Saturday, April 13, 2013

What’s the point anyway? Or, Taking things by Faith.

I’m not one overly given to introspection. Still there are those moments when that insidious thought of “what’s really the point of what I’m doing?” insinuates itself into the forefront of my brain.

There has been progress.

I can look back and see how the young people I’ve worked with have grown as individuals. A large part of that is due to my getting them together twice weekly and refereeing their interactions, guiding them to more of a relationship of mutual respect and understanding. We don’t tend to have
hurt feelings, emotional blow-ups or people stomping out every other meeting anymore, and haven’t for a while. 


I can see how some of the foundational concepts needed for a Christ-centered and Grace-based Christian life have slowly been absorbed after hundreds and hundreds of repetitions. I have seen some grasp of the basics of true Bible study sinking in, attempting to actually apply textual analysis. (As opposed to the traditional approach of: “I think ____”, countered by “Well,
I think ______!” and then verbally slugging it out, as it were.)   

Progress, yes?

I have seen these young people begin to take an active role in ministering to others within and without the church, without needing someone to take them by the hand and talk them into it. That’s a good thing, since at this point, the median age of our ‘youth’ is 22 or so. 

Definitely progress...

That said, in every category I’ve mentioned, there are also tendencies to emulate the older believers around them. (Most of whom I haven’t been teaching twice a week.) Patterns of thought and behavior the complete opposite of what I have tried to teach and model still display themselves on a regular basis:
-The desire to argue others down once I have any smidgen of knowledge to lord over them.
-Demanding respect from others without having even attempted to earn it.
-Avoiding conflicts with others by simply avoiding them, not even trying to be a true friend.
-Trying to get others to adapt their behavior in accordance with my personal convictions.
-Approaching Bible study as a way to prove personal conclusions instead of trying to actually understand the plain meaning of the text, in its natural context.

Here’s one example that has both been a great encouragement and simultaneously a source of depression, frustration, and questioning for me:
One of the folks in the group, after attending Bible studies faithfully for a couple of years, made a comment one night that really thrilled me. Out of the blue, he said, “You know, the one thing that I’ve really appreciated that Will has taught us, and I’ll remember even when he’s not around is this whole 'Context’ thing. The idea that I can’t just take any verse and make it say whatever I want... it has verses and paragraphs, and chapters that surround it that help me understand it. That’s pretty important, and it’s really made a big difference in how I read the Bible!” Well, having talked about that very basic idea hundreds upon hundreds of times, it was a great encouragement to realize that it had hit home for at least one person.
However, this very same person has since that time floored me on several occasions with a complete lack of the concept of context regarding doctrine, not just individual verses. We were looking into passages that have been misused often enough that they don’t even really give them a second look. (As the Russian saying goes: ‘Repetition is the Mother of Learning.”) I was pointing out the larger context, contrasting what IS being taught with what wasn’t even in the passage, addressing the whole question of why introduce concepts to the passage that aren’t even present. 
All three times, there would be a pause, and this person blurts out “but Will, you’re teaching us Calvinism!! (A dangerous contemporary heresy that teaches that eternal salvation is indeed eternal.) I calmly replied that on the contrary, I was not teaching any one doctrine or understanding, simply trying to look at what the passage actually said. The passages in question were used to make believers question their eternal security, imply that they must at least in part earn their salvation, or threaten them with the possibility of eternal damnation. In all three instances the passages were not addressing the subject of one’s eternal abode one way or the other.

The problem was that I was the only one he’d ever heard actually address what the passages taught. When it sounded like I was challenging the only way he’d ever heard these passages explained, he assumed that I was subtly introducing a doctrine that is deemed heresy in this church. This person is a personal and family friend, he has nothing against me, has no criticism of the way I live or minister... but he does know that I have some differences of conviction doctrinally with the church, and therefore assumed that I was simply trying to influence them toward my own viewpoint.

That’s what most of the other church leaders would do, after all.


That’s largely what he hears Sunday after Sunday... one man’s opinions introduced into some verse or passage, three sermons in a row, then everyone else’ opinions as they discuss it after church. Then it’s argued out in home group meetings. Whoever is most eloquent, persuasive or intimidating wins, having convinced the others that “bro. Boris’s way is the Right way to understand ______.”

So speaking of context, I can’t help but wonder what kind of impact I’m having long-term here, progress or no progress. The whole context of the church here is almost diametrically opposed to what I hold dearest, and I have tried to teach and demonstrate what I believe are foundational concepts needed for a healthy, mature, loving and grace-filled and Christian life.

I can only hope and pray that Christ has indeed shown his grace through my imperfect representation, his love through my inadequate interactions, his strength in and through my weakness.

That is what He promised...
and that is what I have held on to, even as I’ve felt like just saying “I quit.” 
I know that we have done what we can here, and as a family we are praying and looking for another place to live and minister. Still, right now staying here, staying involved in the church seems to only drag me down and keep me from focusing on moving on as I should.

Lord, let me cling to you as my only strength in the face of my daily weakness. Let me truly live by faith, focusing ever more upon your beauty and not my context. I need your grace to fill me to overflowing just so I can move forward.

Your grace is sufficient. 



Kathy said...

Praying for you in this context....

Heather Powell said...

It has been a while since I've stopped by your blog. My family lives and works in Berdyansk. I appreciate your words and can relate to the question of why we are here. Thanks for putting it into words. Heather Powell