Losing & Finding Our Way: Jesus AND Paul not Jesus OR Paul

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In my previous post I mentioned how in the Restoration Movement (or at least in Churches of Christ) we have often leaned more heavily on Paul than we have on Jesus. Simply put, Jesus is here to take care of our sins so we can get to heaven and Paul is here to make sure we do church right so we can get to heaven. We go to Jesus for salvation and Paul for how to do church and since we tied the second to be essential to the first we have in effect turned to Paul for salvation (at least it appears that way to me at times) as well.

To grossly generalize what you see going on out there we typically think of conservatives going to Paul and progressives going to Jesus. That isn’t entirely accurate but there may be some truth in that. A lot of this boils down to what we believe our purpose is. If our purpose is to be the ONE true church and be correct on all points of doctrine then Jesus is discarded since he didn’t really talk about church very much. If our purpose is something more than that, which I believe it is, then Jesus is ultimately going to be as important to us as He was to Paul.

We do not have to swing the pendulum away from Paul in order to incorporate Jesus into our theology. Honestly, if we are only talking about theology and doctrine then we have missed the mark from the get go. There is so much more to life and what it means to be the body of Christ than theology and doctrine. Transformation and eschatology (end things) should also be a big part of our focus. I have heard some diminish Paul in the process of rightly swinging the focus more to Jesus than we have in the past. I think that is unnecessary. We have trumpeted 2 Tim 3:16 about how “ALL scripture is God breathed and useful…” but then we had spent a huge amount of time out of the gospels and into the epistles (that is not to even mention the Old Testament which is what that verse is actually talking about since when it was penned the New Testament wasn’t even around in the form it is today).

I believe Paul read well will continually point us back to not just to the Gospels but also to Jesus. There is no Gospel with Jesus and there is no Paul, no church, etc without Jesus. Jesus is of ultimate importance and so we turn to Paul not just to nail down what it means to be the right practicing church but to find a richer and more full understanding and relationship with our Savior and Lord.

It is not Jesus or Paul. It always should be Jesus & Paul. When we read the Gospels we find Jesus and when we read Paul we should also find Jesus. If you are finding something else then you may not be doing it right 🙂

4 Responses

  1. Matt, you just brought back to my mind sermons I heard growing up in Searcy, AR. I remember Jim Woodroof talking about how he “found in the gospels the power (grace, Holy Spirit relationship with God) to do what we read in the letters.” He advised people in their private scripture, or in the textual focuses for a class, to always dive in to one of the gospels, then study a letter, then go to another gospel, then to another letter.

    I’ve often said that my experience growing up in a Church of Christ seems to have been quite different from the expierences of others. This is just more of those ways, a really important one.

    1. Sheila, I remember well JIm Woodroof emphasizing the gospels when I attended Harding during the seventies. I was an eye opener of me. I will always be thankful for Jim’s direction. I am sure you recall how he said he used the Gospel of John when studying with non-members; then he would take then into Acts. Personally, I preferred Luke for that purpose; but, regardless, when the gospel are placed before people they see the reason for our faith.

  2. I’m glad you got to hear the cofC preach on the gospel. I have heard Moses preached on Easter and too many sermons on Paul’s missionary journeys. Some long-time cofC members still think the gospels are too simple and a brief homily on a parable of Jesus to be lacking in substance. Some of the toughest, make you squirm in your seat homilies I have heard came from episcopal priests (sounding more like Jesuits) taking one parable and discussing applying it to daily life.

  3. Matt, Amen to what you say. However, there is still, even among some who would not argue with you, but because of our history, have JESUS & PAUL leveling out the scale. It is my view that Paul is to be read through the mind of Jesus; not Jesus through Paul. Only then do we see Paul pointing back to Jesus.

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