Monday, August 12, 2013

Was Paul Crucified for You?

I thought this joke was pretty funny:

They say the Protestant Reformation was the triumph of Paul over Peter, and that Fundamentalism is the triumph of Paul over Jesus.

This may require some explaining, and one rarely wants to explain a joke as it usually kills the humor, but this may provide some insight into the mindset of the Fundamentalist.

First, why would the Reformation be called the "triumph of Paul over Peter"? One might see it that way if one thought that the "Petrine" Catholic Church, with its emphasis on the successor of St. Peter and tradition and apostolic succession and works and such, had been conquered by the "pure Gospel" of justification by faith found in the letters of St. Paul, with his free-wheeling preaching all over the Mediterranean, even "opposing Peter to his face" (Galatians 2:11). No more popishness interjecting itself into our relationship with the Lord. Once again, Peter has been opposed to his face!

So then what's this second bit about? Why would Fundamentalism be called "the triumph of Paul over Jesus"? Here's why: notice that when you talk to a Fundamentalist about salvation, often they don't appeal to the Gospels to make their case; they instead point to the writings of St. Paul. They don't appeal to the words of Jesus, but to the words of Paul. For example:

"So, how are we saved?"
"Romans 8, justified by faith apart from works of the law, sola fide! Salvation by faith alone, irrespective of our works!"
"Yes, faith is certainly important, but Jesus said to gain eternal life, you must keep the commandments. So clearly our works or our actions or our keeping the moral law has something to do with our salvation."
"Yeah, yeah... but... but Paul said in 1 Corinthians...."

Oh, my hypothetical Fundamentalist brethren... You end up pitting Christ and Paul against each other, and you end up choosing Paul. Which is your savior? This is why the joke is funny!

Yes, St. Paul's writings make up the bulk of the New Testament, so his explanation of the Gospel message and the language and phrasing he uses sets a standard for how we understand it. Yes, we're going to rely a lot on his words and works. But we should not get so focused on the messenger that we forget the message. The joke above points to this tendency among some to focus on Paul over Jesus. It's not a new phenomenon; even in his own time people became so devoted to Paul that they primarily identified with him; Paul responded by asking if he had been crucified for them, if they were baptized into him (1 Corinthians 1:13). Paul wants to know nothing but Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). We must strive to do the same.

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