The Call

The Call

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The Call

Touching Christ

Jesus’ initial call is not to believe, but to come. The disciples have no answers when they leave their families and their occupations, merely a person and a promise. Faith, therefore, is not professing a certain checklist of dogma or signing a statement (as schools like Wheaton require for entrance). As James May put so eloquently in his fall chapel talk, the person of faith, as demonstrated by the woman with hemorrhaging in Mark 5:25-34 dares to touch Christ amidst the masses swirling around him. It was in the doing that she encounters Jesus, and he responds: “Your faith has made you well.” Therefore, I agree with Stassen and Gushee, who challenge,“[T]here is not authentic Christianity, discipleship or Christian ethics apart from doing the deeds he taught his followers to do” (S&G 486). Faith does not require an action; it is an action.
So how do we touch a Christ who is no longer physically present with us, especially when clouds of opinion about him swirl around us? As the disciples were asked to trust the promise that Jesus would recreate their identities as “fishers of men,” we must begin our journey of discipleship by examining what promises we have been given as God’s people.

The Word of God

Certainly, most Christians would agree that these are most readily found in the Bible. But as I have been challenged more recently, and as Stassen and Gushee articulate, “It is not possible in principle to set limits on where God’s truth might be discovered, and thus to place some ultimate outer boundary on the ‘sources of authority’ for Christian ethics” (S&G 90). While I think Stassen and Gushee make some bold claims about the Bible being the “sun around which all other sources of authority are to orbit” (isn’t Jesus the Son around which all authorities are brought into proper order (Philippians 2.5-11)?), they do emphasize the balance of seeing God’s Word as neither an ancient, irrelevant relic nor an answer-book for all present-day circumstances. To practice Christian ethics, then, Christianity must understand the Bible as only one means of revelation, and a means that requires constant scrutiny and guidance to understand if we’re really hearing the fullness of God’s Word within its complex pages.
Thus, Christians can understand that the promises of God are neither restricted to the Bible (where would the illiterate of the world be?

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) nor to Jesus’ original disciples. God’s Word is much broader than the text of scripture. It transcends the boundaries of language and race and even (!) religion. God’s Word is not a specific verbal message of condemnation and salvation. Rather, the Word is salvific because it is embodied (John 1.14). It is the healing, liberating, and transforming action of God through people willing to participate with God in relationships. The Church needs to re-examine both what we have been given and what new teachings may be the work of the Spirit today. How is God’s Word “living and active” today (Hebrews 4.12)?

Re-viewing Righteousness

In process of discerning Jesus’ ethics, we must first understand God as within us, through the Holy Spirit who will teach us all things (John 14.26). Thus, to develop practices of listening and understanding the Word as something internal rather than just a series of ancient manuscripts is crucial. As Simon suggests, we must allow the heart to be filled through spiritual practices (Simon 165). In our self-focused world, this usually manifests in one of two ways.

First, spiritual practices may become an exclusively personal, emotional relationship with God, what I like to call the “me and Jesus” mentality. This narrow thinking can easily dissolve into a worldview that relates everything to one’s own personal growth/holiness, neglecting the overall message of the gospel to be in the world. Second, our self-focus could result in a sort of means-to-an-end intellectualism, a way to justify one’s own political/social/theological opinion through the study of scripture, church attendance, adherence to certain dogma, etc. The focus on right versus wrong doctrine deconstructs faith into some kind of intellectual/moral assent used in theological debates that affect only a small minority of the world population. Spiritual practices cannot be relegated to either our personal prayer closets or theological classrooms. As with Jesus’ ministry, developing faith must happen as we journey with God in the every day.

I believe Stassen and Gushee propose an alternative, God-and-other focused path for listening to the Spirit and discerning God’s Word—a discipleship of justice and mercy. This view challenges individualistic faith that reduces righteousness to “the virtues of an individual person . . .and as something an individual possesses” (S&G 42). Instead, the Hebrew word for righteousness, tsedaqah, refers to both deliverance and restoration of communities as qualities (not simply manifestations!) of righteousness (S&G 42). Therefore, a righteousness concurrent with Jesus’ intentions will restore us to right relationships with all of life: land, neighbors, nations, and God. God’s Word must live and act in communities to transform ideologies and structures as much as individuals. In this sense, the Church has certainly failed to evoke the kind of Christian ethic that would undergird a global transformation in accordance with the gospel.

Touching the Poor

We touch Christ, the Word made flesh, as we touch the flesh of the world. Jesus says he is the prisoner/widow/homeless man, not simply that he is with them (Matthew 25.31-46). Thus, to truly be a disciple is to be someone who will touch the poor. This means more than giving money to charity, even more than giving money directly to a beggar on the street. According to the model Jesus sets out, this kind of action would be like wishing the cold man well without giving him your coat. As the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet implies, touching the poor is intimate (Luke 7.38). It entails becoming spiritually poor yourself, meaning that your identity must be emptied of any title or thing which is at the core, where the Spirit is meant to fully dwell, as at Jesus’ baptism when he was identified as God’s Son (Luke 3.22). It means consciously observing and listening to where God’s Word is, and where you can join the process.

This is the very work of Jesus, whom Stassen and Gushee (although not denying his identity as savior) aptly point out is a prophet (S&G 28). He calls people to repentance, which involves not simply apologizing, nor even groveling and offering personal sacrifices. Repentance, in the context of prophecy, calls for “identifying the vicious cycles that cause unjust outcomes . . . naming the sources of error . . . and participating in the transforming initiative, the new practice, the corrective pattern of behavior, the way of deliverance from captivity” (S&G 137). Jesus doesn’t just leave people with a teaching, but enacts it as an example and catalyst for liberation. If we, too, are to follow in Jesus’ prophetic ministry, it is not enough simply to condemn what is wrong with the world, or even to preach a hopeful message. If we are not willing to step out in faith and be the first to break the cycles of sin, we are not walking with Christ.

Most people who hear the call of discipleship Jesus issues in Matthew 28.18-20 only hear the command: “Go and make.” But this did not come without a previous process, the watching of and listening to Jesus’ authority, a subversive authority of justice and mercy, as the way to live. And, even more importantly, the command does not end with the imperative, but with a promise of God’s presence, “I will be with you to the very end of the age.” Thus, the gospel message of Jesus cannot be summed in a single verse, but rather is worked out in a journey of action bounded by God’s person and promises. This is faith—walking with the person, responding to their actions, and receiving their promises.

Work Out Your Salvation

This class has been a sort of call for me, especially in this crucial time of discerning where to go next. I began my faith journey in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, but felt such a lack of passionate faith that I became a Pentecostal in high school. Soon drained of charismatic energy but still dedicated to a personal relationship with Christ, I pursued non-denominational evangelicalism whole-heartedly. However, in the last year, I have encountered (as I will in any religion ruled by people) much self-focused ideology that does not correlate with what I’ve come to understand as Jesus’ ethics. I do not know what is in store along my faith journey next (I’m exploring the Episcopal Church), but I know I cannot remain in the boat. If I proclaim faith in Christ, then, as Stassen and Gushee so aptly summate in their vision of Jesus’ ethics, I must “serve the reign of God, which is oriented toward community with God (God’s presence and salvation) and community with our fellow human beings (peace and justice)” (53).

First, I want to gain a sense of Christ within, not as some personal buddy Jesus, but as the Holy Spirit who stills my own soul to listen, rest, and be redeemed. But, as the disciples experienced, this is not some escape-to-the-woods revelation, but an interior change that happens as we do the work of God. Therefore, I turned down a job to travel alone for a year. Although I would have had plenty of time to read and study, I do not want faith to dissipate into a series of ideas when “Christian ethics must and should be done in the context of our faith-communities” (S&G 114). I know I need to be in community as I work out what it is to seek righteousness in terms of tshedah.

Second, I want to understand ministry in terms of Jesus’ work ethic: healing the sick, freeing the demon-possessed, teaching the downtrodden, and communing with the poor. The idea that Jesus’ focus is love informed by justice and mercy is transforming my concept of ministry. The traditional youth group model of fun and games with a shout out for Jesus at the end may very well encourage love (or at least association), but where is the justice? The kingdom of God is not built on pizza parties and laser tag. Although Jesus certainly has fun, he understands that people need a different model for community than the world gives. Because of this, I could not accept a position at a church whose main ministry to youth was “hanging out” without any sort of teaching about spiritual practices, let alone character development for the sake of God’s kingdom.

Thanks to this course and a few other “words of God” I’ve received lately, I have accepted a position working with people with development disabilities. I will be living in inner city Minneapolis as well, serving the mostly-poor community in whatever way possible. Even more, my house is dedicated to communal living, with six of us desiring to develop personal and communal spiritual practices that will allow us to understand God’s kingdom more fully in the context of spiritual/economic poverty. In this decision, I have stepped out of my comfortable boat onto the waters of faith. I will falter, I am sure, but Jesus’ stance is steady. I pray that, as with the hemorrhaging woman, my faith will not only make me well, but will participate in building up God’s kingdom of healing in the world.
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