Holding up the mirror of truth – Wednesday, 27th week in ordinary time – Galatians 2:1-2,7-14
Perfect and flawless congregations do not exist. If you find a ‘perfect’ Christian congregation please do not join it or else you will make it imperfect by your presence! So, while the Catholic Church is and always will be perfect, (because it is the mystical body of Christ), its members (clergy and laity) are imperfect and flawed.
I say this because preachers often speak of the early church as if they were a ‘perfect’ congregation living a perfect Christian life. They present the life of the early church as hunky dory as if all the members were on some spiritual high. While the Acts of the Apostles may through some examples give us such an impression, several letters of St Paul would demonstrate otherwise. There were congregations that were either errant in behaviour or in their teaching; St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians and Galatians being a case in point.
The Galatian Churches that were evangelized by Paul during his first missionary journey were on the verge of what was a schism. There were Judaizers who wanted the Gentile converts to follow the Jewish law and traditions in order to enter into this ‘new sect’ of Judaism. Their assertions were that Paul was not an apostle and his Gospel not faithful.
This was no small community disagreement. The letter of St Paul to the Galatians makes it amply clear that the matter at hand had rocked the infantile Church and Acts 15 tells us that the dispute had to be settled by a council which came to be called the ‘Council of Jerusalem.’ The Council had two opposing sides. Paul asserted the freedom from the law that the grace of Christ gives us. For him, the traditions and the Jewish law were ineffective and the mark of circumcision could not save anyone. Those who opposed Paul’s view, the Judaizers, insisted that the Gentiles must follow the Jewish law and traditions, in particular circumcision.
Paul’s detractors left no stone unturned. They followed him on his missionary trail ensuring that the day he stepped out of a city, they stepped in and in some case their paths coincided leading to major arguments that almost led to a riot. (Read Acts) The Judaizers had now reached the Galatian Churches. In order to negate the validity of the conversion and baptism of the Gentiles, they made personal attacks on Paul and called into question his authenticity as an apostle. If he was not an apostle then how could he make a claim to the Gospel that he preached?