Thursday, February 09, 2012

A Thought

“In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.”  Galatians 5:6

Circumcision is the mark of the covenant of Abraham; its tradition and practice go back to his time when the Lord required that all males for whom Abraham was responsible should be circumcised immediately.  Any males born after this edict into the household of Abraham were required to be circumcised on the eighth day.  Those who were not circumcised did not belong.

St. Paul’s teachings about circumcision seem clear to some (don’t bother) but not so clear to others but reading his words makes me think in terms of baptism, the mark of the covenant of Christ; the Christian initiation into the Church.  Even now there are the practitioners of infant baptism and the others who insist that a verbal profession of faith must precede the baptism.  Then there are those practitioners of sprinkling, pouring, and immersion who insist “their” way is the only way.  In addition to these doctrinal conflicts, there are baptisms from one tradition or the other that are not accepted as legitimate by others; so we see multiple baptisms!  We’ve taken this “outward sign of an inward grace” and turned it upside down to be little more than a human or even superstitious practice that, like circumcision, “avails” nothing because we have removed from the practice “faith working through love”.

There are without question remarkable spiritual events in our lives, but we must never come to believe there is any event that does not include or require “discipleship”; a lifelong commitment to “take up our cross and follow Christ Jesus”.  For circumcision and baptism (and weddings, for that matter!) avail nothing if there is no commitment beyond self.  They’re just ceremonies that make US feel good – nothing more.



C.E. Bulice said...

I think I understand your position on these "sacraments" or rituals of religion - unless our intent is to glorify God (and not ourselves) then the sacrament "avails nothing."
But, if we consider infant baptism, then is it my "faith working through love" that counts? Or, is it the congregation's "faith working through love" or is it the faith of the parents?
Considering the "abolishment" of circumcision by Paul, I find it interesting that many Christian parents still have their male children circumcised. The medical community is fairly agreed that circumcision does not aid good health and rarely will parents wait until the child is 8 days old before circumcision. Interesting.
And, I have noticed many people who want to have their wedding in a church, with the woman in a white gown, and presided over by a preacher even after they have "lived together" for years. White is supposed to represent purity and traditionally the two were supposed to enter the marriage bed virgins. All that has gone by the wayside, I fear.

Michael said...

If the child to be baptized is not going to be faithfully offered to the Lord through worship and Christian education within a body of faith, the baptism becomes an empty ritual. I think of infant baptism on the same terms as the circumcision of Abraham's time (and the same circumcision to which Jesus Himself was submitted). It is the faith of the parents AND their responsibility to bring their children into the household of faith.

I don't dismiss the value of Paul's thoughts on circumcision, but I still struggle with the Church disavowing the practice based only on what Paul said. Besides, I think "don't do circumcision because you no longer have to" is a narrow interpretation of Paul's intent. My opinion, anyway, is based on what I wrote: the circumcision avails nothing if one does not live in, for, and through YHWH. It's kind of like declaring oneself "saved" but distancing oneself from the Body of Christ and living only for oneself.