Friday, September 10, 2010
What Would Paul Have Written to the Church in the USA?
I'm just wondering here...I'm not afraid of your comments or criticisms, I'm just warning you that I'm writing pretty much as things come to my head and I haven't really sorted all of the thoughts out yet.
I begin with that disclaimer because I know that there are pastors and evangelists, as well as seekers and critics that will read this and I don't want to be misunderstood. I want to state--right up front--that I believe the Bible. I believe that the writer's of the New Testament (Old Testament, too--but this post deals with the New Testament) are writing as God's agents, under the Divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Having said that, I believe that we also have a responsibility to realize that they were addressing the culture in which they lived. Though the truths of the Bible are timeless, I have to believe that the methods employed by the first century evangelists would differ greatly if they were to share the Gospel in the 21st century in the United States of America.
In the 17th chapter of Acts, Paul is in Athens and addressing the philosophers of Greece. He talks to the stoics and epicureans and uses the teachings of their own philosophies to introduce them to the idea of a God that is greater than the gods of their beliefs. He even uses their "unknown god" to tell them about the God that he knows and worships. While some of them sneer (there will always be those that sneer at different ideas), others are interested in discussing these new ideas.
Paul didn't introduce God by saying that they were all wrong and that the real God was going to condemn them because they had worshiped idols. He didn't threaten to destroy their idols or burn their scrolls because God was offended by them. He didn't tell them that their epicurean ways of satisfying the lusts of the flesh were leading them down the road to a hell that they didn't believe in.
Paul simply introduced them to God.
He told them that this God created all things. That He gives life to men. That He created us to seek Him. That He doesn't live in temples built by men and He isn't like the statues of gold that men have made. And Paul tells them that God has overlooked these things in the past but now has made Himself known to man and will one day judge us accordingly...and He has shown us by raising Jesus from the grave!
In 1 Corinthians, Paul says that he has become all things to all men so that he can save some.
If Paul was as a Jew to a Jew; as one under the Law to those under the Law; as one without the Law to those without the Law; as a slave to all (though he was free); how would he present himself to the people that I encounter everyday?
I know that there are great lessons to be learned in the history and teachings found in the Book of Acts. I know that there is great doctrine and instruction found in Paul's letters to the churches throughout the Roman Empire. The letters that were written by Peter, James, Jude, John and the unknown author of Hebrews are full of instructions for living the life that follows the teachings of Jesus.
But what if there is a greater lesson that we've been missing? What if the real lesson is in learning to present the teachings of Jesus (from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) in a way that is relevant, meaningful and attractive to the society in which we live?
I'm not suggesting that we water down the Gospel. I'm suggesting that we engage people in dialogue--you know, talk to them about the things that they believe as well as the things that we believe. It doesn't have to be an argument. It doesn't have to be "I'm right and you're wrong." It just needs to be an exchange of ideas.
Here in the USA, we really don't have to endure persecution for our beliefs--prejudice yes, but not real persecution. We like to think that we're being persecuted, but The Constitution is still doing a pretty good job of protecting us and allowing all Americans to worship (or not to worship) as we please. If we feel that our belief in Jesus compels us to share our faith (and we should), then let's do it in a way that doesn't turn people away from the Cross.
Paul often talked of his life before his encounter with Jesus, then told of that meeting on the road to Damascus and then told of his life's call to tell others about Jesus. Couldn't we do the same? Could it be that simple? What if we just shared the Jesus that we know--the one that died for our sins and dwells in our hearts? The one that died for their sins and longs to dwell with them, too? Would that still work?
We can't be hateful and condemning of another's beliefs and expect them to be open to hearing ours. We can't burn their holy book with one hand and and expect them to embrace the Bible that is in our other hand. (At this hour, there are conflicting reports that the Koran burning is Florida has been cancelled.) There has been plenty of killing in the name of religion throughout the history of man...and I'm afraid that there will be plenty more.
Though I know that men will continue to battle over lands, wealth, principles and ideals--as well as over religions, I long for the day when God will settle the disputes of the world. Until then, we have to find a way to talk with people and not preach at people. We have to find a way to share His message of love.
He will judge between the nations and settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.