Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Dying Churches: Olympian Works vs. Christian Fruit (Galatians 5)

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1 English Standard Version).

In his Letter to the Galatians, the apostle Paul stresses that Jesus Christ is the truth who sets us free, from the law in this case, to love and leads us into fullness of life. In that same letter, Paul also says that Jesus frees us from the works of the flesh (5:19) so that we might freely produce the fruit of the Holy Spirit (5:22).

So, on one hand, we have the works of the flesh. We have the labors of our Olympian personality done because enticed or coerced by the Flesh or Unholy Spirit. On the other hand, we have the fruit of the Spirit. We have the vital words and actions of our Christian personality made possible only by the Holy Spirit.

In his book, The Ethics of Freedom, Jacques Ellul elaborates on this theme of freedom from works and for fruitfulness. Speaking of our Olympian personality, Ellul states, “So long as we are in bondage to the world and Satan, God’s will can be translated into our lives only by the constraint of the law” (p. 109). The law, or any moral code, keeps our Olympian behavior checked by rewarding or punishing us as needed to secure our conformity to it. That all changes with our Christian personality. “Once we are freed from this bondage, God’s will is expressed in our freedom” (109). Free acts are done without hope of reward or fear of punishment.

“The idea of work suggests an effort of will directed to a goal and building bit by bit. Fruit, however, suggests the rise of sap, the freedom of nature, the generosity of gift, effortless expression on the part of the fruit-bearing tree” (109). Olympian works are done out of a sense of duty, obligation, or necessity. Christian fruits spontaneously express our right relationship with Jesus, others, and creation.

Works and fruits: how to tell the difference? “Fruit does not have to be concretely and objectively different from work” (110). A beggar receives money from someone passing by. Was that a work or a fruit? There’s no quantitative way of knowing. “Nevertheless, the qualitative rather than the quantitative is what constitutes the human relation” (110). So freedom “has no incontestable signs…Only the personal relation can perceive this secret quality” (110). Or as Paul says, it’s not one’s relationship to a moral code that matters; “the only thing that counts is faith [one’s relationship with Jesus] made effective through love [one’s relationship with others]” (Galatians 5:6).

So we may have words and actions that conform to a biblically-based moral code. “Education, social pressures, and cultural assimilation can produce acts that conform to what is regarded as good…We need only refer to the serious Pharisaic development of the law, the exercises of Ignatius Loyola, and the pastoral use of psychological techniques such as non-directive pedagogy or group dynamics. All these aim at good conduct, but unfortunately the result is not Christian since it is not evoked by [110] freedom and does not express it” (110-111). Instead, our words and actions simply fall “back again into morality, into dull virtue, into a list, a Decalogue, constraint, and the computation of merits” (111).

In his Letter to the Galatians, Paul lists some of the fruit of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control (5:22-23). By the power of the Holy Spirit, our Christian personality is freed to relate to other human beings and the rest of God’s good creatures in these fruitful ways. Our Olympian personality, even when imitating these qualities in conformity to a moral code, just can’t and won’t relate to others in the same qualitative way.

This is one reason why our churches are dying. First, we understand discipleship to mean conformity to a moral code. Ours works in conformity to it matter more than the quality of our relationships with the other members of our congregations.

Second, in our minds, we wrongly imagine our moral-code conformity to be greater than that of others within the congregation let alone the great unwashed outside of it. We then mistakenly feel that this gives us the right to look down on others and them the obligation to look up to us and do as we tell them.

Finally, the moral codes we hurtfully use to measure our relative importance against other members of our churches are only mediocre variations of our larger society’s Olympian moral code. Consequently, what do Olympian people living outside of our churches, or Christian witnesses cast out of them, have to gain by joining us? Nothing of qualitative significance.

(Today we reflected on The Ethics of Freedom by Jacques Ellul [translated by Geoffrey Bromiley, published by Eerdmans, 1976, pp. 108-112]).

Copyright © 2015 by Steven Farsaci.
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