Tag Archives: Paul

In Praise of the Non-Paulists

Don’t get the wrong impression from the title. I’m not one of those folks who spits on Paul and claims he co-opted the early church to espouse his own doctrine and shape Christianity to his vision and will.

However, Paul gets a lot of play, and so he often overshadows the other writers in the New Testament (outside of the gospel writers, that is), even when what he says supports, complements and otherwise fits like a glove with other of the writers’ spiritual insights and guidance for us.

(By the way, click here for an earlier post I did on Paul the Apostle, titled “St. Paul the Prickly.”)

Each writer highlighted in the New Testament provides an important piece to our overall education in faith and proper action. Each is important, and Paul is no more important than any other just because he gets more words. His was a special ministry and mission and it put him in a position to have to write a lot and talk about doctrine.

No particularly deep thoughts with this post. Just an encouragement not to be mad at Paul for all his face time (nor to misunderstand him and brand him too quickly as a jerk…modern translations don’t always do him justice as to his intent)…nor to push aside the other writers by assuming that their teachings are any lesser.

As the body has many parts, each with its own purpose, and all of them necessary for proper functioning, so do all the writers of the New Testament serve an important role that should never be minimized.

Only two rules to follow?

OK, bear  with me. I have a longish set-up today before I get to my point. I’ll try to keep it entertaining.

So, the other day I was on a blog that is a bit irreverent (to put it mildly), particularly when it comes to talking about Christians (that would be Deus Ex Malcontent, which is in my blogroll).

I normally take that kind of thing pretty well; if one cannot have a sense of humor about one’s faith, it doesn’t reflect well on one’s tolerance, fortitude or ability to play well with others.

But some commenter fired off a throwaway statement in a thread about the Duggar family (geez, that’s three posts now in a row that I’ve mentioned them. Gotta stop that) that got me a bit peeved because it said that “cult” and “Christian” were the same thing.

He or she said:

A cult/Christian (same thing) family like this has its own built in “fuck you” to their limited wold view…1/10 of their children are bound to be homosexuals. Muahahha! I love when Christian values come against evolution fact.

I took it badly, saying:

The definition of “cult” and the essence of being a true Christian aren’t even in the same zip code, much less the same ballpark. So, while I share your distaste for what the Duggars are doing, a hearty “fuck you” to you on behalf of my brothers and sisters in Christ who are too well-mannered, too uptight or too nervous to say it themselves.

First, my apologies to any brothers and sisters in Christ for having got so testy on your behalfs, since many of you probably wouldn’t have wanted me to do that. I applaud all of you who can keep your tongues in check better and often wish I had that kind of control. (Then again, if I did have that kind of control, this blog would quickly die off, because Holy Crap from Deacon Blue just sounds like a cop-out on my original mission.)

Second, though, my impolite response (combined with two earlier more even-tempered comments, which were actually about the topic of the blog post that day) triggered a testy comment from an person simply posting as anonymous, who asked:

So, Deacon, are you actually a follower of Jesus, whose TWO commandments were to love God and to love other people as you love God, or are you one of those Paulist assholes running around drawing lines in the sand for others to obey?

Now we get to the real point of my post today. The notion that Jesus let us off the hook with all those rules God had before he came along. The mistaken idea that Jesus just gave us two simple rules and that’s all we have to follow.

Sure, it is true that Jesus ushered in a whole new covenant with his atoning death. It is true that he boiled God’s law down to the two “new” commandments that anonymous noted above. Yes, we are not under the old bondage of the law in the same way the Jews were, and we don’t have to hold down all those nit-picky rules and regs about what to eat, whether or not menstruating women can stay in the house, etc.

But Jesus did not throw out God’s laws. In fact, he upheld them, which is why his death for us even mattered and bought salvation for those of us who accept Jesus as the Christ.

Let’s take it back a couple steps. If our first commandment is to love God, how do we do that?

“Oh, Deacon, I know, I know.” (eager imaginary person raises hand enthusiastically) “We love the people around us.”


Yes, that is one way to respect God’s will, but if you recall, Jesus’ second commandment to us was specifically to love our neighbors—our fellow humans—so that can’t be the way to love God, because if it were, Jesus would have given us just one commandment to love God and other people.

We show our love to God by upholding His will and putting our faith in Him (and in His son, Jesus) and accepting the Holy Spirit. Part of that is respecting His rules, and by that I am talking about what He expects us to do in our day-to-day lives. Don’t steal, don’t covet, don’t harm or kill other people, don’t engage in sexual immorality, don’t lie, etc.

And this is where people like the anonymous commenter above get it wrong. They try to draw a distinction between what Jesus said and what someone like Paul said. They decide that because Paul was a man, and a hard-assed one at that, that his “Paulist” rules are unnecessary additions to those Jesus laid out and are thus a form of human bondage laid upon us that Jesus didn’t intend.

Well, if you think Jesus wanted us going hog-wild and engage in anything we want, as long as we do it in “love,” think again. Jesus was a faithful Jew. He believed in rules. He also believed in the spirit of the law more than the letter of the law (faith/spirituality vs. legalism), but he still believed in rules.

This is why, after he rose from the dead, he set his apostles on the path to forming the church and making sure people knew what they were supposed to do under this new covenant between humans and God. And so we have the various letters in the New Testament that illustrate to us, though the words of the apostles, how Jesus (and God) expect us to live. And that includes Paul’s writings. Yes, Paul could be a bit of a jerk at times, and some of the things he has said about women, for example, were spoken from a man in a hugely male-centered society and his core intentions are sometimes overshadowed by his very human failings and prejudices. But Paul’s writings, and those of the other apostles, are the rules we are supposed to uphold as Christians…as followers of Jesus. They are in alignment with major rules God has had in place for ages, and they are in line with what Jesus taught. Very little tweaking is needed to keep them relevant for the modern age.

(Eager imaginary person raises hand again.) “But Deacon, Paul wasn’t one of Jesus’ apostles.”

Yes, that is true. Paul, formerly known as Saul of Tarsus, hunted down early Christians on behalf of the Jewish priests and other Jewish leaders. But why did he turn away from that pretty comfy job (which he was devoted to wholeheartedly) to preach Jesus as the Messiah? Because Jesus spoke to Saul directly and told him what was what and put him on a path to share the gospel with the Gentiles (non-Jews).

Jesus put Saul (now Paul) on a path to reach out to a much larger group of people than Jesus’ core disciples were reaching, because they were focused on the conversion of Jews. Jesus trusted Paul with a very significant degree of doctrinal authority, and Paul even corrected the original apostles in some areas where they were drifting back toward legalism and away from the aim of the gospel. And those apostles listened to him when he did that.

So, to answer anonymous indirectly (since I doubt he or she is lurking around these parts):

Am I follower of Jesus? Yes.

Am I a “Paulist asshole?” Yeah. Sort of. But I’m not drawing lines in the sand for people to follow. God already did that, and Jesus supported God’s will and laws. I’m not telling anyone what to do nor do I make a habit of judging people. That’s not my responsibility and I wouldn’t want it anyway.

Jesus didn’t dumb-down God’s purpose for us. He just tried to make it a bit easier to grasp by saying it more simply. It is all about love. But love without rules in as much anarchy as society without laws. Love without restraint leads to all sorts of excess, and excess is rarely good. Love is at the core, but how we show our love is important, and if we use the “love is all” excuse to justify all our actions, particularly those God frowns upon, we aren’t really showing the love.