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What Was the Galatian Heresy?

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Archives / 1965 / November

 

 

What Was the Galatian Heresy?

James W. Zackrison

JAMES W. ZACKRISON, Chairman, Department of Theology, Colombia-Venezuela College

 

Seventh-day Adventists, because of their insistence on the per­petuity of the law of God, and in particular the seventh-day Sabbath, are often accused, di­rectly or indirectly, of maintaining and teach­ing the Galatian heresy against which Paul wrote so strongly. A represent­ative statement appears in a recent book; a book which is, interestingly enough, quite highly recommended by some ex-Ad­ventist "reformers." The author writes:

This, then, is the Adventist's doctrine of salva­tion. It teaches that we are pardoned by grace alone, but presently reveals that the pardon is only provisional, being contingent on our subse­quent right conduct—which is Galatianism.i

The Seriousness of the Problem in Galatia

We must ask ourselves if what this author says is the Galatian heresy really is the Galatian heresy. Has he interpreted correctly the historical facts? What hap­pened in Galatia that caused Paul to write such a strongly worded letter? It is not every day that a pastor writes to his congregation calling them avOlicot, "sense­less." Whatever their new belief was, it was wrong—and as far as Paul was con­cerned, "a different gospel" (Gal. 1:6, R.S.V.) than what he had preached to them. It was a case of complete, doctrinally oriented apostasy. Worldliness and low standards are bad enough in a church, as was the case in Corinth, but doctrinal apostasy not only has the effect of being a bad influence on the brethren but it tears out the very foundation upon which the gospel rests and produces a deadly form of paganism because it is sometimes so close to the truth. That is why Paul says that "not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ (Gal. 1:7, R.S.V.). There is no doubt that there was a serious problem in the Galatian church; the question is Was the problem what Mr. Douty says it was?

Was Obedience to God the Question?

The author's statement ". . . the pardon is only provisional, being contingent on our subsequent right conduct—which is Galatianism" is apparently based on a be­lief in the doctrine of eternal security, com­monly called "once saved, always saved," and seems to imply that God does not take into account everyday conduct in the judg­ment. In fact, the whole chapter in which the statement under consideration appears seems an attempt to prove this point; both from the Calvinist and Arminian points of view.

On page 70 the author points out that Arminians are "as emphatic as Calvinists in teaching that the instant a sinner repents and believes, he has the unqualified pardon of his past sins and the immediate posses­sion of eternal life." He then adds: "They do not believe that pardon and eternal life are contingent on future behavior, though they believe that future misbehavior will result in the loss of blessings already en­joyed." Whatever the author may mean by this rather confusing statement, it seems to say that eternal life is not contingent on future behavior, but future misbehavior will be punished. What is the difference?

However, the question of obedience to God as a result of salvation was not the is­sue in Galatia. Paul himself says in the same Epistle:

"For you were called to freedom, breth­ren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh. . . . If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit" (Gal. 5:13, 25, R.S.V.).

If these verses mean anything at all, they can only mean that salvation must produce a change in the life. A Christian does not live like a sinner. Nowhere in the Bible is it taught that salvation frees a man from his duty to obey God. Nor does such a point of view constitute legalism. What the Bible teaches is that salvation by faith capacitates a person, so that by means of God's grace and power in him he can obey. To say that a person who has experienced the new birth is free from the duty to obey is to contradict what Paul himself is saying. The matter of obedience was not the issue in Galatia.

What Was the Problem in Galatia?

On page 68 of the book under considera­tion, Mr. Douty writes that Galatianism is "the doctrine that whatever Christ has done for us, salvation is, in part dependent on our good works." This JS closer to the truth, but is still only half right. The Gala­tians were not only depending on their own works, they had substituted another system of salvation in the place of the one that God had revealed to them through Paul. It is clear from the words of Paul in the introduction to the book that the Gala­tian believers had radically changed their ideas as to how they received salvation, substituting the law, especially the cere­monial law, and more specifically an apos­tate Judaism, for the method of salvation by the grace of God.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel---not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ (Gal. 1:6, 7, R.S.V.).

Ellen G. White comments:

Through the influence of false teachers who had arisen among the believers in Jerusalem, division, heresy, and sensualism were rapidly gain­ing ground among the believers in Galatia. These false teachers were mingling Jewish traditions with the truths of the gospel. Ignoring the decision of the general council at Jerusalem, they urged upon the Gentile converts the observance of the ceremonial law.      . .

Christ, the true foundation of the faith, was virtually renounced for the obsolete ceremonies of Judaism.°

That no man can be saved because of any works that he might do is one of the clearest truths of the Bible, but to teach that he can transgress the moral law and do what he wishes is to teach antinomianism, a doctrine found nowhere in the Bible. It is one thing to say that by means of the law, moral or ceremonial, a man is saved, as the Judaizers did; and another to say that the reception of the grace of God and the faith in Jesus capacitate a man so that he can obey, as the Seventh-day Adventists teach. Paul uses chapters five and six of Galatians to point out exactly this—that the new birth and the reception of the Spirit produce in the daily life the fruits of the Spirit. Christian liberty can never be liberty to sin; it is freedom from sin because of the abiding presence of Christ in the life.

Contrary to what Mr. Douty says, Sev­enth-day Adventists do not teach that the procurement of salvation is made contingent on one's attaining perfection of char­acter. We teach that the grace of Christ continues to work in us after justification and produces daily progress toward Chris­tian maturity. A man, of and by himself, cannot attain any kind of perfection. That was the Galatian heresy—an attempt at sal­vation without Christ. "If justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose" (Gal. 2:21, R.S.V.).

Unfortunately, some Seventh-day Ad­ventists may not have understood our true position and as a result we have sometimes given the impression that we are saved be­cause we keep the Sabbath. The best argu­ment against misstatements of our beliefs, such as we have considered in this article. is the demonstration of the fruits of the Spirit in our daily lives.

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Notes:

1 Norman F. Douty, Another Look at Seventh-day Advent­ism (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House. 1962) p. 75.

2 Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, pp, 383, 385.411.

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