Thursday, May 31, 2012

Some things that challenge me

I said a post or so ago that I needed to become more sure of what I believe and of what I am called to. Here are two challenges that face me.

The postmodern (or ultra modern) denial of absolute truth has a spin off that says people are never 'lost'. It is demeaning to talk of the lost. (I'm not sure if we should call them differently-found.) This encourages a softening of evangelistic endeavours. And besides it makes people uncomfortable if we put them on the spot.
I know what I really believe. I believe that people who have had the opportunity to know Christ and have turned him down, or not yet accepted him, are lost. I believe that he is the way to a greater salvation than we might find in the world. I don't want to intrude on people - their choice is their choice - but I do think that if I am a minister I should be clearly communicating what I believe to be the truth.

The other challenge is the sense that I get from the local church is that the minister is 'scored' by the number of visits made. With a visit missed giving a negative mark of about 20. I like to visit people and get to know them and I believe it is a useful part of helping people grow, but when it becomes a rod to beat the minister with it is a sad thing. I think that this is a losing system - the minister will never win, unless the church is fairly small. I could spend my life trying to please people by living up to their expectations and actually achieving very little at the end of the day.

Maybe it boils down to what we had as one of our Scripture readings on Sunday. 1 Thessalonians 2:4 'On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts.'


Steve Hayes said...

Is that really a postmodern way of thinking? In what way it it specifically postmodern?

Macrina Walker said...

What do you mean by "lost"? Without an adequate compass / map / guide and not knowing where they are going, and having a trusted means of getting them? Or eternally damned, as preached by some? I'd be with you on the former (although we may differ on the details of the map and guide) but not on the latter.

Jenny Hillebrand said...

Steve - I think the postmodern part comes from the idea of the blind men and the elephant. For me to describe the other men in the room as lost because they feel a different part of the elephant is arrogant and nonsensical. But that presupposes that I buy in to the picture of the elephant and the blind men in the first place.

Jenny Hillebrand said...

Macrina - We might have to dig down to theological foundations to have a common language! I went and read in Wikipedia the Eastern Orthodox understanding of salvation and damnation - so be warned about my source! It seems to me that there is a great similarity between that understanding and the Wesleyan understanding. The idea of theosis seems very, very like Wesley's idea of Christian perfection. And the concept of grace seems to be the same. From the wiki "God is merciful to all. The Orthodox believe that there is nothing that a person (Orthodox or non-Orthodox) can do to earn salvation. It is rather a gift from God. However, this gift of relationship has to be accepted by the believer, since God will not force salvation on humanity." This is totally in line with Wesleyan thinking. That acceptance moves a person from 'lost' to 'found' in my vocab. On eternal damnation "The Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches teach that both the elect and the lost enter into the presence of God after death, and that the elect experience this presence as light and rest, while the lost experience it as darkness and torment". That is not inconsistent with my understanding of Wesleyan theology. I think we are all pretty much guessing at the precise nature of the after-life. My personal preference is actually for total annihilation of those who do not receive Jesus.
I'm not sure if you differ from these viewpoints?

Macrina Walker said...

Wow, Jenny, I didn't mean to give you so much work, although it is interesting to realise the commonalities. I'll have to read more of Wesley sometime.

I think that where Orthodoxy would differ on what I think you're saying, is that we don't see salvation - or being lost or found - as an instant or once off thing that we can (or should) judge with any certainty. Salvation is a process that takes our whole lifetimes, it is a co-operation with God's grace, and relies totally on His mercy. It is not simply about verbal assent to Christian ideas, nor simply "getting to heaven," but something much deeper.

Now, as for those who are outside the Church, or outside the teaching of Christ, or living lives of obvious sin, we are repeatedly told that it not for us to judge. We know that God is all-loving and seeks to reach out to people, but we also know that we cannot presume on His mercy. We are called to focus on our own salvation and to pray for all (including those who have died).

So we cannot set a line and say that these are found and these are lost. We are all lost to some extent, and we are also in the process of being found.

Note, that I'm not saying that all will automatically be saved. The possibility of rejecting God's offer of salvation does exist. But it is not for us to judge anyone's final destiny.

Jenny Hillebrand said...

I agree with you about us not being in a position to judge others, partly because we are unable to see into the depths of their hearts.
That salvation is a process I agree with, but also that that there is usually a defining moment in the process where one steps across a line and accepts the offer of salvation. After that we continue to journey to full sanctification. That gives us the satisfaction of knowing at any point that we are 'found' in spite of our continuing weakness and inadequacy. We are not left in uncertainty until we die and Jesus tells us if have made it or not. It's all about him and his work and we just need to accept it (really accept it, not just lip-service.)
I think from what you have said that you would not see evangelism as important. While I don't want to force or nag anyone into belief I do think that the church needs to proclaim its belief and invite others in.
I suspect that we might have more common ground than differences!

Macrina Walker said...

Hi Jenny, I don't think that I would really say that I don't "see evangelism as important," although we might have to dig a bit to find a common vocabulary! It is clear that, from the day of Pentecost onwards, the Church saw the proclamation of the Gospel as important and that God "added to their number those who were being saved."

It's true that the Orthodox Church has in recent centuries not always been very good at this, for various historical reasons. And it's also true that we would often not be terribly comfortable with either the method or the content of much of what is commonly seen as evangelism. But the history of the Church, including some recent history, does show that we cannot avoid proclaiming the Gospel.

Of course, what that involves is another matter. My own bishop likes to say that we witness to others first of all by our own lives, and that is what should make a difference and make people want to know more. We also witness to people through the Liturgy, for in an Orthodox understanding we learn the truth of the Gospel through a life of prayer rather than through intellectual knowledge - not that the latter doesn't have a role, but it is a secondary role. And it should never be pressuring or judging of those who do not convert - we know where salvation can be found, but we refrain from judging the salvation of those outside. Also the reception of converts should ideally not happen too easily - in the early Church one was a catechumen for a couple of years' intensive instruction before being baptised - although this is in reality often very variable!

Jenny Hillebrand said...

Hi Macrina - I have to agree with pretty much everything you say! It makes sense to me. We do receive converts into the church much more easily and for us that is part of accepting and not judging, but I can see the value of having a thorough education into the faith.