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Faith of A Mustard Seed

by Barbara Woods-Washington

Barbara A. Woods Washington, M. Div.

“Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among the nations, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ;”  (Romans 1:1-6).  Turning now to the first occurrence of ‘pistis/faith’ in Paul’s Letter, To The Romans.

I am personally persuaded by Paul’s introduction to the Christians of the Roman Church as he writes this letter to them.  In just six verses, even before he gives his ‘Salutation’which marks, for many Pauline scholars, the authenticity of the letter— even before the Salutation, he has in just six small verses summarized the true power of the Gospel leaving no element unearthed.  Surely, it is what he spoke to Corinth, and Thessalonica and Galatia and Phillipi which convicted persons to leave their various persuasions and become ‘Church’!

His very first thought is a self proclamation— not identifying his authority (by now he could have readily introduced himself as a Bishop); not making known his conquests, but, a ‘doulos’ of Jesus Christ”.

Far more than just a servant, ‘doulos’ and all words in this group are very definitively used for ‘slave’.  The service of the ‘doulas’ is one that has to be performed whether he likes it or not.  Fundamental to it’s meaning lies in the fact that for the Greek, the value of one’s dignity and self-awareness is tied to his freedom.  In secular Greek, the ‘doulos’ is always derogatory in that the human autonomy of the ‘doulas’ has been removed; his services is by the will of an alien source— a master, an owner.  He no longer has the right of personal choice.

I am looking at the need for ‘The State’ to separate itself from ‘The Church’ in it’s historical treatment of ‘doulos’ as an institution.  Howard Thurman talks about how the southern white Christian was known to leave a Sunday worship service, go out and lynch a black man (who in their thinking continued life with no right of personal choice and under their will)— and return to the Church and resume their worship.  A dichotomy of New Testament scripture that I continue to see the need to sort through.

When ‘doulos’ is seen in the religious life, the alien source, the master, the owner is God.  All things are done, all services rendered according to the Will of God.

When one claims the title ‘doulos Christos Iesus’ it is a confession.  It is conscious gratitude for the act of salvation.  As a ‘slave of Christ Jesus’, Paul has identified his unconditional responsibility and accountability to the Will of God in Christ Jesus.   When one claims the title ‘slave of Christ Jesus’  it is tied up in ‘redemption’— Paul is saying, “I am redeemed, bought with a price, Jesus has changed my whole life.”  To the point where some scholars have identified this as being completely new; with development seen only in Paul’s theology.  Seems so to me, too, when I consider how easy it is for (Christian) man to ‘make a slave’— to take away another man’s humanity; to strip another man of his dignity and self-awareness.  As Jesus said, you can’t take my life, I lay it down; Paul says, you can’t take my freedom, I lay it down— for God, for Jesus Christ I live, serve and die!

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