Ethnographic Study of Poland V: Freedom in Christ

Posted: April 10, 2013 in Animism, Catholic Church, Discipleship, Ethnography, Europe, Missions, Poland
Tags: , , , , ,

A Polish worldview is also strongly reliant on manipulation. The animistic elements we saw in our study contribute to this, as does as the common understanding of Roman Catholicism. The idea that we must be good enough to get to Heaven creates guilt, feelings of inadequacy, and a loss of hope. However, if we aren’t good enough, we can always rely on going to church, buying masses or indulgences, or – and here is the only hope for the mortal sinner who lacks in material wealth – suffer through purgatory long enough to make it to heaven. In any case, the system – even God’s system – can be manipulated. In fact, many Poles highly value something they call “kombinowanie”, which is loosely translated as “working the system.”

Animism covered with a 1000-year old veneer of Catholicism has also produced a strong legalism. On the one hand, this has probably been the most significant reason why divorce, homosexuality and abortion are still rare. The shame connected to all of the above practices keeps them in check. On the other hand, Poles don’t usually consider God or Church as contributing to their happiness.[1]

Manipulation and legalism remain prevalent in the evangelical church, as well. We who proclaim a Christ who died once and for all, who proclaim a salvation sola gratia still think we can work the system, and add our own rules to God’s unmerited favor. In addition, working the system is still praised by many evangelical leaders – even now that the political system is no longer blatantly anti-God. We wallow in a slough of legalism, but continue to use the only methods we know – working the system – to try to clamber out. And we can’t make it.

 

Galatians 5:1-15; with a glance toward the Prodigal Son, Luke 15:11-32

Paul addresses our problem in Galatians 5, and points us toward freedom in Christ. Manipulative false teachers had preached the necessity of following the law, in addition to belief in the Christ. The practice of circumcision is used by Paul as an example, “but for a Gentile Christian to accept circumcision by choice, as a matter of religious duty, implied the acceptance of the whole way of life to which circumcision was the initiatory rite.”[2] And Paul says that “for the Galatians to submit to circumcision as a legal obligation would be an acknowledgement that law-keeping (in this particular form) was necessary for the achievement of a righteous status in God’s sight. Such an acknowledgement would be to nullify the grace of God”.[3]

Instead of a voluntary return to the slavery of the law, Paul points us toward freedom in Christ. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery”[4] “The juxtaposition of an indicative followed by an imperative is a common grammatical feature in Paul’s writings . . .The imperative, ‘Stand firm,’ not only does not contradict the indicative, ‘Christ has set us free,’ but in fact results from it. Because of who God is and what he has done for believers in Jesus Christ, Christians are commanded to ‘become what they are.’”.[5]

We are free – at the moment of salvation, Christ set us free. Free from the bondage of sin, but also free from the bondage of law. However, by returning to the slough of Law, we deny the power of grace. Chrystostom put it this way: “He that is circumcised is circumcised for fear of the Law, and he who fears the Law, distrusts the power of grace, and he who distrusts can receive no benefit from that which is distrusted. Or again thus, he that is circumcised makes the Law of force; but thus considering it to be of force and yet transgressing it in the greater part while keeping it in the lesser, he puts himself again under the curse. But how can he be saved who submits himself to the curse, and repels the liberty which is of Faith?”[6]

Our identity, according to Paul, is that of sinners set free. In verses 2-4 Paul describes the potential results when we voluntarily choose a different identity. We are in danger of “falling from grace” and being “severed from Christ.” Why? Because when we choose law and legalism, a manipulation of the system, we choose our own ability to keep the rules (or at least work the system) instead of a total reliance on the Christ who died for us. Christ is really of “no advantage to us,” because we don’t need Him!

In the story of the unProdigal Son, shown in Luke 15:11-32, Jesus describes a similar attitude in the elder son. Tim Keller, in his book The Prodigal God, describes the attitude in this way: “You can avoid Jesus as Savior by keeping all the moral laws. If you do that, then you have ‘rights.’ God owes you answered prayers, and a good life, and a ticket to heaven when you die. You don’t need a Savior who pardons you by free grace, for you are your own Savior.”[7]

Paul says that only faith working through love really matters (v. 6). Of course, he reminds us that freedom is not to be used as “an opportunity for the flesh” but is to be used to serve one another (v. 13). In fact, he summarizes the law – and our responsibility to it – with Jesus summation of the law: You shall love your neighbor as yourself (v. 14, cf. Lev. 19:18 and Mark 12:31). Paul seems so frustrated by the manipulative false teachers that he wishes they would take their circumcision knives to themselves – and slip – cutting off not just the foreskin, but the entire organ. (v. 12)

The key issue is an issue of identity. And this is where we can address the issue of legalism and manipulation for Polish believers. We are sinners, saved by grace, through faith – not through our own works (Ef. 2:8,9). We start from faith – we don’t work toward it. “Using the devices of condition-result and contrast, Paul succeeds in asking and answering a key question: What could circumcision, and the opposing identity it represents, possibly add to the freedom already possessed by the Galatian believers? Paul’s answer: Absolutely Nothing!”[8]

So, instead of a Christ-denying legalism, whether based on our evangelical rules or Catholic sacraments, we proclaim a freedom in Christ, based on His death and God’s grace. It’s not a cheap grace – it cost Him everything – nor is it an excuse for unholy living. Actually, it’s the foundation for love and good works. But, in proclaiming our true identity in Christ, we emasculate legalism and remove the need to manipulate God with our rituals, rules and relics.

In the final post, I’ll give a short conclusion to the ethnographic report, and include the questions we used.
Ethnographic Study of Poland IV: Postmodern Animism


[1] http://www.diagnoza.com/data/report/report_2009.pdf 15% of the respondents listed “God, Providence” as an important contributor to their happiness

[2] Bruce, F. F. (1982). The Epistle to the Galatians : A commentary on the Greek text (229). Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.

[3] Bruce, F. F. (1982). The Epistle to the Galatians : A commentary on the Greek text (229). Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.

[4] The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001 (Ga 5:1). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[5] George, T. (2001). Vol. 30: Galatians (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (352–353). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[6] Schaff, P. (1997). The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Vol. XIII (36). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems.

[7] Keller, Timothy. (2008) The Prodigal God (37-38). New York: Penguin Books Ltd.

[8] Duvall, J Scott. “Identity-Performance-Result” : Tracing Paul’s Argument In Galatians 5 And 6.” Southwestern Journal Of Theology 37.1 (1994): 32. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials. Web. 2 Nov. 2011.

Comments
  1. Mike says:

    Wow, a great post, really. It touches some important issues on Polish Roman-Catholic behaviour. The one thing I slightly disagree on is that divorces, homosexualism and abortion is rare. Well, the last one might be, but that’s because it’s illegal. Other than that, I think that there are way too many divorces and there would be way too many abortions should they be legalized. Homosexualism is probably the same as anywhere as that mostly depends on your genetics rather than anything else – they just may not to be as obvious about it.

    When it comes to God / religion and happiness – I couldn’t agree more. Personally, I’m Roman Catholic and I attend mass. A great example is a song sung during Easter – it starts with the words “radosny nam dzień dziś nastał” which means, more or less, “today is a cheerful day”. However, it is always sung in such a way that for someone who does not understand the words, it probably would seem like a burial ceremony. The Polish Roman Catholic church is full of “please help us”, “please make our lives better” and so on, as if we really had it that bad … I consider this to be an unfortunate thing because, even though Poland may not be on the top of the “best place to be born” list, it still gives us quite a decent life. It could be much worse and instead of thanking God for it, we assume that we suffer …

    Anyway, just a quick thought from my side. I really like your blog and this post.

    • Thank you, Mike, for your nice comments about my blog and post, and for your thoughtful response regarding the Church, and the divorce/abortion/homosexuality rate. Obviously, with abortion still illegal, we can’t really make any conclusions on what might be. I think – although I would need to double-check – the divorce rate is still quite a bit lower than most of Europe. But really, the point I was trying to make is that there is still a strong shame element attached to all three. That’s undoubtedly changing, but I think it still exists, and I think it is because the Roman Catholic Church still has more influence here than it does in most of Europe.

      I loved your comment about Poland giving Poles a decent life, and “instead of thanking God for it, we assume that we suffer . . .” Right on! You wouldn’t believe how many times Polish people ask me why I would ever move to Poland to live – as if we were choosing to go to hell, or something. We love living in Poland – it’s a great place.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s