Q&A: Paul's Influence

Paul's Influence

Question

How did Saint Paul shape western churches and/or western Christianity?

Answer

Paul in particular was quite instrumental in shaping western churches and Christianity, especially during and after the Reformation. Initially, of course, he was the apostle appointed to take the gospel to the Gentile world (Rom. 1:5; 11:13; Gal. 2:7-9; 1 Tim. 2:7). As such, his impact on the entire church was dramatic. Insofar as the western church and western Christianity developed in the wake of Paul's Gentile mission work, Paul's impact was tremendous. He himself evangelized and planted churches in many parts of the West (western Turkey, Greece/Macedonia, Italy), and these churches (particularly Rome) eventually came to be extremely influential in the western church.

When the Reformation took place, it changed the face of western Christianity and the western church in ways that are still felt today. It split and fragmented the western church, and redefined for many people both what it meant to be Christian, and what the power and extent of the church actually was. The text that drove Martin Luther to take his radical stand was Romans 1:17, and all the Reformers appealed strongly to Paul in their arguments. They also appealed strongly to Augustine, notably in his dependence and comments on Paul. In response, the Roman Catholic Church has accused Reformers of "over-Paulinization," suggesting that Reformed theology emphasizes Paul's teaching to the detriment of the teachings of others, allowing its understanding of Paul to run roughshod over works such as James. Though we deny this criticism, it is significant to see that the interpretation of Paul is a strong point of dissention between the two camps.

In theological terms, the area wherein Paul's impact has been felt the most would have to be in the doctrine of justification by faith alone, which sharply distinguishes Roman Catholics from Evangelical Protestants. Another area where Paul has been heard quite loudly would have to be the doctrine of the last Resurrection -- most of what we know about it comes from Paul (e.g. 1 Cor. 15). He also has provided the primary material for understanding the nature of Christ's "federal" representation of believers (Rom. 5:12-19), and for the Reformed doctrine of Predestination that is so controversial in Protestantism these days. His writings have perhaps more than any other been the subject of Protestant sermons and Bible studies, and have laid the groundwork for much Protestant theology.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.