The true God says: “No righteousness, wisdom, or religion pleases me, but only that by which the Father is glorified through the Son. It is those who lay hold of the Son and me and my promise in him, by faith, to whom I am a God, a Father; it is they whom I accept, justify, and save. Everyone else remains under wrath, because they worship what is no god.”[i] (Martin Luther’s Commentary on Galatians)

 

In modern times, it appears that what is demanded in many professions and areas of life is not demanded in theology.  When I deposit money into my bank account, I expect that the teller will be accurate and deposit the check for $289.00 and not get it just about right with shifting the decimal only one small place and making it $28.90. Ditto for car parts which must be an exact correspondence to the part number. Yet when it comes to theology many are content to get things “just about right.” This paper will show the Apostle Paul paid very close attention to theological precision and that moderns would be wise to follow that example.

 

The Judaizers:

In the Apostle Paul’s day there was a group called the Judaizers who got many things right. They believed in the value of the law, the resurrection from the dead, the need for faith in Christ, that Jesus was the Messiah and that he was divine. On the surface they were as orthodox as they come. Yet, Paul had a dispute with them. It would be easy to charge Paul with being an obscurantist, a dogmatist, someone looking for a theological quarrel, and someone who was being divisive in the Body of Christ.

 

So what was the problem?

In his book Christianity and Liberalism Gresham Machen analyzed the theology of the Judaizers and suggested that for all their so-called orthodoxy there was something amiss in their logic of salvation. Machen showed that both Paul and the Judaizers had the same elements in what constitutes salvation, but that the application of the order of them was radically different. In his words:

Paul said that a man:

(1) first receives faith in Christ,

(2) then is justified before God,

(3) then immediately proceeds to keep God’s law.

The Judaizers said that a man:

(1) first receives faith in Christ,

(2) then keeps the law of God the best he can, and then

(3) is justified…[ii].

The consequence of what seems like a seemingly insignificant error, would lead Paul to deliver some of his strongest words to any party in his writings, namely that they should be cursed or eternally condemned [Gk.anáthema ] (Galatians 1:9).

 

Christ + something= nothing

At stake was the fact that the Judaizers said in effect, Christ’s work needs something else to constitute full salvation, and in their case it was circumcision. For Paul it was a working out of the adage, “addition to the work of Christ is the greatest subtraction of all” or “Christ plus something equals nothing.”  Yet they pontificated that they were perfecting what Paul had started.

Machen added his observation about this activity what he called “piecing out the work of Christ”, that is to say, adding piecemeal or a bit at a time, something to the finished work of Christ: “…Such an attempt to piece out the work of Christ by our own merit, Paul saw clearly, is the very essence of unbelief; Christ will do everything or nothing, and the only hope is to throw ourselves unreservedly on His mercy and trust Him for all.” (emphasis mine)[iii]           

 

The need for theological discernment 

Paul’s thinking exemplified the fact that the line between truth and error is very small. Both Charles Spurgeon and John Murray have demonstrated that this distinction calls for spiritual discernment. Respectively they said “Discernment is not a matter of simply telling the difference between what is right and wrong; rather, it is the difference between right and almost right” and “the difference between truth and error is not a chasm but a razor’s edge.”

In addition, very likely the Judaizers were congenial, looked upon as upstanding models of orthodoxy in their communities, and could claim tradition as their ally. In modern day terms they might be the radical contextualizers of the day who advocate “staying inside of Islam” just as the Judaizers advocated “living out the gospel” within Judaism.  It seems rather ironic, however that one of the proponents of this “staying inside of Islam,” namely, Ralph Winter, would assert in a rather anachronistic way:

Well, everywhere Paul went “Judaizers” followed him and tried to destroy the Insider Movement he had established.”[iv]

 Yet Paul saw through the Judaizer façade and sharply pointed out four areas of contention. They were:

a. Incredulity. At root Christ’s finished work was insufficient in their minds and they could not bring themselves to believe it was good enough or that the Gospel was intrinsically powerful enough to thoroughly save. Recall in Acts 15:1 they said, “Unless you are circumcised … you cannot be saved”

b. Self-justification. Since something needed to be added, the works of the law were close to their background and they seized on them. It is as Roy Ortlund observed about the human condition as a whole: “self-justification is the deepest impulse in the fallen human heart.”

c. People pleasing. A tangible demonstration of their piety through the law or imposing that on others would bring accolades from their religious friends, Christian or otherwise (Gal 6:12).

d. Persecution avoidance. The foolishness of the cross of Christ in the eyes of the local context was something to be avoided by the Judaizers (Gal 6:12). Better to appear respectable.

 

Modern day Judaizers

Consider the following statements:

 1. “I am a fully surrendered Christian and I follow Jesus to the uttermost” or “you must be a fully surrendered Christian and follow Jesus…”

2. “I am an incarnation of Christ in this mission field” or “you must be incarnational…”

3.  “I love Muslims just like Christ” or “you must love Muslims just like Christ would.”

4. “I am a great missionary because I have contextualized myself just like Christ did” or “if you want to be a great missionary you must….”

5. “In talking with Muslims about Jesus, we must learn what we call “receptor-oriented communication.” [v]

 At first blush these sound very convincing. But are we hearing some echoes from the past?

The Judaizers would have said:

  • “I am keeping the law to the very best of my ability.” “I am as pious as one can be”
  • “I am the model of righteous living in my community.” “I ….I….I…” Then they would project this on to others and deliver a “you must …” or “unless you…” set of rules to be followed. If they lived today they would use the more politically correct “we must” to soften the edges somewhat [see number 5 above].

In each system, the focus has shifted from accolades to Christ, to Him living and moving through someone by the power of the Holy Spirit to subtly drawing the attention to one’s piety through rule keeping and to imposing this on others as well.

 

The antidote to the Judaizers

Paul knew that he shared with every human, the tendency to boast in his own abilities and his own “results.” Thus he preached to himself: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. ” (Galatians 6:14).

He also knew that he would have to call out the Judaizers for promoting what he determined was “really no gospel at all” (Gal. 1:6) and risk the fact that he would be charged with trying to “win approval” (Gal 1:10) for himself while exposing their dark side.

Paul labels the trajectory of their actions as “enslaving” as they are “turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world” (Gal. 4:9). That is to say, although they had been given complete freedom in Christ, they were looking in the rear-view mirror with some adulation for what had been rendered of no real consequence by the cross. The wording is strong and communicates the message that what you are yearning for is impotent, and will only serve to enslave you.  Little wonder he had called them “foolish Galatians” (3:1) earlier on.

The so-called zeal of the Judaizers is misguided and Paul correctly observes that it carries an undercurrent of drawing the Galatian audience away from commitment to the true Gospel and by default its messenger Paul (4:17). That it to say, for all its superficial commitments, this zeal is actually divisive at the core as it is ultimately self-serving for the Judaizers whose motivation as Paul saw it was simply to “boast about your flesh” (6:13). With something of a knock-out blow, Paul then suggests that if the Judaizers would truly be zealous, let them go all the way and instead of circumcision, let them “emasculate themselves” (5:12).

Finally, Paul puts the Judaizing campaign in perspective by suggesting that what really counts is a “new creation” (6:15). That is to say, only a supernatural intervention by God in Christ can count for anything and Judaizing religion is only cosmetic.

 

Summary:

The gift of spiritual discernment“–to borrow the title from a blog by Tom Challies, is one of the most needed spiritual gifts in this day and age. When “almost right” is subtly pushed as the new gospel of respect and tolerance, it is actually “completely wrong.” Paul risked his reputation to call out the anti-Gospel campaign of the Judaizers with all their semblances of orthodoxy, and the clarion call at this time is for those who like Spurgeon see the difference between “right and almost right” to declare it boldly. For in the final analysis, the question “by whose power and for whose glory?” must be asked of every Judaizer whether modern or ancient,  and any tendency to accomplish or add to salvation by human power will always draw glory to itself, instead of to the cross of Christ must be exposed for what it is.

 

 


[i]

Martin Luther. Galatians. (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1998), S. 213.

[ii]

Gresham Machen. Christianity and Liberalism. (Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 2009), pp. 20-21.

[iii]

Ibid, p. 21.

[iv]

Ralph Winter’s Editorial in the Mission Frontiers, (September-October 2005) issue entitled “Can We Trust Insider Movements?” http://www.missionfrontiers.org/issue/article/editorial-comment21

[v]

Joseph Cumming,” Is Jesus Christ the Son of God? Responding to the Muslim View of Jesus,” in the Enrichment Journal, Summer 2012. http://enrichmentjournal.ag.org/201203/201203_056_Jesus_Son_of_God.cfm

 Note the other “must” exhortations of Mr. Cumming:

….you must help them think through how to respond to Muslim concerns about this sacred title of our Savior.

… We must first reach out in simple, warm friendship to our Muslim neighbors.

… this expression must take place in a context of friendship, love, and mutual trust and respect.

.. for friendship to be genuine, we must see it as valuable in itself, not only as a means to an end.

… In talking with Muslims about Jesus, we must learn what we call “receptor-oriented communication.”

….We must think not only about what we intend to say, but also about what others are hearing.

John Span has worked with his family in West Africa among an unreached 'Fulani' people group for the last ten years. His mentors have challenged him to think theologically, especially in the area of missions to Muslims and he desires to inspire others to do the same. In the last year he has been a frequent contributor to the St. Francis Magazine.
John Span
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7 Responses to The Judaizers: When almost right isn’t good enough

  1. [...] The Judaizers: When almost right isn’t good enough (biblicalmissiology.org) [...]

  2. Jeff Morton says:

    djohn wrote:
    “What I see on this web sight is anger toward those who would choose to remain in the culture. Claims of blasphemy when those who embrace contexutalization for Islamic contexts want to make heart belief central but keep cultural norms.”

    I think you’re right and wrong.

    You’re right that the emotion you sense–anger–is due to a sense of betrayal from fellow missionaries. Few times have we seen the Bible twisted and spun to make it say when one wishes than with the insider movements proponents. And by the way, there’s nothing wrong with anger when it is under control and focused in the correct direction.

    You’re wrong that we are angry with insiders. The direction of our anger is not the insider himself, but the western missionary who promotes the problematic, short-sighted, social science-reliant methodology.

  3. Fred Farrokh says:

    Djohn asserts that the “building where the person goes to pray should not really matter.” While it is true that God is not limited by time and space and therefore can hear any prayer uttered in the name and authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, djohn’s comment betrays an unfamiliarity with the Islamic context, ironically.

    Djohn’s thinking has led insider movement advocates to encourage “Muslim believers” to continue attending and praying in the mosque. It is impossible to participate in congregational salat without following the uniform standing, bowing, and kneeling patterns of the Muslim jama’ (unless you arrive late and are playing ‘catch up.’). IM advocates have conceded this, but many will nevertheless encourage their disciples to go through the motions of salat while uttering silent biblical prayers to Jesus.

    There are at least two contextual problems here. First, when Muslims are called to worship at the mosque, the muezzin chants in repetition: “I bear witness that Muhammad is the apostle of Allah.” Anyone who enters the building (unless it is part of an educational field trip) will be assumed by the jama’ to be spiritually, audibly, and physically under this declaration. This is the same Muhammad who declared that Jesus was neither Lord nor God, neither did He die on the cross nor rise from the dead. Shall a person who holds to biblical beliefs about Christ enter a building to pray in unison with, and thus deceive, those who believe the opposite?

    Second, this “building” is known as “masjid,” “the place of the sajdah.” From childhood we were taught the point at which the forehead touches the ground during the sajdah is the position in which the Muslim is completely submitted to Allah. Allah is the one who sent the seal of the prophets, Muhammad, who declared that Jesus Christ was no more than a prophet. Should a person who believes that Jesus Christ is Lord, God and Savior prostrate himself in way that will deceive all of the other sincere Muslim worshippers? What will the Lord Jesus Christ think as witnesses this scene, looking down from heaven?

    Djohn’s assertion, when played out, ultimately leads to both to a disrespect of the Muslim community and a denial of Christ’s Lordship by His supposed disciple. The mosque belongs to Muslims. A proper respect for that community, as well as the long term interest of discipling those who have truly trusted Christ, should lead us to the conclusion that those who truly believe in the Lordship of Jesus Christ should not go to pray in the masjid.

  4. Adam Simonwitz says:

    The comment by djohn is an apples vs oranges example. The Judaizers taught circumcision as a the sign of conversion to Judaism. Other peoples practiced circumcision but it was not imbued with the meaning that the Judaizers gave to it, a meaning that was at odds with the truth of God’s grace. The example of prayer posture is a great example as you can find examples in the Bible of various postures in prayer. Nevertheless, to pray in the form of Salat, even if one changes the words to be Biblically-appropriate, will often communicate something different to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. But there is more which this commenter fails to admit – many IMers are not simply imitating prayer postures but praying the actual Salat which confesses Muhammad to be God’s Messenger, which in Islam is greater than a prophet, and implies that he is the Seal of the Prophets, including the lie that he is greater than Jesus Christ!

    The NT never allows Gentiles to continue worshipping idols – Paul, by inspiration of God the Holy Spirit, told us that sacrifices to idols are sacrifices to demons. The false religion of Islam (i.e. a false representation of God sans the statue) is just another homage to the demonic. Who dares to join Christ with Belial (Satan)?

    If this commenter is a married man I wonder if he would mind his wife going through the motions of intimate acts with other men. I mean, if acts of intimacy between spouses is valid then why would it be wrong for the commenter’s spouse to do the same with other men, especially if her thoughts are fantasizing about being with her husband?

    Have we not been betrothed as a pure virgin to Christ? Have not our hearts been changed and circumcised from hating God to loving Him? Let us not forget the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. It seems to me that this commenter has run out of oil and is asking us to share ours with him.

  5. Benelchi says:

    @djohn,

    I think you have hugely misunderstood the issues. No one is objecting to the cultural forms i.e. “the posture in which a person prays … The building where the person goes to pray … The way person dresses, etc…” What does matter is their theology and their identity i.e. do they see themselves in unity with the universal body of Christ or do they see themselves in unity with their Muslim brothers? When they go to worship, do they worship with other believers in Christ and submit to biblical teachers or do they worship with other Muslims and submit to the teaching of Muslim Imams? When they pray, do the cite the Shahadah and the Islamic ritual prayers or do they pray to “Our Father” in a way that mirrors the instructions Jesus gave us about how we are to pray? It really comes down to an issue of identity, not of culture. This issue has never been about cultural forms it has always been about true biblical faith. Long before this issue became so public in January of this year the controversy was known as the “C4/C5 controversy.” Both C4/C5 adopt almost identical cultural forms; however, C5 goes beyond just the adoption of culture, it adopts much of the theology of Islam; C5 is true syncretism and that is the problem. Personally, some aspects of C4 make me uncomfortable because they can lead to legalism, i.e. if a Halal diets become a requirement of faith for example, but the real issue is encompassed in the very serious doctrinal compromises of C5. I think it is important to realize the IM proponents often describe C4 to their western audiences when they are really implementing C5. Here are the results from one survey of IM adherents that hopefully will help you understand the problem of IM much more clearly.
    96% still believed that the Qur’an was one of four holy books from heaven, along with the Torah (Law), the Zabur (Prophets) and the Injil (Gospel).
    66% even said that the Qur’an was the greatest of the four.
    45% do not even affirm that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Trinity).
    Ref: Source: Phil Parshall, “Danger! New Directions in Contextualization,” Evangelical Missions Quarterly, vol. 34:4 (October 1998)

  6. djohn says:

    Funny as you were talking about the Judiaziers I could not help but think that those who are represented by this blog site really reflect that description.

    If we really believe that salvation is the gospel plus nothing then the gospel should able to penetrate through any culture not requiring external cultural changes but rather internal heart changes.

    Therefore the posture in which a person prays should not really matter. They building where the person goes to pray should not really matter. The way person dresses, culturally speaking,(not relating to issues of modesty) should not matter.

    Really external cultural experessions of Islam should not matter if a person has made a real heart decision to invite Christ into their life.

    What I see on this web sight is anger toward those who would choose to remain in the culture. Claims of blasphemy when those who embrace contexutalization for Islamic contexts want to make heart belief central but keep cultural norms.

    So I ask who are the real Judaizers here? Is it those that would choose to worship the real divine Jesus from within their cultural context or those that criticize them for not addopting a “church” culture that looks like what Christians expect.

    I like the concept. It would seem like Biblical Missiology could benifit from asking themselves the question are we asking insiders to embrace the Gospel plus arab christian culture, western christian culture, africian christian culture?

    While syncretisim is a concern and should not be taken lightly those accusing should always examine their own hearts. You devalue the gospel by requiring people to extract themselves and embrace ‘Christian Culture’ along with the gospel. Jesus + Christian Culture = Nothing

  7. Basil Grafas says:

    They may have embraced good things, but the Judaizers were all wrong. They were wrong in what they valued and their priorities distinguished their false doctrine from the truth. Remember what Paul thought of them in Galatians 2. They were fakes; promoters of a false gospel. The way we make gospel choices does not simply distinguish the wise from the unwise but also distinguishes between those that grasp the core gospel truths and those that follow another gospel.

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