Tuesday, May 10, 2005

"A People of Peace for a Fragmented Church" by Jack Reese

“A People of Peace for a Fragmented Church” is the second of the three lesson series Jack Reese presented at Pepperdine. This one comes after his presentation of why our children are leaving our fellowship of Churches of Christ. Read it HERE.

He takes a different approach for part two. This blog entry will not serve Jack justice, and will be broken up because of length, so if you would like a copy of his audio on this, I will send you one. It is that good and important to our churches. You need to hear this one if you are tired of fighting about dumb, insignificant things in our churches:

He came to the computer with considerable anxiety because he had a good idea of what awaited him there. He knew there would be strongly worded emails that questioned his orthodoxy and sanity. He had gone through months of this. People all over the world were challenging his faith.

The first one was particularly nasty. He did not know the sender at all, as it had gone through 8 generations…forwarded 8 times with over 70 recipients before one of them finally sent it to him asking, “Is this true?”

What reasoning did they follow as they discerned the message? How did the person of Jesus who surely lived in their hearts filter what they read? In what ways was the Holy Spirit at work in their lives as they hit forward and added all the names in their address book? Did anyone question what they read? Did they pray?

Over time, Jack has begun to think more broadly about this in our church:
Is this where our baptism has led us? Those of us who shared in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in baptism. Those who have had our sins washed away…is this where it has led us? This fellowship that has seen over decades and decades not only great acts of compassion, generosity and concern. Great acts of preaching, but also great acts of gossip, name-calling and divisiveness. Is this what our baptism has done?

In the history of the Restoration movement, baptism has been at the heart of our identity…this is who we are. It has been baptism that has framed our relationship with God over and against those who, in large measures, were the ones who established this country coming out of mostly mainline churches from Europe, whose baptism for the most part had been of infants. And whose baptism in many ways grew less from a well articulated theology of original sin though that may have been its origin some time ago but more of something that civil nations do. Baptism was like having a birth certificate for most people.

But our ancestors said, “No. This is not what was going on in the New Testament. This is not what was going on in Acts. This is not what God intended in his heart. People make the decision to follow God.”

Over and against another group later in the 19th century. An impulse that is reflected largely in the evangelicalism that we see around us in North America in which a person in an individual basis accepts Jesus into his or her heart as their personal Savior as my individual decision. And perhaps, but not always, as a symbol of that salvation already received, they might be baptized like, as one person said recently, “It’s like putting on a wedding ring…it’s not the same as the marriage.”

We said, “No. That’s not what God intended. That makes baptism a human work. Baptism is a divine work! Baptism is what God does. Baptism is God’s recreation of who we are. Baptism is the gathering of people who live in a world of darkness and they’re transported by His power through Christ’s blood being the means of his resurrection into a kingdom of light. It’s not just some little afterthought after some individual, personal, private decision.” Baptism is something that should be emphasized as crucial to our way of acting and living here and now.

A concern of Jack’s that he sees too little evidence of is the connection between baptism and holiness. He sees the disconnect in kids who are being baptized at younger and younger ages so that it’s less about some clear reaction to the sinful rebelliousness of our lives as it is more of an endorsement of the sweet disposition of our children growing up in our Christian homes.

He sees it in campaigners who come home from campaigns who are gone for a week to 10 days and report on the dozens of baptisms seemingly unaware of what has happened to those who have been baptized and going to the same places year after year and it never dawns on them that the church has never grown, yet they are able to count the statistics.

He sees it in the way people talk to one another and treat one another. The irony is that those that most publicly insist on baptism as important can’t behave in relation to the children of God with grace and care.
You have been baptized, therefore, live like it!

The book of Romans is not theoretical divorced from immediate and specific situations. There were things going on there that Paul knew about even though he had not been there. A lot happens in the book of Romans that has to do with the relationships between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians.

One of the windows into this relationship is in Chapter 15:22ff. He’s talking about the collection for the Jewish Christians in need in Jerusalem. “I plan to come there and want to make sure I receive from you all this collection so that this can be taken back to Jerusalem.” in not so many words.

This may seem small, but there was something crucial to the gospel at stake here. Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians had a hard time getting along. Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians were not just separated by language, behavior and food. Jewish Christians had a hard time accepting the Gentile Christians as a part of the faith. Their disputes make ours look petty and insignificant in contrast.

Here’s what’s at stake: “I’m going to take this collection back and I want you to be in prayer about this, that I may be rescued by the unbelievers in Judea and that I may go and will not be captured there and the gospel through my ministry not be thwarted and that my ministry to Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints so that they may receive it.” These people might turn it down when I get there. The Jews might say, "We don't want it from those people...they are not a part of us." I don’t want them to reject this offering so that there may be unity!

If you back up to Chapters 14 and 15, you see more of their not getting along. The church is established mostly by Jewish Christians in house churches. In the year 49, many of the Jewish Christians were kicked out of the city. The edict of Claudius sent most of them out. The Jewish Christians are allowed back about 5 years later and the Gentile Christians are doing things differently. They are singing Gentile songs, they’re not celebrating all the holy days, they’re eating certain foods and drinking wine.

How will these folks be able to get along? The answer of course is: You have a Jewish service at 8:30 and a Gentile service at 10 because they don’t want to sing those songs in their service…no…he said, what can you do to find your way together?

continued in the next post...