Wednesday, July 27, 2005

"Crab People" and Personal Evangelism

Personal (i.e. relationship) evangelism is far and away the most effective form - and the one overwealmingly advocated by Jesus and the other New Testament writers. There are a plethora of verses supporting this conclusion; so I will not defend it now.

Regardless of
2 Corinthians 6:14-18:

14 Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? 16 Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, "I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE. 17 "Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE," says the Lord. "AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN; And I will welcome you. 18 "And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me," Says the Lord Almighty.
quoted by the Amish as their reason to stay out of the world; I think Christians are required to stay engaged. To stay separate would make the Great Commission impossible; as well as the passages on "salt and light". We must stay engaged in the world; but resist becoming part of it or touching its unclean parts. We must eat with "tax collectors and sinners" in order to call them to repentance - at least by our example. Ahhhhh, our example. This brings us to crabs.

If you put a live crab in an open pot it will escape. Crab pots (traps) are elaborate because crabs are escape artists. If you want to keep a crab in an open pot you must put another crab in the pot. When the first crab tries to escape, the second crab will crawl up on its back - and drag it back down; and neither will get out.

People do that to other people constantly. Ask people on diets, people trying to change direction in their life, etc - and you will find that they all suffer from people who are not inspired by their attempts to lift themselves out of the pit but who keep dragging them back down into the pot with them. It is imperative if you are going to make a change to separate yourself from those who will try to hold you down - "The Crab People". Usually, that must be coupled with finding folks who have gotten out of the pot; and are willing to reach down to you for the purpose of helping you out. They of course would be of no use if your hand drug them in; or if we couldn't see them from where we are.

Christ gives us the strength to pull ourselves out of this pot even with the crab folk hanging on our backs. This is usually in the form of people who have escaped reaching down to help us out; and once we have escaped we too must not just enjoy our freedom but turn to others to help them out of where they are held. However, this process does no good if we are simply pulled back into the pot instead of helping someone else out of it.

That is why new Christians often "separate themselves" from non-believers after they come to Christ. First, their first wondrous attempts to enthusiastically "spread the truth" after their conversion are very often horribly rebuffed. After all, as Christ said:

Matthew 13:57 And they took offense at Him. But Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household."

These are the people who know you when you were one of the biggest sinners in the group (the most desperate sinners are the most likely to seek God). The other reason is that we are not strong enough not to get sucked back into the sinful practices that we now find uncomfortable as God begins to change us. Whatever the reason, Christians tend to find that within 3-5 years all of their social relationships are with other Christians. They become separate.

Paul separated himself on some level for 3 years after his conversion on his way to Damascus to prepare for ministry. And then he didn't. We must as Christians find the strength through the "armor of God":
Ephesians 6:13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, 15 and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE; 16 in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints,
This is not so we can look very fine in the very best armor; but so we can stand on the edge of the pot and be ready to help those out that reach out to us. Our separation is necessary for a while in order to gain strength and maturity - after that we are just refusing to grow up.

11 comments:

  1. Sorry it's taken me so long to reply. I do agree with most of this post -- it's very good -- but I quibble with this:

    Paul separated himself on some level for 3 years after his conversion on his way to Damascus to prepare for ministry.

    That level of separation, I think, doesn't involve separation from the non-Christian world. In fact, it seems to me to be just to opposite -- Paul, upon his conversion, went out to figure the Gospel out for himself. The only thing he directly claims to have separated from is the Christian establishment in Jerusalem. Unlike today's new converts, who go through all sorts of Christian orientation activities to make sure they become spiritually Orthodox (this isn't entirely an attack on your brand of Christianity, John, all denominations, even mine, do this with confirmation classes and the like) Paul went out to Arabia (Galatians 1:17) and thought about the Gospel by himself (we can assume) and probably (I am guessing) taught his own version without ever comparing it to what the original disciples were teaching in Jerusalem.

    Maybe you were thinking of another version of the first 3 years of Paul's Christian life, but with regard to Galatians, it's important to remember the context of Paul's separation. He follows the tale of his separation with a report of a quick little visit to Cephas and James (telling nothing about what was discussed) and 14 years of ministry, during which, he "remained personally unknown to the Judean churches in Christ." (Galatians 1:22)

    All this is expository, building to the story in Galatians 2 about his conflict with Cephas, whom he calls "Peter," it seems to me, only when Peter lets Paul preach his own version of the faith without question. When "Cephas" seems to force his "apostleship to the circumcised" onto the uncircumcised, Paul (it seems to me) uses "Cephas" almost as an insult -- the Aramaic name is used to show that Peter isn't acting like a follower of Christ; he has returned to his legalistic Jewish ways, and doesn't deserve the Greek name given to him by Jesus. (Mark 3:16)

    I relate this because I feel, not necessarily the opposite of what you write in this post, but differently about the initial separation demanded of a new Christian.

    Our separation is necessary for a while in order to gain strength and maturity - after that we are just refusing to grow up.

    I would use this kind of language to encourage an initial separation between the new believer and the established Church and its teachings. One must, for a period, think over the teachings of the church as a whole, to decide for herself whether the traditional teachings are really in accordance with the will of God without church authorities saying "This is the way it is and the way it must be." This might allow the new believer to figure out whether and how the early church (up to and including the original apostels) got things wrong. In other words, before one enters and starts teaching the church, one must experience a period of heresy to avoid the boiling crab-pot of orthodoxy. I think that this is closer to the period of Paul's separation that you mentioned.

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  2. Paul went out to Arabia (Galatians 1:17) and thought about the Gospel by himself (we can assume) and probably (I am guessing) taught his own version without ever comparing it to what the original disciples were teaching in Jerusalem.

    Actually, I would assume he spent his three years being schooled by Christ on the gospel to the gentiles. As to catecism, his first letter shows a section most consider to be exactly the reflection of an early catecism of the church. It was a shock to the Jeruselum church when they found out Paul was teaching the Gospel on his own without their training. The amazing fact in that despite Paul's dislike of Peter's refusal to mix with gentiles - their gospels were the same. Oh that inspiration of God.

    I would use this kind of language to encourage an initial separation between the new believer and the established Church and its teachings. One must, for a period, think over the teachings of the church as a whole, to decide for herself whether the traditional teachings are really in accordance with the will of God without church authorities saying "This is the way it is and the way it must be."

    There is some logic to this but I can see no way it works in real life. I feel blessed that someone handed me "Mere Christianity" very soon after my conversion so I had some foundational knowledge to choose a church from. I was also blessed that God placed me in an expostitory church - very much separate from traditional teaching and rules layered on scripture.

    How does the new believer (ready for "milk and not meat" as Paul says) separate from Christians with deeper knowledge and figure this out on their own?

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  3. Amen. At no point in a believer's life is he/she fit to sit in judgment over the whole history of theology and scriptural interpretation embodied in the "established [sic] Church." Not that this stops any of us, but the fact remains that 2,000 of Christianity is probably a lot smarter than any of us.

    However this leads me to a different conclusion with respect to churches. I find the older liturgical traditions--what I take you to mean by "traditional teaching and rules layered on scripture"--to be deepest and wisest on questions of doctrine and practice. The evolution of these things is (to my mind) part of the Plan, and while there are bad things that have come of it, that is only a call to be more vigilant, prayerful, and humble, rather than to retreat into what I see as narrow Biblicism.

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  4. Ten years in I am finding a hunger for theology now. A desire to examine some of those great arguments: dispensationalism vs covenant theology; determinism vs freedom. Some over at Intellectuelle said that when she was in Seminary she studied theology without going to scripture. I have studied scripture without explicit theology. Neither method is good (but I would rather stand on the Bible to move forward than Bonhoeffer or any other theologian)

    Whether Biblicism is narrow is another question - one I am not yet ready to answer. I agree that centuries of continuous work may make the Catholics and Lutherans richer traditions - they certainly cannot be "dismissed" with the wave of a hand. Theology should be an outworking from scripture however - not an attempt to tweak it.

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  5. I agree entirely that it's better to start with the Bible and move outward; one of Bonhoeffer's great skills was Biblical interpretation, and just as you wouldn't read Samuel Johnson without first knowing and loving Shakespeare, you won't get much out of Bonhoeffer without first knowing and loving the Bible. Absolutely. This is why I won't join my more progressive friends in trying to de-emphasize the Bible in our theology; whatever we may think of its ontological status, its inspiration, etc. we must acknowledge that it is the wellspring of our beliefs and our arguments and everything else.

    I was perhaps being too judgmental in calling Biblicism narrow. After all, the Bible isn't narrow. But I do think that cutting oneself off from the long traditions of exegesis and argument that have shaped the use of scripture can have bad consequences. Christians often end up fighting over the same old questions and encountering the same practical problems, not to mention (as you note above) projecting current ideas and prejudices onto the Bible.

    Anyway, all I can say is this: seeing how the great theologians have understood scripture has greatly enhanced my own engagement with it.

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  6. Yeah, I'm sure I overstated my point. I really just thought that "the boiling crab-pot of orthodoxy" needed to be written. Thank's for the inspiration, John, overzealous as it was.

    As far as the narrowness of biblicism goes, I just can't get with an ideology that can't say, "on this point, Paul may well have been wrong, even if he thought God was speaking through him." I still need to go back over your distinction between what paul thought was his own opinion and what he thought was revelation, but I wasn't that convinced by it the first time through.

    I don't really think that each believer should assume the position of judge over the entirety of Christian history, but, at the same time, I don't think that it's necessarily a good thing for Christians to begin their faith journey (to use a phrase that sketches me out) by making themselves believe what C.S. Lewis (sorry -- I really don't like that book very much) says are the "belief[s] that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times." Mostly because I think that there are some mistakes that nearly all christians have made over nearly all times. I'm with Ben in that I feel that participation in a liturgical tradition is "more Christian" than believing everything that Christianity teaches, if that is even possible. I'm rather odd in this manner, though -- I think it's more important to say the nicene creed in church than to believe every word of it.

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  7. Well, we have significant difference there. What did Jesus say about praying with meaningless repetition? or just letting your yes be yes and your no be no?

    If you do not believe every word - then you shouldn't say it brother.

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  8. If we have to make our public worship a precise reflection of our subjective inner state (rather than of the objective truths of the faith), then I for one would have to skip church a lot. The important thing for worship is that it contain and reflect the truth of Christian faith, and that we participate in (and thus preserve) it. Sometimes we will inevitably be hypocrites, but if the truth endures among us, we will always be able to come back to it.

    Jesus also explicitly forbids all public prayer, a command fantastically honored in the breach.

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  9. There is a lot of truth to that: if you want to restore love to your marriage you do not wait until you "feel love" to say you love. Instead, you act like you love, and say you love, and wait for the feelings to catch up.

    There is a question of what we stress in the passage on prayer:

    Matthew 6: 1 "Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. 2 "So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 3 "But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. 5 "When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6 "But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. 7 "And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many R185 words. 8 "So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.

    First, I think it is like "Do not judge"; which is not actually a flat ban - but simply a warning of the result if you do ("you will be judged by same standard"). Here, you may pray in public; but you will have recieved your reward from the public for doing so and God will not give you one.

    To me, the key here is the praying "to be seen by men" (or practicing righteousness "to be noticed") part; not the praying in secret part. If Tyler is praying something that at the moment he doesn't believe for the reasons you give I see no problem. If he is doing it to "appear to believe" to the person standing next to him; then whatever reward Tyler recieves from doing that (psychological, etc) will be all he gets.

    At least we know that after His death, the church "stayed together and prayed". They could have just instantly slipped into this hypocrisy - but I doubt it.

    Our church passes communion. There is the admonition in the Bible to pass on this if you are not right with God (or your brother); and usually an admonition from our pulpit of the same. I have found myself when I have decided "my head is not in the right place" to pass on communion - and caught myself wondering whether my neighbor (or even my wife) will wonder why I passed. I have had to kill the desire to take communion in that circumstance in order not to call attention to my state.

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  10. Of course, in our church our pastor will pray, and we are to pray along, but that is not an out loud process. We have no liturgical prayer and response.

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  11. If Tyler is praying something that at the moment he doesn't believe for the reasons you give I see no problem. If he is doing it to "appear to believe" to the person standing next to him; then whatever reward Tyler recieves from doing that (psychological, etc) will be all he gets.

    We agree on this (well, you and I--Tyler will surely speak for himself).

    Your words on communion are apt. I have more to say on that but will have to do some reading.

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How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly