Letter to Paul the apostle
My dear Paul,
The Consolidated Liberal Churches of Asia Minor (CLAMs) have recently had passed to them a copy of your letter to the Galatians, along with a number of other letters written by you to churches in our area.
The Committee on Missions (COM) has directed me to inform you that, very sadly, they think your letters contain a number of unbalanced and deeply troubling statements.
First, we find your language to the Galatians surprisingly offensive. After only the briefest of greetings, you attack your ‘opponents’ in preposterous language even claiming that they ‘want to pervert the gospel of Christ’!
Not only do you seriously insult these good brothers by calling them ‘accursed’ (and, incidentally, risk breaking the Roman Empire Religious Tolerance Act), but you make it obvious that your priorities are wrong. You should be focussing on social justice and the rights of the poor rather than attacking fellow believers in this way.
You refer to these good people as ‘false brethren’. Is such a harsh judgement fitting, coming from a Christian minister? Is it not more charitable to give these friends the benefit of the doubt?
Paul, the COM feels impelled to both rebuke and caution you over the tone of your epistles generally. Do you realise how abrasively they come across? Take, for example, your dismissive comments towards Hymenaeus and Alexander. What exactly did you mean by saying that you have ‘delivered’ these respected believers ‘to Satan’? Surely we left behind such crude supernaturalism long ago?
Although we freely admit a small minority of our missionaries have shortcomings, it can only stir up bad feeling to speak of them in a derogatory manner.
In short, the committee feels strongly that you should adopt a much more moderate posture. Why not try winning over the Judaisers by a sweeter spirit? What’s the point of alienating them so they stop listening to you?
Don’t forget that in their cultural context it is inappropriate not to affirm one man’s opinion as good as another’s. We fear that your outspokenness could derail the denomination’s influence in Asia Minor. Think what that will do to our congregational offerings!
If only you had approached this more quietly you might even now be chairing our standing theological committee on the subject. What is badly needed today is an ecumenical approach supported by churches from every tradition, not a narrow, divisive approach.
The Judaisers are in fellowship with us against racism, poverty, greed and militarism; we really cannot allow quarrels over doctrinal minutiae to obscure this important fact.
Regrettably, we also feel there is another issue we must draw your attention to. It is the subjects you insist in writing on. Are you really trying to confuse younger Christians by emphasising such ‘heavy’ theological matters as the law, predestination, election and justification?
You seriously risk polarising the churches with all this. Surely you realise we aim at peace at any price, for the gospel is all about the love of God?
And, by the way — a minor but still important point for these ‘seeker sensitive’ days — we urge you to shorten your sermons to 10-15 minutes. That’s quite long enough (Demas was telling me only yesterday that the latest model of Roman chariots only needs 20 minutes to travel from one end of Rome to the other!).
Paul, there is no such thing as a perfect church. So please be patient and rejoice that we are all baptised in the name of Jesus Christ.
By the way, I believe the committee still has half a mind to put your name forward when another vacancy for a bishopric arises, if you show some flexibility (but let’s keep that between ourselves for now).
Yours in love (of course!),
Charles Kermit Phinney (a.k.a. Paul Christianson),