I hold a deep conviction that how we worship makes a substantial contribution to shaping who we are. Everything from the approach to the church building through heading back to the car after service is teaching us something and making us into someone.
And I owe this conviction—or at least the ability to articulate it well—to James K.A. Smith and his book Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation.
There is much more to this book than what you see above, and I heartily recommend it for pastors, teachers, and those who are considering either calling. This goes in the no-brainer category for those of us who are considering both callings.
Paul’s short letter to the Galatians has been a running focus of mine for the past year and a half. This summer, Coram Deo has asked that Galatians and Exodus be read alongside one another by our students, families, and faculty. The combination of these two factors—along with the encouragement of some friends—has led me to put together what I consider to be five helpful ideas to understand before studying Galatians. This is clearly not an exhaustive list, but I do hope that it provides a framework for beginning to read and understand Galatians as it was meant to be read and understood.
Five Things to Know about Galatians
- Galatians is an epistle.
- Galatians was probably Paul’s first epistle.
- Paul is making one sustained argument throughout the epistle.
- Continuity with the Old Testament is crucial for Paul’s argument
- Discontinuity with the Old Testament is crucial for Paul’s argument.
Throughout his letter, Paul is making one sustained argument. And that argument could be boiled down to this: Paul is urging the Galatian Christians to reject the teaching of those who have come among them insisting that maintaining Jewish practices in addition to the Gospel is necessary for salvation.
So far these five major points have been building on each other. This one is no exception. In remembering this third point, you cannot forget that Galatians itself is an epistle. In keeping with the ancient practice of writing letters, Paul has a direct audience and a specific reason to write. You also cannot forget that Galatians is an early epistle. In it Paul is dealing with concerns he had early in his career. These three points—that Galatians is an early epistle containing one sustained argument—should impact our interpretation in many ways. I want to highlight one here.
Before you read part of Galatians and draw a conclusion about its meaning today, you must make sure that the conclusion you are drawing fits within the original purpose of the letter. For example, when you read that “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female” in 3:28, make sure that the full weight of the original argument is felt before you apply the verse to any ethnic, class, or gender disputes today. This is not and cannot be taken as a single-verse sweeping statement about equality. Instead, if we are to be faithful to the text, this verse must be heard as part of Paul’s overall argument.
Of all the fascinating things to study about the life and practices of the earliest Christians, it is their corporate worship that most interests me. The fact that they met for eucharist on Sunday morning is unique in many ways. Though a vast majority of the earliest Christians were converts from Judaism—which viewed the Sabbath (Saturday) as the special day of the week—Christians placed primary emphasis on Sunday, the day of the Resurrection. The Christian practice of Sunday worship was a distinct break from their previous tradition.
What is more—and what I see as uncomfortably thought-provoking for our worship today as Christians—is that Sundays in the ancient Roman empire were nothing like Sundays in modern Western culture. Sunday marked the beginning of the Roman work week. This is why the church met early in the morning. They woke up before the rest of civilization, gathered together for prayer, public readings from the Scriptures, and a celebration of the eucharist.
And then they went to work.