"Before you can search for truth, you must be interested in finding it." -Miroslav Volf

Monday, November 22, 2010

Ancient Wisdom (or, Quotant Quotables, Part 3)

Quotant is not a word.

Further thoughts on community from recent reading...

On Being a Holy Community—Paul (Romans):

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." (Romans 12:9-19)

Convicting and (I think) very demanding (but potentially liberating) words. I know I (and we) need to be reminded to value orthopraxy as much as (if not more than) orthodoxy. That is, I believe we ought to understand our identity to be found not solely in our doctrines and beliefs about God, Jesus, new identity, salvation, etc., but in our character and virtues and practices as a Christian community.

Let me articulate that differently. I don’t imagine a lot of people outside the Church, when they think about the Church, understand Christians to be an outstanding community of very ethical people who regularly make the love of God known. I would guess (maybe I should just start asking) that they think of the Church more as a people who engage in peculiar weekly practices who share common beliefs (please set me straight if I’m horribly mischaracterizing people’s perceptions of Christians here).

But I love the words of Paul from Romans here, because I think it’s a great glimpse of what Christians should be, the kind of life we should be striving for as a community.

However, I’m not so sure that churches are generally setup to “train” people into this kind of holy life together, the kind of life Paul calls the Romans to. I know we tell people to be good, patient, be hospitable, etc…but I’m not confident that the Christian community really “practices” these kinds of things together as well as we could. I think people like Richard Foster and Dallas Willard (Renovare) are doing a lot in this area, but we could surely use more. Churches do preach truth well; I haven't experienced as much training (with a few exceptions) about how to live that truth well.

The problem I see? It is work. It takes time and effort. We’re already really busy with so much in our lives. I wonder if this busyness and anxiety about doing any more than we’re already doing as Christians makes us use “grace” as a crutch. I’m not accusing anyone (or at least not exempting myself from the accusation) here, but do feel that sometimes our fear of “works” and “doing” in the church encourages us to understand the reality of God’s grace as an excuse to do nothing by way of becoming people of a higher ethical standard, a holy people, a people of radical love.

It’s this kind of thinking that assumes Jesus was too Divine to imitate, rather than embraces his humanity as a call to become like him in our lives. But to more deeply become the kind of people that are truly a foretaste of the Kingdom of God requires a willingness on our part to really be changed, transformed, shaped—not into people who are just “louder” and more sure about their beliefs, but people whose beliefs are obvious in the way they live and move and function in daily life.

Idealistic again? Yes. Realistic? I think part of Jesus’ mission was not simply to be our eternal salvation, but to form a community that could carry on the work he started and “do greater things” than himself, as He puts it. That’s a convicting call, one I hope we’re willing to not ignore as followers of this man.

Paul’s words here challenge me. I can’t necessarily make other people “become” the kind of people capable of the life Paul is describing here. But I can, with the help of a few others, allow myself to become one who is increasingly more filled with genuine love, persistent in prayer, willing to let God avenge while refusing to seek such vengeance myself, and able to be the kind of person that, because I’ve dealt with those inner demons—be they pride, sloth, apathy, whatever—is able to better live in harmony with others...to live as one capable of community.

I write these words not as one who thinks he has attained sainthood, but as one who feels a growing conviction that something like sainthood is what God is calling us to, if we are going to label ourselves Christians. Or maybe at least a genuine pursuit of it, empowered not by guilt or duty but because we increasingly more fully understand the extent of God’s goodness to us. That’s probably it—the path to becoming a more holy and good and ethical people comes through more clearly seeing/encountering God.

Maybe that resonates with you. It's also possible I'm projecting my own journey onto others here, or underestimating the holiness of others or the effectiveness of our churches in making disciples. Forgive me if so.

And if that little paragraph just sounded like a wimpy, self-doubting cop-out for what you think are convicting words of truth…then forgive me for that too. :)

Just forgive me, please, all of you...for what I have and haven't done. Thanks.

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