NOTE: I wrote this in September of 2013 when myself and a few friends were exploring the expansion of our men’s group to meet as a church body, just prior to my girlfriend (now wife) moving to Indiana. I figured I’d post it for the first time, as I’d enjoy elaborating on this topic.
With the potential of being included in a church body, I thought it would be prudent to do my research. I’m thankful for the experiences God allowed me to have in St. Louis, and I’m excited about how He continues to lead that ministry. But it’s one thing to dive into scripture when the context of daily Christian living has already been defined, and it’s quite another form of study when the believer is not engaged in active work.
I desired to explore the source. Paul said:
To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him. Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory. (Eph. 3:8-13, emphasis added to v.10-11)
I’m a big picture thinker. When I see phrases like “eternal purpose” show up in scripture, I tend to gravitate to these passages over those that command us to “remember the sabbath day to keep it holy.” (Ex. 20:8) It doesn’t make the second any less important to God, nor is it my intent to forget the sabbath day or make it profane. But I’m a man that prefers to know the what and why before the how. Chalk it up to my rebellious nature.
However, I believe this approach to scripture has helped me love Christ more. It wouldn’t be hard to feel like I had accomplished something special by not murdering, not committing adultery, or through loving my neighbor while hating my enemies. In fact, our personal bar for evangelicalism rarely deviate from the commands the Pharisees were so proud to uphold. The hot button issues may have changed, but I could also feel proud of myself for opposing the homosexual agenda or refusing to live off government-funded social services. In the end, what would I accomplish and for what purpose? To feel I have done a greater service to God and to my fellow man? To alleviate the nasty guilt that weighs on the sinners?
Believing these truths and acting according to these laws would require little restraint. My family has a history of employment and I’ve never had sex of any kind, much less struggled with attraction to another man.
This begs the question: why bother with God at all? If I can accomplish through my own will that which He has asked of us, to whose glory is it? If following four years of churchless life I am no more inclined to murder, steal, engage in pre-marital sex, hate those who love me, swear… what use is that church to me? What use is this Christ?
I have a succinct answer for the first time. After months of defending my churchless life with conversations about financial irresponsibility, corruption of leadership, and worldly practice, I realize I’ve complicated the question too much. These all apply — were I making a list of “hows” that would satisfy an unbeliever cherishing the commands over the purpose, they would understand every reason that the institution sickens me. But it doesn’t answer “why.”
Simply put: we seek different gods.
Certainly in the age of overreaching tolerance, this explanation should suffice. Not only should it stand on its own, but it would explain every conversational roadblock I’ve encountered with friends defending the insitution. For years, I attempted to reconcile my differences, pleading how we needed more of God in our services: “If only we would allow our ministries to be Spirit-led, we would receive the promises God has for us…”
All of this presumed a need for God. You see, I’m a sinner. I may have never murdered, committed adultery, or exercised hate towards my fellow believers, but just yesterday I was jealous for the position of another human, lusted after a woman that was not my wife, and vented to one co-worker about another co-worker without addressing the source. This is the condition of my heart — a curse upon my flesh that considers its own interests superior to those of God.
I can only speak for myself, but I need a God that will address that curse. I need a Savior that will transform my actions through supernatural purpose as opposed to telling me what to do. If it was about following a set of rules, I’d do it on my own. We’re fully capable of meeting the bare minimum to satisfy the standard — we’re even more susceptible to placing that yoke on others. But the god of family values, financial responsibility, and sexual restraint has not and will not transform my heart. The best he can do is affirm what I know is good about myself, so that I might encourage others to find the same place in life.
Here’s what I know is good about myself: I lived ambitiously for the church for 10 years while thinking of little else. I delivered sermons that brought hundreds of teenagers to “commitment” with Christ. My credit rating is better than 90% of the people reading this, even though my income is lower than the same 90%. I am a 34-year-old virgin, and I haven’t mistreated a woman for selfish gain since high school. And if any of this mattered a lick, I wouldn’t need God.
But it’s trash. The eternal value of “hows” without “whys” are as far reaching as the next disciple that takes up the same lifestyle and preaches the same message on earth. If we’re to believe that God is interested in transforming the earth into a utopian society of like-minded, rule-abiding citizens, good job, Anthony! Good job, church.
If we’re to consider that God’s purpose transcends the “hows,” we must look further — we must seek His Word. Ruminate on this and expose yourself to the context of His purpose. I’ll deliberately leave you with this teaser, because if you desire to know His ways, you’ll search on your own. I’ll return later with my own conclusions.
God bless and have a wonderful day.