Seminary Program

This is where we post the essays from many of our Universal Life Church Seminary students. When students finish a ULC course, they write a comprehensive essay about their experiences with the course, what they learned, didn't learn, were inspired by, etc. Here are their essays.

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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Life of St. Paul

Final Essay  …Master of the Life of St.  Paul.           
Rev.Graham Louden

The life  and works of the Apostle Paul still resonate through the ages and continue to generate controversy  and debate.  We have all been   made  aware of  his alleged misogyny and there is  frequent allusion to his stated opinions on the role of women in the community of the church  (opinions often deployed  and  decontextualized  in a highly partisan fashion to reinforce an argument which, many suspect,  begins with  visceral prejudice and then belatedly seeks corroborative material  to reinforce that prejudice).  Further,  Paul is often accused  (in particular by the Tubingen theological persuasion) of hi-jacking the early Christian church and re-making it according to his own prescription, lending it a structure and theology which is in no way pre-figured in the  life and teachings of Christ. 

Whilst  it may be true that the Christian church at the close of St. Paul's missionary
activity was very different from the  early community,  it does not follow that the
developments that occurred in this Pauline period  are alien to the message and the
principles enjoined by Jesus.  The following that grew up around the person of Christ
may well be termed  'a cult of personality underpinned by millenarian expectancy', 
but  Paul, and others,  knew that   that had to change if  the essence of the Christian
message were to survive and to avoid  descent into faction and internecine strife.  He
also saw the need to defend it against the attempts of the 'Judaisers' to  annex it and to
reduce  it to the status of yet another cult contained within the imperium of Jewish law
and  practice.   There was also the danger, in a polytheistic society,  that Christianity
would be vitiated by the introduction of  alien elements and practices and, indeed, this
certainly  did occur with Gnosticism,   Manichaeanism  and Neo-platonism,  inter al
gaining  ground  amongst   the more   susceptible gentile  converts.   In part, at least,  Paul's  greatness consists in his recognition that the Christian message was entire in itself and  open to all, whether   Jew or Gentile.                                                       

In his two epistles to the Corinthians,   Paul reveals himself as a supremely practical apostle setting out clear guidelines  for the creation of a worthy Christian community which will serve as a beacon and inspiration  to its members and remain faithful to the message of Jesus Christ.   Corinth, in Paul's day, was a highly diverse city,  filled  with different races, creeds, languages and temptations.  Paul's advice to this fledgling  community in the midst of debauchery, prostitution, and  Oriental vices,  is concentrated on remaining true to the message of the Cross,  developing a tradition of godly ministry  based on humility  and  true  preaching of the gospels,  worshiping  communally and avoiding idolatrous practices that might tempt them. He counsels against  too much reliance on  the intellect and overvaluing logic and  accumulated wisdom to the detriment of  the simple faith and the promptings of the  spirit. 

The frequency of Paul's references to Jesus, throughout the two extant letters to the Corinthians,  militates against the suggestion that  he was imposing his own agenda rather  than  that  of 'the one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through  whom we live'.  (1 Cor. 8:4). 

Paul's advice to the Corinthians and his ongoing concern for their welfare,  which prompted him to make at least three visits and to send emissaries such as Timothy from time to time to assess the situation there,  mirrors the teaching of Jesus with its emphasis upon love, hope and salvation.   1 Corinthians chapter 13 provides a masterly re-working of Christ's  emphasis upon  God's  unconditional love for us and our love towards our fellow men and women.  Self-discipline and service allied to effective leadership and the valuing of the diverse gifts which individuals could bring to the service of the church, are all defined and  placed by Paul into the context of an structure  that would remain true to its founder and could endure over time.  Once the expectation of an imminent Second Coming had receded,  it  was vital to settle down to the long haul of history and that required strength of purpose, clarity of vision and  unity of belief. 

Paul was one of the first to realize this and to address the issues,  but not as the result of a preconceived master-plan or long-term strategy;  his letters  and visits to the Corinthians are normally reactive rather than pro-active  – he learns of a crisis in Corinth, an outbreak of idolatrous practices or  immorality and he responds  by offering clear advice and strictures.  The epistles do not suggest a coherent,  evolving  scheme for 'planting' a church or a premeditated modus vivendi but, rather a growing realization   that  human nature needed  guidance and could not be relied upon to understand and  implement   Christ's teachings and  example unaided.  If only for this aspect of his  dedication and missionary zeal,   Paul  deserves the towering reputation that  has  been accorded to him as a Father of the Church. 


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