I want you to know…that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any human, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. Galatians 1:11-12
I have been talking to several cell leaders who feel like their cells are drowning in discussion fomented by people who would probably kick people out of their “Bible study” if they said something like Paul said to the Galatians, above. A lot of these dear complainees went to a rationalistic church that started them down the road to seeing their faith as an exercise in thinking the right thoughts and organizing their lives around them.
So what do they want to do in their cell, now that they have moved out of the church of their youth and are thinking their own thoughts in the big city? They come to the cell meeting, the discussion is left open to see what God has been revealing, and what do they do with the kind people who are leaning in to listen? They lead them to continually scratch their heads over some conundrum. They keep coming up against the imponderables that rationalistic Christianity leads to. They keep bumping up against atonement theories that they haven’t thought through. They want to re-discuss the trinity. They love the topic of predestination. If you bring out the Bible they’ll start channeling some professor debunking its historicity or consistency and they’ll want to compare it to the latest Buddhist tidbit their yoga teacher passed on.
Their faith is an argument, not a relationship. And most of the time they didn’t really understand the argument to begin with and never really bought it. I, for one, love all these discussions — when they are open-hearted and part of a real struggle for faith they can be beautiful. But they can be hard on a cell leader. Because when they are just the dark side of someone resisting Jesus, they are tiresome, even dangerous. When they are merely an unconscious, stuck person floundering around in the mire that bad teaching created for them, they can be pitiful and sad.
Paul is speaking out of his experience with God (and I am too), THEN he makes an argument. He is worried that the Galatians will begin with the Spirit and then return to the teachings of mere people. He is afraid that Jesus has not really been born in them and so they are easily duped into returning to mere religion. The cell leaders to which I am referring feel his pain. The prison doors have been opened and certain friends won’t walk out — they rebel against being imprisoned, but they are still discussing the terms of their sentence, post-parole.
Ironically, while pondering the theories of Bible interpretation, many Christians we meet have missed main messages of the Bible. For instance, they eat the apple every day:
“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked… Genesis 3:4-7
When the goal of faith has been reduced to knowing stuff, when faith is about feeling the security and power of knowing the secrets and explaining everything perfectly; it is easy to feel naked all day. People come to our cells from parts of the kingdom of God where folks are trying to stay covered up all day and the main pursuit of fellowship is all about collecting another piece of data to add to their wardrobe. They are always trying to look right. They only trust people who seem to know it all. And they tend to try to be know-it-alls themselves, even though everyone can see that the data is not covering their human parts. Did God tell them they didn’t know enough? I don’t think so.
The Bible repeatedly says that knowing anything begins with knowing God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Eat Jesus, not the apple again. Then we can talk about faith.