Saturday, October 31, 2009

My Fellow Athenians

I was reading Acts 17 the other day and was impressed by a few things I found.

As a backstory to the passage, Paul was in Athens and noticed all the idols around the city. He noticed that they even had an idol to the "Unknown God" and took the opportunity to reveal His identity to them, saying, "Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you." (v.23)

Paul's message to them is fascinating to me, mainly because of the details he chooses to reveal to them about this "Unknown God". He could have taught them about sin and redemption. He could have talked about grace and works. He could have preached about the Law of Moses. Instead, notice what Paul thought was most important to communicate here.

"The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands." (v.24)

Paul begins his message by affirming one of the central truths of Christianity - That God does not live in a temple made by human hands. If this is so central to our faith, then why do we put such an emphasis - and expend such obscene amounts of money - on building temples to our God?

The second point that impresses me is that Paul takes the time to stress that God has a purpose and a place for each one of us: "From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live." (v.26)

Do you realize that God put you where you live today? God has a purpose for "the exact places where (you)" and that means that He had a reason for doing this. Your neighbors are your mission field. Your co-workers are your assignment. God has strategically placed each of us where we are today for the purpose of proclaiming - and living out - the power of the Gospel to those around us. "God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us." (v.27)

I also love Paul's poetic, inspired statement in verse 28: 'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.'

Finally, I am amazed that Paul hangs every single statement he makes on one, single fact: The proof of the resurrection of Christ from the dead. "He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead." (v.31)

Do you see what a high level of confidence Paul has in the resurrection of Christ? He does not shy away from this, in fact, he is so sure of this fact that he appeals to this as a basis for everything he has said to them. If the resurrection is not true, then neither is anything else he has said.

I'm sad to admit that, sometimes, I am in need of being reminded just how solid the proof of Christ's resurrection really is. Once a year we may hear a sermon on the evidence for the resurrection, but the rest of the year we barely talk about it or meditate on the astounding reality of it all.

As I read this passage I realize that there are many Christians in America who need to hear this same message from Paul. God does not live in a temple made by human hands. He lives by His Spirit within each and every one of us. He has placed each of us as His ambassadors exactly where we live and work for His purposes. He is always at work in the world around us. In fact, God is everywhere. Every moment is sacred. Every location is full of His presence. And, best of all, we can have confidence in knowing that Jesus Christ is alive and well today. We are the ones who can boldly proclaim that "He is risen! He is risen indeed!"




Consoror Cathead said...

Keith --

I like your site – it makes me think, and that's a GOOD thing. On the other hand, it makes me want to Comment, and I always worry that that’s a bad thing. But I am going to comment.

There’s a buzz-phrase, “living in tension,” which describes the manifestation of cognitive dissonance. I definitely live “in tension.” I do go to church on Sundays: in fact a very well-regarded one. I’m an acolyte there: I light the candles, handle the silver, etc. etc. etc. Every step along the way I ask myself: WHERE is this dress-up
coming from? It isn’t in the gospel stories, not a bit. It’s been very deliberately and lovingly manufactured from the suggestion that the Last Supper was a “sacrifice,” and priests consecrate sacrifices, therefore the Eucharist must necessarily be a sacrifice needing a priest. Hey presto, fiat CHURCH! And that’s just fine, but we shouldn’t say, “And GAWD intended that.” We don’t know what GAWD intended, except that his Son our Savior made much more of worshipping in spirit and in truth than, as you well point out, in heaps of architecture. WHERE did it go so horribly wrong?

Somewhere in your bio you mention reading Frank Viola and you quote Brennan Manning in a recent post:

" … have we so
accommodated the faith of our fathers to consumption that the question of
simplicity of life, sharing of resources, and radical dependence on God's
providence no longer seem relevant?”

I say to you, to Frank V., and to Brennan M.: this IS the “faith of our fathers.” In the early years of the English colonial plantation north or south, Christians (Puritans or Anglicans) are building churches. Some of them very posh. Only in the late 18th century is the church officially disestablished in Virginia – that is, NOT supported by the local government. The faith of our fathers isn’t simple, not economically, socially, or politically.

This is the nature of Christianity. It didn’t “go” horribly wrong – it has always been this way: complicated, full of words and Big Concepts and chatter. So the real question is: what is “church” doing for people – in what ways is it functional in its buildings and church schools and craft sales etc.? What are Christians finding there that they can’t find in the simple presence of their Savior?

I see in it a parallel to the Fall. Here’s Paradise, it’s perfect, BUT someone isn’t happy with perfection. We want something more!

So my comment is a question: WHAT would it take for Christ to be enough?

I’m always asking myself that.

Thanks for reading this far.


Keith Giles said...

Consoror Cathead - Sorry it has taken me so long to respond to your comment.

I would disagree with you when you say, "We don’t know what GAWD intended" when it comes to Church.

This is exactly why I have spent the last 2 years writing my next book about God's design for His Church. My position is that, if we really are open to what we find, it is possible for us to read the New Testament and discern what God's exact intention and design for His Church, His Body, His Bride actually was.

At face value, I think we should agree that it seems absolutely preposterous that God should have no opinion or intention about how His Church should operate or function.

Did God remain aloof when it came to the design of the Tabernacle? Was He indifferent to how the Temple was to be constructed? Of course not. In fact, God was meticulously specific about what He intended. Why should we assume that He suddenly has no intention or specific design for His New Testament Church?

Furthermore, isn't it a little odd to have this entire New Testament document about the birth and formation of something called the Church and then claim that the same New Testament doesn't reveal anything to us about what that Church looks like, how it should operate, what form it should take?

Of course, it's opinions like these that have ostracized me from my brothers and sisters in Christ, so I can understand if you disagree. I would only ask that everyone who claims to follow Christ take seriously the very specific statements that God has made about His Church and what Jesus says about His Body. To me, these are very, very important topics.

Peace to you!