Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Radical Devotion

A radical devotion to the Lord will gain respect, when accompanied with grace and peace.

Of course there are exceptions around the world, but in our Western culture, this is generally the case.

Atleast that's some insight I've gleened from reading "The Gentle Boy," a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne.  It's a work of historical fiction.

It centers around a young 6 year old boy who lives in Boston during the 1650's.  He and his family are Quakers, and have been in prison for that "offense".  In 1656, there was a very real event of 4 Quakers being executed for their faith at the hands of the ruling Puritan government.  The story is based on these deaths, with one of the men being this boy's father.  The boy's name is Ibrahim, and his birth mother, after being arrested, was "discarded" into the wilderness.

Ibrahim is found, by Tobias Pearson, mourning at the grave of his father in the field where he was hanged that same night.  Tobias is put forth as somewhat of a disenchanted Puritan church member.  After fleeing England for more pleasant living in Boston, Tobias and his wife, Dorothy, were soon victims of the zealous laws instituted in their new city.  Hawthorne reveals that the Pearsons at one time had many children, but due to his inability to provide for them, the children were removed from the family, by death.  So it can be said that Ibrahim and the Pearsons had what the was missing.  The Pearsons took the Quaker boy into their home to raise him, though not embracing the Quaker doctrine, and yet faced great persecution for this benevolent act.

As I read through this story, it was interesting to me how much respect and honor Hawthorne gave the Quaker characters. However, it may only be that it was the general sympathy that anyone would have towards a victim of a crime.  But I think there may be more.

Throughout the story Hawthorne would reference to the Quakers as fanatics or their religion as fanaticism.  But when those same characters spoke and presented their views, it was worded in such eloquence that demanded respect and honor from the reader, as well.

I believe that Hawthorne's treatment of these Quaker characters contrasted with his portrayal of the Puritans, reinforces the idea that all people have a natural animosity towards those who attempt to "lord it over" others.  Although Hawthorne thought the Quaker theology was ridiculous, he chose to write this story exalting their cause.

I am fully aware that there are just and right causes that honor God and should be supported and fought long and hard for.  Also, the gospel message should be presented fully and with great boldness.  But at the same, we as Christians are to be gracious to others, and, as much as is possible for us, leave at peace with those around us.  However, Scripture promises us that the world will hate us, only because we are associated with Jesus.

This is quite a balancing act, and how we do effects our gospel presentation.

The "I'm just like you" Christian - is the one who strives to find common ground with unbelievers in an effort to break down walls of misconception that may be dividing the two.  By doing this, the Christian runs the risk of muddying the waters on the distinctions between "the new creation" in the Spirit and the sin-exalting unbeliever.  There is a fear that the "Christian-ese" will cause the unbeliever to be turned off, but as a result the unbeliever comes away thinking, "They're just like me, except they go to church."  It's possible that this approach may never lead that person to a saving faith or even a recognition of the need for repentance.

The objective of being accessible is a high priority, but not at the expense of the "changed life" that happens in Christ.  The Christian is similar, but not the same as an unbeliever.  We need to make sure the differences are not missed.

The "I'm holy and so should you be" Christian - is the one who is zealous for righteous living, and seeks to use this as an avenue for the gospel presentation.  By being starkly different and seeking to convince others to live the same way, this Christian hopes the unbeliever will recognize and desire the righteous living God intends for us.  This person tends to live out their faith visually and audibly so that others can recognize the difference.  However, to their dismay, unbelievers commonly react by becoming antagonistic or simply withdrawing, being "judged" by their high standards.  Many times in an effort to present the gospel through their actions, the actions are more often seen and the gospel is not understood.

So in reverse:  The "changed life" is very important to communicate, but not at the expense of being inaccessible.  The gospel power that has changed the Christian is not evident to the unbeliever.
It's so easy to fall on either side of this divide, but it's one of those areas where the Christian has to live in continual tension.

Our radical devotion to the Lord should be showcased in our lives, and at the same time, we should strive for accessibility for all people of all nations.  For we, as believers, were once enemies of God, but now have been reconciled to Him by the work of Christ on the cross.  Not by our own work do we obtain salvation, but because He made the way accessible to us.

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