Luther, Galatians, and Today....

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Reading Luther's Commentary on Galatians recently brought me across these comments by Luther about the false teachers opposing Paul in Galatia.

VERSE 2. Unto the churches of Galatia. Paul had preached the Gospel throughout Galatia, founding many churches which after his departure were invaded by the false apostles. The Anabaptists in our time imitate the false apostles. They do not go where the enemies of the Gospel predominate. They go where the Christians are. Why do they not invade the Catholic provinces and preach their doctrine to godless princes, bishops, and doctors, as we have done by the help of God? These soft martyrs take no chances. They go where the Gospel has a hold, so that they may not endanger their lives. The false apostles would not go to Jerusalem of Caiaphas, or to the Rome of the Emperor, or to any other place where no man had preached before as Paul and the other apostles did. But they came to the churches of Galatia, knowing that where men profess the name of Christ they may feel secure.

Luther's point is that false teachers prey on the Church. They don't conquer new ground with their gospel of works, they derail professing Christians.

Heresy is parasitical and cowardly. It doesn't go to the animists of Papua New Guinea, it goes where the Church exists in power and advances there by subversion. It goes to the heartland of the Presbyterian Church in America rather than to the RCC or the PCUSA or, for that matter, Islam.

Do not be lulled into complacency by history, Luther warns. You may think being in a solidly biblical denomination is protection. In fact, if history is any guide, a Church which has enjoyed the Word of God in power has a bulls eye on its chest. A rich history of the fullness of the Gospel is the single greatest predictor of heretical attack.

Meanwhile, advocates of the Galatian heresy of our day deny all this. "Nothing is amiss," they assure us. "The PCA is perfectly safe from us. We subscribe to the same documents you do. We believe the same basic things. There's nothing all that new in what we're saying...." (Of course, the correct response to this is, "If there's nothing all that new in what you're teaching, why are you so worked up about teaching it? Whence the big fuss?")

Here's how history suggests this battle over justification will end. Sections of the Church will be consumed by false teaching. The Gospel will be perverted in certain realms. But those who pervert the Gospel advance by foot while the true Gospel advances on angel wings.

The test of the Gospel is always its fruit. If the new perspective is of God, then as Gamaliel warned the Sanhedrin, there is nothing man can do to oppose it. It will lead to regeneration and life. It will result in the unconverted knowing the gifts of repentance and faith. But if it is of man, it will spread its cancer within the body, growing arithmetically and parasitically while the true Gospel advances exponentially. This was the story of the Reformation. God placed His imprimatur on Luther's teaching by pouring out His Spirit as the Reformers preached. The ultimate test of the Reformation's Gospel was its fruit.

There is, of course, a challenge in this for those of us who regard these new perspectives on Paul and the Gospel as less-than-novel.... We must be prepared to have the courage of our convictions tested by trial. If we face the same ancient falsehood Paul faced in Galatia, we should be prepared to demonstrate the truth of our Gospel the same way Paul did throughout his life: the test of the Gospel is always whether it leads to revival, whether it produces repentance and faith leading to regeneration. God always establishes His Gospel by granting it power.

We must be prepared to see the Gospel we preach prove itself not by our intellectual defense of it, but by its own inherent power. If our Gospel is no more evangelical than that of our opponents, we have little reason to believe God is with us.