Faith & Reason ... a mystery

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Early Church and The Globalization of the Good News

 The globalization of the church in the first 300 years of existence is an amazing story of God's perfect plan. In the perfect time of history God incarnate stepped out of eternity into history so as to be our salvation. It is in the historical moment of a world dominated by the Roman Empire that God chooses to step in to make himself known. The increased awareness of God, through Jesus is God's purpose of a restored relationship with his creation. It brings people to a place of humble hearts seeking to know God. 
 
Jesus is more than a historical figure. Bradley Holt states: “They saw Jesus as the Promised One, not only as Messiah (anointed king) but as suffering servant, crucified for all, and as Lord, raised from the dead." Jesus is the central key to all the other views in God's revelation. It is in this view that the theologians and great leaders of the spiritual formation within these early years heard the Holy Spirit and sought after God and knowing God more. These wonderful “God-fearers” stretched out a foundational desire for God that remains a call to all Christ-followers today.

The gifts of the spirit were discovered in the joy of knowing God. Paul address these gifts as opportunities to demonstrate God's love. The Corinthian church was using the gifts to lord it over others within the group. Holt summarizes Paul's teaching with; “Paul suggests love not as an alternative gift to others but as a 'more excellent way' in which the gifts are to be evaluated and exercised.” It is in this love that all things are made complete. 
 
A good modern example is the worship wars of the 1990's. The style of worship was never the true issue. What became the issue was opinions of people in what they thought was formation to pleasing God verses true spiritual formation in knowing God. The underlining lack of love that so dominated change in music established war lines that divided God-fearers and established a very difficult time on God's kingdom. The issue may have had a small part in the style. The bigger issue was in change from what was important to the ones fighting the battle against knowing God through grace and truth.

An illustration that occurred often in these worship wars were the tactics that were used to remove the organ. The “why” was proclaimed that we need to bring new people into the church and the old organ style is a turn off. That very well may have been true, but the lack of love for the people that had so diligently worked and rehearsed demonstrated rejection of the individuals that invested their life efforts. They retorted by starting a retaliation we now label as worship wars. The same was true of the move from projectors to screens. We had worked hard to raise money that was dedicated to purchase new hymnals to add new songs so as to bring in new people. The way we accomplished the purchase of the hymnals was to dedicate the hymnals to the memory of a specific person. It wasn't very long before screens were introduced and the hymnals in memory of “mr. perfect elder” were headed to a box in the storage room. The people that remember “mr. perfect elders” cried out, “we can't do that” and again a lack of love was demonstrated by both sides. 
 
Preaching styles, church directories, music, Sunday schools, Vacation Bible Schools, and missionary technique all change. Change is a constant in the church. God has established the church to be a living organism within the world he created. It is interesting to learn in these early years of the church change also existed. It is important to learn that these early believers struggled with discernment and change the same as we do. The revealing survival for the change is the Holy Spirit given ability to love. All Christ-followers are able to embrace love as a gift given to every believer.

Those within the early years that embraced the love also discovered how the life of the the believer is to train for the purpose of preparation for a great goal of spiritual formation. Holt describes these practices as, “characterized by self-denial for the sake of the true self.” There is no doubt that the writer of Hebrews greatly influenced this thought of running the race by keeping our eyes focused on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith. The early believers established successful Christian living through out the ages by, “saying no to a good thing for the sake of saying yes to a better one.” Any great athlete or artist would agree with this assessment of their craft. The denial of desire or the easy route is enhanced by the willingness to strive for the greater desire that is achieved by the choice of the harder route.

The word to describe this training as preparation for a contest is, “asceticism.” The moral, ethical, and proactive choice to live as Jesus lived is to train for the a great goal laid for us in being transformed into the likeness of Jesus. The means by which a person is transformed is diverse and there are several techniques available. From the early years of the church to the modern church, these practices and disciplines brought a change and growth to the lives the Christ-followers by the mean of transformation to a closer walk with God. This dedication to training and development of denying the lower good for a better good grants “self-confidence while enabling people to serve others.”

The challenge for the modern believer is that the church today is living in mediocrity. We are complacent in our faith and are not striving as we once did in the area of denying the lower good for the greater good. The church is willing to compromise in order to gain great numbers for attendance and for evangelism, but the result is large number so of people that are spiritually Luke warm. It is the call of God that we embrace these disciplines again and strive for the greater good in knowing God more in every moment. It is then that he will bring about a great transformation within the hearts of those who believe.

Let us run the race marked out for us with a dedication to the Truth and to Grace! - You know I love ya, Don

Bradley P. Holt. Thirsty for God. (Fortress Press: Minneapolis, 2005)

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