Friday, March 18, 2011

"May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering"

In 1732, two Moravian men decided the best way to win the slaves of St. Thomas for Christ was to voluntarily sell themselves into slavery. As their ship left the harbor, friends and relatives heard them shouting “May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering.” Those were the last words heard from these brothers. This became the rallying cry of the Moravians for more than a century as they led the way in the evangelization of hostile peoples, often enduring unbelievable hardship and horrific martyrdoms for the name of Christ. A missionary movement was birthed by the Spirit through the united prayers of a once theologically divided community. This is what is possible when we turn our gaze and our focus away from ourselves and surrender afresh to Christ and his purpose.

This week, in one of our readings from Hebrews, we read, "Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest" [Heb 3:1] We too are "holy", which means we 've been set apart for God's purpose. What is God's purpose, this "heavenly calling" in which we share? Well look to Jesus - he is the model, the example, both the messenger (Apostle) and the message (high priest who re-connects us to God through the gospel). Our purpose is to make him known to this end, to all people groups of the world.

A key verse in my own ordination call comes from Romans, "“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”" [Rom 10:13-15] I fear that this has not always remained a consistent priority in my life and ministry. It seems, as I talk with various people in our network, that this outward purpose of God is often missing from our community's rhythm of life. We score highly on the inward dimension of relational care and discipleship, medium on the upward dimension of drawing near to God, but the collective outward dimension is missing. Can we really be a Christ-follower yet not be proclaiming, "The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!" [Jesus' first recorded words in Mark 1:15]

Tomorrow, someone I know is leaving with two others to travel to Libya for this express purpose. It is dangerous, foolish (in man's eyes) and yet strangely inspiring. I read recently of someone who commented on how exciting it was at how many Christians lived in their community. I understand that sentiment and the difference it can make at home and at work. But I wonder also whether we are collectively broken over how many around us do not know Christ, are not following him and have no assurance of sins forgiven, the Father's loving presence and future hope.

There is much being made of Rob Bell's new book, "Love Wins", and the suggestion of a 'heretical universalism' (all are saved regardless). We love our theological skirmishes it seems. But maybe by our actions most of us demonstrate a 'practical universalism'. The Moravians learned to put aside some of their differences, be reconciled in love and focus more upon the beauty and supremacy of Jesus Christ and his sacrifice. It led to a great expansion of the kingdom as Jesus received (some of) the reward for his suffering. We are invited to stand in that same tradition, with our spiritual forebears. As we pray together, he will similarly inspire and guide us, the major question is, will we heed the call?


apetygrapes said...

I think you raise a good point and have helped me clarify what, to me, is a roadblock to "outward."

There's a huge difference between 1732 and 2011. How the outward plays out is an important thing to consider. The strategies and methods I was trained to use in my evangelical, missions-minded church growing up and in YWAM (1992) aren't effective in our current cultural context. In fact, they're off-putting, insulting, and repulsive to many.

Lots of people my age and younger who were raised in a similar environment are genuinely wrestling with the nature of heaven and hell and how evangelism looks within that context. I have been mulling it over for several years. Thus, the popularity of Bell’s book.

However, it's difficult to find anyone outside our cohort who will engage with us in the conversation. We are either dismissed as heretics Piper-style or condescended to and told this is just a "rehash of the old liberalism" and it will go away. For me the outlet has been in the online world because in real life I no one “older and wiser” will really talk to me about it, and I don’t feel my questions are taken seriously. I hope the stir over Love Wins will allow me an opportunity for a real conversation. So far I've settled for the Scot McKnight's blog and Greg Boyd's blog and podcasts.

Regardless of whether Bell is a universalist (I do not believe he is) or whether hell is a real place or not (I believe it is, but am unsure as to what the nature of it is or who will be there in the end), your point that we are demonstrating a "practical universalism" is well taken. And, as far as Rom 10 (one of my favorite, motivating passages) is concerned, the question still remains as to what the nature of being sent looks like within the postmodern, pluralistic context.

I am afraid I have more questions than answers and am left with the feeling of my wheels spinning -- lots of energy being expended on the topic, but going nowhere.

RevMikeinUS said...

I for one, look forward to the continuing conversation April.