January 11, 2006

Galatians: Paul’s Surprise, and Who’s to Blame?

In a rather simple manor I’d summarize Paul’s missionary philosophy as traveling to an area, teaching, seeking out a local leader, establishing a local church with that leader as pastor, then moving on to another area. After this Paul often followed up with a letter, frequently sending help in the form of an experienced Christian to assist the pastor and church that had been established.

Most of Paul’s letters followed a typical 1st Century style, he would often ‘break the bad news’ to the receipts in a ‘nice’ way. He introduced himself, praised God for them, praised aspects of their church, then went on to point out, suddenly at first, then in more direct terms the ‘real reason’ he was writing or more simply, his critiques.

Paul however abandons this style in Galatians; instead he quickly gets to the point, almost raving about how astonished he is at their adoption of ‘another Gospel.’ You might just say that the Galatians who are after all still Christian ‘toddlers’ were left to fend on their own and were lead astray by another group of ‘missionaries’ who had some mixed up theology.

How then should we evaluate Paul’s style of missions? Should we copy Paul’s technique even with its apparent flaws --- in the light of the Galatians’ straying? Should Paul have helped the Galatians grow more ‘in Christ’ before he left? Or can we not fault Paul so much as the Galatians themselves --- based on Paul’s surprised reaction; he seems to have thought this would not (and should not) have happened. Was Paul being too confident? Should we view this as an example of a flawed mission? Or should we see this as an ever-present, and statistical eventually --- you can’t ‘win them all’ so to speak?

It seems as if Paul views this ‘trouble’ as only a temporary set back, that the Galatians are “deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ” --- yet if they were called in Christ, they are still called in Christ. Even so should Paul’s surprise be viewed as a failure on his part, or the Galatians? How should Paul’s letter to the Galatians affect our technique, and our view in respect to modern missions?

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