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Monday, April 25, 2005

Three verses - two brief answers

Earlier today, Steve over at Ragamuffin Ramblings wrote on 3 verses - 2 challenging questions. Basically, he quoted Acts 7:56-58, where Stephen gets stoned (w/ rocks, not weed), and then he asked these questions:
So here, to me, is the first of two really challenging question:

(1) Who are we, as a church, stoning today?

Who are the groups we (as a church or denomination or community) don't want to hear? What are the topics that make us clap our hands over our ears? Is it even slightly possible that the voices we don't want to hear today in the church are as valid and right as Stephen's were?

(2) How many people are going to have to die in order for us to have our spiritual awakening, like those for Saul-who-become-Paul?
I want to respond to these (and I'm a little hesitant in doing so, because I like Steve's blog and I don't want to sound like I'm slamming him or anything). But there were several things he said that I think I would disagree with, or maybe look at from a different angle.

Question 1 - I want to start by saying that I appreciate the issue Steve is raising here - as Christian's we are often very reluctant to consider views "outside the camp" (and often this is because the approval of those inside the camp hinges on it - if you start asking the wrong questions of considering the wrong answers, and all that unconditional, brotherly looooove just up and vanishes). We in the church are often very conditional in handing out our approval, and I think both Steve and I would agree completely on that.

So what rubs me wrong here? Well, when Steve raised the question, he framed it by saying this:
+ Stephen sees a vision, something no one else can see.
+ The representatives of the institutional church, who have been listening to Stephen for the last 53 verses, cover their ears. They've had enough.
Now, maybe (hopefully) I'm just reading him wrong, but it SOUNDS like he's drawing a parallel between Stephen in the midst of the Jews and "voices of dissent" in the modern "institutional church." And I don't think that is a right analogy.

Stephen was not right because he saw a vision, or because he spoke against the institutional church of his day - what made the difference was the object of his vision (the risen, exalted Christ) and the fact that the people he was speaking to had rejected Christ.

If we want to draw a valid comparison with today's church, then everything hinges upon showing how the dissenting voices are speaking Christ's message, and the institutional leaders are rejecting that same Jesus. Show that, and you've got a case. But I don't see it in his article as it stands.

Question 2 - how many people are going to have to die in order for us to have our spiritual awakening?

That's easy, in my book. Precisely one. Christ. And he's already died (and risen, and is reigning in glory! Woo hoo! Now THAT wakes me up spiritually!)

Ok, that sounds a little trite, but it's true. And I say that on the basis of my theology - I believe very strongly that Jesus reigns now, that he is the prime mover in both my salvation -AND- and my sanctification, and that this eternal life is already breaking into the present, overcoming my sin and weakness. This is what Molly was getting at here.

I also say it on the basis of my experience - I find that the better I understand the reality my union with Christ, the more that moves my heart to change. I don't need examples of others; I need to know Christ better. This is what I was getting at when I talk about sanctification by faith, or the indicative driving the imperative.

So there you have it. Those are my thoughts. I wanted to share not only because I think Steve raised some very good questions, but because I think the answers come a whole lot more easily when we get our frame of reference right. I hope my answers are constructive and encouraging!


At 5:52 PM, April 25, 2005, Blogger Anne said...

"...Jesus reigns now, that he is the prime mover in both my salvation -AND- andmy sanctification, and that this eternal life is already breaking into the present, overcoming my sin and weakness."

Wow, Christian! My pastor said pretty much that very thing yesterday in church. That went along with our Sunday School study of the Westminster Confession (currently studying the chapter on justification), and what I've been reading in "Spiritual Depression". God isn't subtle, is He? ;-)

My husband and I have been talking about how much more we see our need for the Gospel today than we were aware of needing it at conversion! And I'm more than grateful that Jesus reigns NOW. If he just "sort of" reigned now, I'd be, as my pastor said, just "sort of" saved...

At 6:00 PM, April 25, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

I hear you Anne! I'm in my third year of seminary, and just this past fall I felt like the light went on - not that I wasn't a Christian before, but I suddenly realized how the reality of "I-love-you-even-though-you-suck grace" powerfully changes your heart - when I start to realize what Christ really has accomplished, that moves me, it fuels my sanctification.

Like I said, this concept (whether you call it "Sanctification by Faith" or "Union w/ Christ") - this has profoundly changed me, in terms of how I think about the gospel, how I love others in the midst of their struggles, etc.

Potent stuff this Christ is...

At 9:26 PM, April 25, 2005, Blogger Steve F. said...

As usual, wiser heads than my own prevail in these areas. I'm grateful for your comments and your considerate approach. It's a rare thing in the blogosphere...

I guess where I was coming from - more from emotion than from intellect - was that there is a significant effort in many corners of The Church to throw stones, and not just at the opponents of the church, but at each other. And after a while, people of faith who keep getting stoned either run away (severing themselves from the vine that is the Church, while preserving their faith in Christ) or they lose faith altogether - severing themselves from the one true Vine.

Either way, it's a painful way to death - either of our place in a particular family of God, or of our faith in total.

And I know full well that everyone who died in faith at Saul's hands (or by his direction) gave their lives for their faith. And I know that all things work to the good for those who believe in God - but I keep wondering if we can't do something to keep the actual body-count down, some. Can we, as Christians, serving a God who sent his Son to save the world, try to act as "instruments of peace" (Francis of Assisi) as opposed to being "blunt instruments of His will"?

I just keep wondering if 1 John 3:15 (you know, Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him) got booted out of the canon, sometime back, and I just missed the announcement...

Anyway, I'm grateful for your reading, and your responding. You were a lot closer to the mark than I was. Only problem is, encountering folks like you make me want to just hang up my keyboard and just read the good stuff!

At 4:14 PM, April 26, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

Thanks for the response Steve - please keep writing!

One of the first things I ever read that you wrote was a great quote from your post Overdose for an Applause Hog: "If it's good, it's probably God; if it's slop, it's almost certainly Steve."

That is a great motto, and I hope it applies just as much to me as it does to you.

In terms of the point you were making, I definitely agree with you - the sad reality is that most persecution Christians will ever experience will probably come from fellow believers inside the camp. You're also right in terms of consequences - one of the biggest reasons people leave the church is other Christians.

In light of all this, its very easy to get discouraged (and believe me, I've been there). At the same time, I think I've been realizing more lately that the situation is not as bleak as I once imagined - God is the one who's building his church, and his work goes on no matter how much we get in the way. I think what I've discovered over the past several years is that there are an awful lot of pockets out there, places where I didn't expect to find Gospel ministry happening, and yet it is. And that's very encouraging.

In terms of what to do about the bad situations we find ourselves in, well that's a bit harder. The bottom line reality is that many churches ARE very conditional in terms of how they hand out their approval. So I have to constantly remind myself that their approval doesn't really matter - it's Christ's approval that counts and I have that through faith in him. I have to preach that gospel to myself daily, and I have to turn around and practice that gospel with those around me (both in the church and out). And when I fail, I have to repent and believe that Christ isn't through with me yet.

So I'd encourage you to hang in there and not be discouraged. I'd also encourage you to keep writing about where your heart is at - you'll probably get skewered from time to time, but you'll also encourage others who share the same struggles as you do but are afraid to voice them. More than anything, I'd encourage you to seek fellowship in a church where people have a high regard for God's word and understand how the Gospel shakes things up (I have no idea where you worship - you may already be someplace like this).

Bottom line: stay the course! - God is faithful, and will not let you slip from his grip (cf Rom 8:31-39). That's good news we all need to hear...


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