Saturday, May 30, 2015

Universal equality - Galatians 3:27-29

"For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise." (Galatians 3:27-29)
It always surprises me how something so simple as baptism could cause so much trouble. Many a church split there has been over the means and modes of baptism. Many have been called heretics over the wording they use during baptism. Even during the middle-ages, thousands of Anabaptists lost their lives at the hands of Catholics and Lutherans because they did not believe in infant baptism. Just try to mess with the baptismal formula of your church and you will see just how strongly it is ingrained in the church and how strongly the church is invested in its traditions.

Baptism was never meant as a means of church membership, even when that church views baptism as the point of salvation. Baptism was meant to be a transition point between our old life and our new. It is the place where we are united with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. Paul writes, "Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life." (Romans 6:4) Baptism prepares us and initiates us into our new life in Christ; a life of power and grace to live differently than before. Here, in our context, baptism is the means by which we are crucified with Christ so that "through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God." (Galatians 2:19) Baptism is important, but not as a means to separate one believer from another, but rather as a means to unite us with Christ and in our new life apart from the law. "The life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God." (Galatians 2:20)

During the first few centuries of the church, the church was one place where there was universal equality. During the first century, most Christians were poor and many were slaves. Many communities took little notice of them due to their low status in society. However, over the next two centuries, the christian apologist began making in roads in the ranks of the philosophers and upper class in Greek and Roman society. The church began to take on a more cosmopolitan makeup. The church became one of the few places where aristocrats, philosophers, the poor, and slaves could meet and fellowship as brothers and sisters; where each one was the other's equal in Christ. Philip Schaff describes the Agape feast of the early church as follows. "It was a family feast, where rich and poor, master and slave met on the same footing, partaking of a simple meal, hearing reports from distant congregations, contributing to the necessities of suffering brethren, and encouraging each other in their daily duties and trials." (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church Vol. II, Section 68) Lactantius, an early Christian Write, describes church in his day this way. "Should any say: Are there not also among you poor and rich, servants and masters, distinctions among individuals? No; we call ourselves brethren for no other reason than that we hold ourselves all equal. For since we measure everything human not by its outward appearance, but by its intrinsic value we have notwithstanding the difference of outward relations, no slaves, but we call them and consider them brethren in the Spirit and fellow-servants in religion." (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church Vol. II, Section 97)

It is unfortunate that, over the years, we have allowed our gatherings to become segregated. Sometimes via race, nationality, and social status, but even today by gender and age. It's not uncommon for a church to have its youth church, its children church, and its functions for men and women. Even small groups are divided into unmarried, married with children, and empty-nesters. Our fellowship should unite us not segregate us. It should bring us into contact with others different from us so we can see that, in Christ, we are the same.  In our fellowship we should be joined with all others, not just those similar to ourselves. Let us dispense with distinctions and learn once again to be truly one in Christ Jesus.

David Robison

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