as a church we are still deeply struggling with the concept of what is necessary to fully participate in life as a Jesus follower (and a community of Jesus followers) and what is not necessary. “Not necessary” can be misleading here though, because not only was circumcision not necessary, but it was also, according to Paul, a direct hindrance to fully living for the purposes of the Kingdom of God.

So let’s struggle openly, as the early church did only a couple decades after the death and resurrection of Jesus, with what Rollins so wisely calls the “Circumcision Question”. What are the essential misguidings of the church today that bind Jesus followers to the yoke of slavery (5.1) instead of the freedom for which Christ came?

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