Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Messy Christianity

Warning: like most of my posts, this is as much for me as anything. No time is spent editing for grammar, punctuation or, God forbid, spelling. Take it as it is written. :)

So I've been reading Acts lately and thinking: "Wow, this early church thing is not as clear as we want to make it."

Interesting (and maybe obvious) thought: most of the early disciples did not have a New Testament.  There may have been parts of Mark floating around. Some other writings most likely circulated. They had their oral tradition of stories. But there were no completed gospels. No letters. The Apostle Paul didn't have the letters of Paul to refer to because... well... um... you get the point.

So honestly, they just made a lot of this "discipleship" thing up on the fly.

I'm not saying that the Holy Spirit wasn't leading. I'm not saying God was not a part of the process. But God certainly seemed (as in much of scripture) to give them some leeway to discern on their own. I know that this might make some of my readers uncomfortable, but as I read the bible, it's there. You really can't avoid it. Sometimes it seems the Holy Spirit directly guides... and other times, they throw the dice.

I would guess their theology was driven by Jesus' greatest commandment: in short -- "Love God, love people -- all the other commandments are summarized by this." So whenever they had a choice to make, they would ask, "What does love require of me? What does love look like in this situation?" And that is what they did.

Acs 15: People from Judea come to Paul and say, "People have to be circumcised to be a disciple of Jesus." This doesn't seem to be quite in line with what Paul has been teaching -- in fact they seem to fight about it -- so a group of disciples go to Jerusalem to gather with other believers and "consider the question." While there, there appears to be a lot of, "I think..." and "Well... no, I think..."  that goes on.

And then Peter says, "It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood." (Acts 15:19-20) In the letter written back to the people they write, "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us..."

It seemed good? 

It SEEMED good?

I mean, given the severity of what they were talking about (especially for the guys), I'm thinking that SEEMED is something you might want some more certainty on, right?

Also interesting -- Paul later writes that abstaining from food polluted by idols and following dietary laws are are no longer requirements either (So much for those).

Now, I'm not being a heretic here, I'm really not. I'm not throwing out the bible. But maybe we are making this "disciple" thing more complicated than it is. I love theology and a good discussion as much as the next person (probably more), but maybe the question we might ask in every situation should be: "How do I love God and people in this situation?"

Over the past couple of years, I've become a bit more humble in my theological positions. In some ways, I'm actually much more secure in what I believe and hold firmer convictions. But I don't feel I need to win every theological argument anymore. I don't feel the need to be right all the time. Honestly, I don't think I have to even have a clearly thought out theological position on ever issue.

And as I think back to my "college Paul" -- I'm not sure that guy was all that loving to people, especially people who disagreed with him. I often felt threatened. I was insecure. I functioned out of fear. I really wanted to be right.

Maybe this post is an asking of forgiveness and an act of repentance.

But maybe it is the hope that the faith I hold now is closer to what Jesus hopes for me than the one I held before. At least, that is what "seems good to me" now.


Daniel said...

I really love this post. It is a great discussion to share with a congregation, especially with a body so full of questions and doubts and fears. I think a lot of us hold to things either that are just plain wrong or misguided, and to other things that we put a lot of time and energy and effort into that just don't matter. It seems good to me to bare yourself in front of your flock with this message.

mdog said...

oh, paul, come on now. on every issue, the bible is clearly black and white.

er, except those parts where it's red.

never mind.

anyway... these SEEM like good thoughts. :D

Michele said...

I just read some acts this morning... "Then they prayed... make plain which of these two men you choose to take the place in this ministry and leadership..." Then they drew straws. Matthias won...
(Acts 1:25-26).
Fascinating. They prayed. Drew straws. Moved on.