What did the early Church do with converts?
Is it enough just to be saved, or are we meant to do stuff too?
Well that’s the last straw, how dare he! It does seem quite a harsh statement to make, to say nothing of the plundering of an old Christian battle-hymn! But this is very much the story of my own life.
I was never one for going to Church in the early days. It was a strain for me from Day One. After all, I was a 32 year old married man with no comforting childhood tradition to tap into, this was no prodigal return, no sepia-toned nostalgic trip to better days. As a fan of heavy rock guitar music, Tiswas and the Goon Show, the last thing I wanted to do was to dress nicely and have my hair forcibly combed by wifey, then dragged into this fun-starved stained-glass prison, where I would have to sing simplistic dirges and generally be nice and polite. Let’s just say there were a lot of rough edges to deal with in those days.
As it turned out, I quickly adapted and the Church we went to was one of the better ones, with a multicultural mix of people, which appealed to our combined Jewish/German/Polish/Catholic heritage. Still not a great fan of the music (or being nice and polite), but my Sunday outings were generally a place of spiritual growth. The philosophy of St Andrews was to ease new converts in, not to throw too much at them at once, which was fine by me. We soon had our regular unofficial pew placement, with me sitting at the far end, ready for any quick getaway if things got too heavy!
In those days, although my private – let us say academic – development as a Christian was going quite well, with a growing tape library and a mind that was devouring all kinds of Christian books at an alarming rate, it was the social side that was lacking. In other words I was feeding the Greek nature (thinking, analysing, pondering), but neglecting the Hebraic nature (doing stuff that Christians were meant to do and cultivating relationships). To be honest I was painfully shy, happy to remain pew-fodder and positively alarmed at the threatened new adventure of going to a mid-week home group!
Can’t one be a private Christian? Why involve other people? These were my thoughts at that time and, if it wasn’t for the efforts of others, wifey included, I would have remained a solitary little island within my own world, a natural introvert who saw no need for change. God had other plans for me and brought me kicking and screaming into this alien landscape of other people … and it actually started growing on me.
I was a Christian shirker, content with feeding the inner life but generally unwilling to dip my toe into real Christian living. To be honest, this is still my inclination, but the difference is that I now know it is a wrong one.
For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)
God has a plan for all of us and, whether we like it or not, it’s always going to involve other people. It has to, I can’t see God giving us skills for any other reason, except to give back to Him, in the form of good works to others.
I think many of us are trapped by our inherited and taught Greek natures to think otherwise.
I had originally rested in the thought that the sole purpose of the Christian life was personal salvation, to be saved, then go to heaven and live there happily ever after. I saw God as the captain of this great celestial liner, tossing out lifebelts to those He had selected, then watching as these blessed souls lived the rest of their lives safely cosseted by these life-saving adornments, with nothing to do but wait for the day of their final rescue.
It all boils down to one question. Is it enough just to be saved, or are we meant to do stuff too? A lot of theological hot-air has been exhaled on this subject and I’m just going to suggest a new approach to this question. It was a foundational question for the Protestant reformers and was expressed in their slogan, sola fide, faith alone. It also led to an extreme view, called antinomianism, where the very thought of law or works is frowned upon with disdain.
We can look at this debate in two ways … in the next article
For the previous article in this series, click here.
For the next article in this series, click here.
To find out about MY NEW BOOK, "Hope", click here.
You can reach Steve with any comments or questions at the Saltshakers Web Community website.