Saturday, August 29, 2009

Rethinking It All: The Last Withdrawal

It is time, dear reader, to draw this series to a close. I have much more that I would like to say concerning the Church year, lectionaries, and other things regarding worship specifically, but I must stop here. There is much changing where I am and I won't have a chance to speak to those things for the time being -- more time in Arabia is needed before anything can be confidently said.

What have I learned through all of this? In many ways I cannot answer that confidently: I suffer from the same pop-Protestant aversion to anything about my religion other than just "Jesus is the answer." The freedom given us, at least prima facie in the New Testament, coupled with the dearth of historical information about how the first century Church actually operated, leads to an almost hopeless morass of various opinions on how we should live and worship today. Not to mention the ambiguity on matters of Torah observance, ecclesial polity, and the continuation of the Spirit today. I honestly want to throw my hands in the air in distress and disgust.

At the same time, some of the conversations that this series have sparked amongst my friends have been truly enlightening. Micah's question, "What does YHWH require of you?", has become a regular and lively query. It is very humbling to me to see other men and women bow themselves to the simple, yet incredibly difficult, demand of obedience: training our eyes, ears, hearts, minds, and hands to listen carefully, to be careful, and to act in a peaceable and gentle way.

It is the simplicity of the demand that proves to be a stumbling-block. For what does it mean to be faithful in our circumstances? We have Torah to guide us, it is true, but we must not let that be our focus, otherwise we will tithe on the mint and cumin, but forget the weighter matters of peace and compassion. Compassion seems to be the main focus of Jesus' ministry even: compassion to neighbors, to socially and religiously outcast, to the ostensible enemy. Not because sin should be pooh-poohed, but instead because the real battle lies elsewhere, with the Satan, not with Rome or sinners.

But we are distracted. Debates on the meaning of justification (endless it seems), on ecclesial polity, on the state of Israel in prophecy, and so on, take our attention away from obedience. We are left with a high view of our rational skills and sophisticated rhetoric. However, the woman on the street, abandoned by her husband and with no marketable skills, finds no comfort that you are "of Wright" or "of Piper", "of Luther", "of Calvin" or "of Ratzinberger". She sees, rightly, through this game as a play of power and money, of status and pride, of mint and cumin. The Enemy, the real enemy, has us ensnared and confused. We know the Scriptures but haven't the foggiest of what they actually mean. We know our responsibility to the poor, outcast, widowed, hungry, naked, but act on it through our Republican or Democratic proxies all too willing to enforce "equity" and "justice" through brutality and theft. And the Church is powerless to do anything because we are too tied into it: how can we proclaim peace and reconciliation to our "enemies" within the gates of the Church when we are so eager to bomb the infidels out of existence because they threaten, even if just theoretically, our comfortable way of life? We are distracted.

In many ways, this rethinking has been a quest for significance. When Paul sojourned in Arabia, he found his calling being strengthened and confirmed by his reading of Isaiah and the Torah. In his work was the fulfillment of many of God's longstanding promises: Israel restored through the Messiah, the Gentiles brought near to worship the true God. I continue to probe and pry the mysteries of God, but have not yet found myself in Paul's shoes. All the better for now, I suppose, I am not yet sanctified to the priesthood that God calls all his people to.

And so the sojourn continues for me. I cry out that God has left me and me alone to rethink, but I know there are at least 7,000 who have not bowed their knees to any other God. I am no Elijah, nor a Paul, but I am trying -- feebly -- to follow in their footsteps. In an age where everyone is a role model, we desperately need these men of faith, and of failure, to show us a better way.

1 comment:

Jordan Cooper said...

Hey Russ, I just realized you had a blog, and so I am commenting on this post about a year too late.
I wonder if how you are downplaying explaining the doctrine of justification correctly is in accord with the teachings of the apostle Paul. Those who misunderstood this doctrine according to Galatians teach "another gospel", and so it is not, to Paul at least, a mere theoretical discussion. The issue is not whether one follows Luther, Calvin, Wright, Ratsinger, or whoever, but who is following the teaching of scripture. However, if Luther's interpretation is correct (which I of course believe it to be) then the Roman and possibly Wright's view of justification (which still is not clear to me despite the fact that I have read all he has written on the subject. There are so many questions he has not addressed) would fall under the Pauline anathema.