Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Circumcision of Correct Theology

You who boast in the law dishonour God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, "The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you." For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God. (Romans 2:23-29; ESV)
As I was reading Paul's words from Romans 2 (above), and thinking about how it can play out today, it occurred to me that theological correctness can be a kind of circumcision for one kind of modern day "Judaizers".

Tom Wright has used the word "badge" to talk about the way the Jews viewed circumcision (and other works of the Law/Torah, and even just the possession of the Law/Torah, if memory serves me right). This is a helpful analogy. Perhaps more in the past, but badges could serve as proud symbols of membership of your particular club. For some church members, official name tags function as badges of membership. And the thing is, there can be a subtle blurring, where the badge of membership becomes the assurance of membership (although I suppose there is something in the nature of Biblical badges as not only signs, but also seals). Worse though, is when the assurance rests entirely in the wearing of the badge, and it is forgotten that the badge is only a token, when the badge is no longer a sign pointing to something else, but assumes all the substance of assurance. I may not have any real relationships with others in the church, I may only rarely attend the various gatherings of the church, I may never represent the church in the world, but I still have the name tag, and if I'm wearing it, no-one better try and tell me that I'm not a member of the church!

Sometimes I think our confessions to theological correctness become a badge carrying too much weight, causing too much boasting. Sometimes the theological orthodoxy of our doctrinal statements, and of our confessed allegiances (as Calvinist, Evangelical, Reformed or whatever), becomes the substance of our assurance of membership in Christ, even if that alone is the bulk of the substance of that assurance. What if we have the purest summary of the gospel in our official confession, but we never really engage with others to communicate the gospel to them? What if we clearly teach predestination and grace, and are notoriously proud or arrogant as Christians? What if our stated core values proclaim the love of God and reconciliation and forgiveness in Christ, but we are always divisive and fault-finding? "For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision." Our theological badge indeed is of value if we live out our theology. But if our theological confessions are only a badge, maybe there is little value in wearing it. And perhaps we may also see that some others who don't wear the same badge, actually do better at living out the theology. May our praise not be from man but from God.

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