The Epistle Galatians ch 6 v. 11.
Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand. As many as desire to make a fair show in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh. But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.
Like many of you, I grew up in this church. And like many of you, I grew to love all the things about this church. I love the elegance of the language in the 1928 Prayer Book and the Anglican Missal. I love the majesty and mystery of the Mass. I love knowing that as I worship God at the Mass, that I am sharing the experience with thousands of other Anglican Catholics in this country. And I love knowing that there is a consistency and constancy to our liturgy and Faith.
As Anglican Catholics, we lay claim to that ancient and traditional Faith. We profess and proclaim that what we believe and the liturgy that we practice and the rules that we follow, are in synergy or alignment with those of the early church. We have standards. And we hold to those standards because to do anything less, to compromise in any way, would lead to the heresies that overtook our former mother church. We also hold to those rules and practices because we don’t want to be associated in any way with those heresies.
The early church faced similar concerns, only they were slightly more complicated. In the case of the church in Galatia, as we learn from St. Paul, they also wanted to gain acceptance by society. In today’s epistle lesson, we are told of how the Jewish converts in the church wanted to appease the society they lived in by forcing Gentile Christians to adhere to the orthodox Jewish laws about circumcision. And of course, Paul tells them that it doesn’t matter if they’re circumcised or not; “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision…“. It wasn’t the physical act of circumcision that ultimately counts.
You see, the motivation of those converts who insisted on circumcision was their desire to look good. They thought that by looking good, they could somewhat fend off the criticism and persecution of those from outside the church. It was actually something to be proud of; sure we’re a bit different with this Jesus Christ thing, but we aren’t really all that offensive because in the end, we still make everyone abide by the Law.
This is a first century version of what we know today as “political correctness”. “Look at how good we are! We aren’t all that different or radical; we’re just like everyone else, only slightly different. No need to pay that much attention to us; we won’t be any trouble; all nice and quiet and inoffensive”.
But of course, St. Paul doesn’t let anyone get away with compromise positions. How could he? After all, Jesus told us, “so then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee from my mouth” (Revelation 3:16). So as usual, St. Paul tells the Galatians that they need to get their priorities straight. It’s not the physical act that ultimately counts.
Let’s get back to us. Remember, we know and love everything about our church. We love that our church follows those ancient rules and practices those ancient liturgies. And whether we make it to church on a particular Sunday or not, we know that the same liturgy will be performed, the same rules will be followed; and whoever happens to come to our church will be expected to follow those same rules and liturgies. But otherwise, we aren’t all that different or radical; we’re just like everyone else, only slightly different. No need to pay that much attention to us; we won’t be any trouble. All nice and quiet and inoffensive.
This is a different definition of “politically correct”. Don’t raise a ruckus. Don’t provoke controversy. Don’t start an argument. If you come here, follow our rules. If you don’t come here, well, we won’t go out of our way to tell you what the rules are. We’ll be proud and slightly smug about the fact that we practice the traditional Catholic Faith, with an all-male priesthood and traditional Christian morality. But let’s not disrupt society. We don’t want to do too much to attract attention to ourselves.
Being “politically correct” doesn’t just mean agreeing with society’s prevailing view on things. It also means that even if you disagree, you stay quiet or try to give the appearance that you won’t be a problem. It also means that even as you set standards for yourself and your church, you won’t require society to hold to those same standards. Worse, you may even alter your own standards so as to avoid offending society.
This was the major error made by the Jewish converts in Galatia. The standards of the church had been set by Jesus Christ himself. He often chided the Pharisees for forcing people to adhere to the letter of the law while violating both the letter and the spirit of the law themselves. St. Paul took it a step further; For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. It’s not the physical act that ultimately counts! What counts is that you are transformed into a new and different person!
We have a beautiful liturgy. We have an awesome and majestic Mass. We have an ancient and historic Faith. We come here every Sunday at the appointed times and recite the prayers and make the responses and receive the Body and Blood of Christ himself! But at the end of the day, are we new creatures as a result?
We cannot afford to be trapped into thinking that merely showing up for Mass on Sunday makes us good Christians. We cannot afford to sit quietly in the face of an immoral society because we don’t want to cause a ruckus. We cannot afford to profess our faith inside these walls, and close our mouths as soon as we drive away from the building. After all, Jesus said, “so then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee from my mouth”.
As we all know, there is value in having rules and standards. They are in place to ensure that our church remains faithful to God and to His Law. They are in place to ensure that the church is protected from heresy. They are in place to ensure that we have a guide to the Salvation promised to us by His Son. But these rules and standards are meaningless unless we are transformed by the Faith expressed by our liturgy and practices and become new creatures who will proclaim that Faith to the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.