“FOR IN CHRIST JESUS neither circumcision nor un-circumcision avails anything, but a new creation” (Galatians 6:15).
As St. Paul was fond of pointing out, he had been raised as an observant and committed Pharisee, devoted to the observance of the Law. Yet he came to believe that the Law had served its purpose: to prepare the way for the life in Christ. The Law set forth a way of life for Israel that would be pleasing to God, in contrast to the ways of the pagan nations around them. It also showed that fallen man was unable to perfectly observe this Law. It would be for Another to reveal in His life, death and resurrection the goodness and mercy of God His Father.
The Law – epitomized by its first precept, circumcision –served to divide Jews from Gentiles in the eyes of its adherents. In their view Jews, recipients of the Law, were godly; Gentiles outside the Law were condemned. In Christ, St. Paul insisted, that division no longer matters. Jews and Gentiles who united themselves to Christ were now one in Him, a new creation. As he wrote to the Corinthians, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new”\ (2 Corinthians 15:17).
This new creation was accomplished when a person – Jew or Gentile – believed in Christ and was baptized. He was recreated as a person in communion with God through Christ and in communion with Christ’s Body, the Church. His identity was no longer based on race, ethnicity or class, but on the newness of life in Christ.
Communion, Not Separation
Sr. Paul’s conviction that anyone could become this new creation in Christ by faith led him to see unity rather than separation as the paramount sign of holiness. As Christ has brought God and humanity together by His cross, so too He made it possible for His people to transcend any divisions of race, ethnicity or any human limitations.
As St. Paul brought the Gospel to the great centers of the Roman Empire, he preached Christ’s work as a “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18) between God and all mankind. Tradesmen, military commanders, patricians and slaves all came to be united to God in Christ through one baptism to share in the one Eucharist. When, as in Corinth, new Christians assumed their distinctions of class and wealth still applied, St. Paul was quick to correct them. “Do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing?” (1 Corinthians 11:22) he wrote to those who accorded preferential treatment to the well-to-do.
Communion, Not Inclusiveness
While St. Paul fought to include Gentiles as well as believing Jews in the Church, he did insist on one criterion of separation: the members of the Church were to follow the Gospel way of life rather than the godless practices of the wider society. Paul quotes the Law and the prophets in favor of separating, not Jews from Gentiles, but unbelievers from believers: “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you’” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).
So even in the first century ad the Church distinguished between those who followed the Gospel way of life vs. those who followed the way of the unbelieving society in which they lived. The first-century instruction manual called The Teaching of the Lord to the Gentiles (The Didache) shows what the first Christians saw to be godless behavior in the wider society” The second commandment of the Teaching is: Do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not corrupt boys; do not fornicate; do not steal: do not practice magic; do not go in for sorcery; do not murder a child by abortion or kill a newborn infant. Do not covet your neighbor’s property; do not commit perjury; do not bear false witness; do not slander; do not bear grudges. Do not be double-minded or double- tongued, for a double tongue is a deadly snare. Your words shall not be dishonest or hollow, but substantiated by action. Do not be greedy or extortionate or hypocritical or malicious or arrogant. Do not plot against your neighbor. Do not hate anybody; but reprove some, pray for others, and love still others more than your own life.”
As Gentiles became more numerous in the Churches there was less need to defend their participation in the face of a Jewish majority. The Fathers would insist on not imitating the lifestyle of the godless, but on imitating Christ. Instructing newly baptized believers St John Chrysostom said:
“I exhort you – both you who have previously been initiated and you who have just now enjoyed the Master’s generosity – let us all listen to the exhortation of the apostle who tells us, ‘The former things have passed away; behold, they are all made new.’ Let us forget the whole past, and like citizens in a new world, let us reform our lives and let us consider in our every word and deed the dignity of Him who dwells within us” (Baptismal Catechesis 4,16).
The New Creation in Our Baptisms
As the Church structured its baptismal rites, it expressed this same dynamic in the ceremony of accepting a catechumen. Before the candidate is asked to profess the Christian faith in the Nicene Creed, he or she is told to face the West (i.e. the world outside) and is asked repeatedly to distance himself from that world which is controlled by “the rulers of the darkness of this age” (Ephesians 6:12):
- Do you renounce Satan, all his works, all his angels, all his services, and all his pride? (Three times)
- Have you renounced Satan? (Three times)
- Then blow on Satan and spit upon him!
Only then is the candidate asked:
- Do you unite yourself to Christ? (Three times)
- Have you united yourself to Christ?
- Do you believe in Christ?
- Yes, I believe in Him as King and God.
The Didache and other early texts refused to minimize the difference between the new creation and the ways of a broken world: “There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between these two ways” (Didache 1, 1). Today many people, including some religious leaders, are trying to deny this “great difference.” They seek to accommodate those with worldly lifestyles in what they call a “welcoming church” without asking them to make a choice between this age and the new creation. They sanitize what the early Church called a way of death, using terms like “choice,” “reproductive rights,” or “bringing the Church into the modern age.” The new creation, however, requires what St John Chrysostom called “A new and heavenly rule of life” (Homily on Galatians, 6); otherwise it is not new at all.