The Christian Faith Through the Teachings of Paul

My name is Grahame Belton, and I am a Christian.

Just for the record, I’m British. I mention that because I recognise that many people nowadays think that Christianity is a Western religion. I had someone say that to me: “Why should you go and preach our Western religion?”

This person was actually surprised when I informed her that Christianity originated in the Middle East. Overall, though, the conversation made me to think. I had to admit that the churches in the West have indeed “westernised” the gospel so much that they have lifted it right out of context, so to speak. So it is a good thing, as we read the New Testament, that we try and put things into a Middle Eastern context.

I would set out, as clearly as I can, what I as a Christian believe. I find inter-faith dialogue to be of great importance. Why do I believe what I believe? Let me tell you.

I call myself a Reformed Believer. I believe the same things the English Reformers believed in the 15th and 16th centuries; they, in turn, believed the same things as those in the early Christian Church. Their aim was to “Reform”, to put right those things they considered to be errors that had grown up within the Church over the centuries.

As a Reform Believer, I am interested in the roots of Christianity. In that light, the portion of scripture which, I think, illustrates in a nutshell the entire Christian faith is to be found in one of the Apostle Paul’s letters to the churches that he himself founded in Asia Minor, the Church at Corinth. All the Apostles were instructed by Christ to “Go into the world and preach the gospel to every creature”. This is how all the early churches were founded, by word of mouth only, and not by force of arms – a method the Church later adopted. They were to begin at Jerusalem and then to go to every corner of the known world, preaching the gospel, and this is something that holds true today. That is why Christianity is a missionary religion.

I know this may be a sticking point for many Muslims, who may judge these early apostles by the egregious behaviour of many modern day missionaries. But please bear with me. I believe that we can only understand something properly if we rid our minds of any pre-conceived ideas we may have. I have always endeavoured to do this with Islam, personally.

So here we go. The verse of scripture I have chosen is taken from the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians chapter 15 and verses 1-4.

(1 Corinthians 15:1-4) “1 Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures”.

In order to break this study down into manageable portions, I have divided it into 3 short articles and will deal with the text under 4 main headings. (1) The Apostle Paul taught according to the Scriptures. (2) What Paul taught that was according to the Scriptures. (3) What the Scriptures teach about Christ’s death. (4) What the Scriptures say about Christ’s resurrection.

The first thing I’d like to impress upon you is that:

The Apostle Paul taught according to the scriptures. In these few verses he outlines the entire belief of Christians and anyone claiming to be a Christian must believe these things or they cannot be a Christian.

A Christian must believe that (1) Christ died for our sins. (2) that he was buried and (3) That he rose again from the dead. And what makes these articles of faith so demanding of our attention are these words of the Apostle “According to the scriptures”. It is these words which give the whole passage weight and meaning. Why is that? Because it means that the Apostle hasn’t just invented this gospel. But above all it means that he could not possibly have twisted the gospel into a lie. Because the scriptures were all there and open for his readers to see and to check up on him against what those scriptures said. And this is what they did.

Some just rejected it out of hand, just as some do today. But there were also those who tested what Paul said by comparing the Scriptures with his gospel. Just look at this verse in the Acts of the Apostles chapter 17 and verse 11. “… they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”

Now, I wonder if I may be permitted to digress just a little into the life of the Apostle Paul? Let’s see just what happened to him to make him so fervent in his preaching this gospel that he was even prepared to go through great suffering and persecution for it, and to finally die for his faith.

It happened so we are told in the New Testament on the road to Damascus. Paul was a Jew and we are told he was a Pharisee as well, which is one of the strictest of Jewish sects. His faith was taught him from a very early age. Bear this in mind as we proceed to look at this man Paul.

He was on the Damascus road, probably not long after the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, where he held the coats of those who did the stoning. This probably had a devastating effect, for stoning was not a daily or even a common occurrence in Judea. But after ordaining himself as a kind of chief persecutor of this new Christian faith (it was just called “The Way” in the beginning), he believed men and women who had seemingly left their Jewish faith to join this new “sect” of the Nazareens to be a threat.

Suddenly, on that road, there appeared a blinding light and he fell to the ground and he heard this voice calling to him and saying, “Saul Saul, why persecutest thou me?” He called out, “Who art thou Lord?”. He obviously knew this was the voice of a being so great that he deserved the appellation Lord. And back came the answer, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks [his conscience].” And he, trembling and astonished, said “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?”.

The Lord tells him to go into the city and there it will be told him what he must do. And we are told that he was at Damascus three days without sight (because he had been blinded by the light) and during this time he didn’t eat or drink because the experience was so traumatic. We are told that there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias, who came and laid hands on him and we are told scales fell from his eyes and he regained his site. Ananias was at first reluctant to go to him – “…But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.”

Now I tell you all this to try and demonstrate to you that it took something terrible and traumatic that suddenly changed the life of this man Paul or as he was known then “Saul of Tarsus”. This was no cool, calculating man intent on deception. Something happened to him.

Only God could cause such a change in someone’s life so as to cause that person to dedicate the rest of his life to preaching the gospel and experiencing great suffering and hardship and persecution in the process. There was only one way we could describe his experience and that is he must have been “born again” – “he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Another way that we can tell that the Apostle didn’t just make it all up in order to deceive people is to show that the gospel he preached was exactly the same gospel that all the other apostles preached. Peter the Apostle testifies to this fact in his letter to the churches in Mesopotamia. (2 Peter 3:16) referring to Paul he says “As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.” So Peter as one of the chief Apostles saw nothing different to what they were teaching.

Would they have done that if he was preaching anything different than they themselves preached? Of course not. This in itself is witness that he was not out to deceive.

I hope to show that not only was Paul consistent with the accepted Christian teaching in the whole of the early church, but that, that which he preached was also consistent with what the Old Testament or Hebrew scriptures said. He was as I have mentioned before a Pharisee before he became a Christian, so he knew those scriptures like the back of his hand. I mean that literally. These Pharisees could tell you the middle letter of the entire scriptures and in those days they didn’t have chapters and numbered verses as we have today. If nothing else they were experts in their own scriptures and the Apostle Paul was no exception:

He says in another place (Philippians 3:4-7) “Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.”

I’ll be exploring the meat of Paul’s teachings and how they relate to the overall workings of my own beliefs very soon. I hope you will join me.

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  1. By ArabComment » The Christian Belief in a Nutshell on April 12, 2008 at 11:23 am

    […] The first installment of Grahame Belton’s Christianity series can be found here. […]