We have all staked out our plot in the Temple grounds, so to speak. Carefully set up our ministry tables in a manner befitting someone of our experience and training. If Jesus made a surprise visit, would ours be one of those tables upended, its contents scattering about the floor? Or would He simply smile approvingly as He reviewed each of our offerings?
I picture it somewhat like an opening scene from the British TV series Downton Abbey. You, the butler, along with your staff are setting the table, fussing over the training you serve up so faithfully, ensuring the correct placement of each fine china plate floating in a sea of sterling anchored to the correct crystal goblet. We know how it should look, you and I, going to the same churches, educated at the same schools, readily reinforcing our white-gloved perceptions of WWJD (What Would Jesus Do).
But might He send it all flying?
How many times have we read the Sermon on the Mount, looking down our noses at Jewish authorities who were so sure of themselves, while being surely wrong and never seeing what we might have in common with them? “You have heard it said …” Jesus would repeat, proceeding to sweep their carefully articulated theology off the table, substituting a deeper, far more profound understanding of a treasured truth.
My early faith was nurtured in a strong, separatist faith community, what our precious King James Bible would call a “peculiar people.” My “fellowship” (not a denomination, please!) had taken issue with liberal tendencies of others from whom we split. I know what it is to be a “fighting fundy.” We emphasized certain theological truths that others neglected. Looking back, it was a mix of heart and hubris. Subsequent Bible study has at times led me to new positions which my carefully crafted conscience adapted to, reluctantly. I laughingly blame my pitiful attempt at dancing with my daughter at her wedding on the fact that I was raised a Christian. Dancing was strongly prohibited for the youth in our church, along with movies, cigarettes and alcohol. Well, at least I have never embraced cigarettes.
Let me hasten to say you should take my characterization of those who shaped me in those early years as tongue in cheek. They were wonderful, gracious people who had a heart for God and to whom I am forever indebted. I have been incredibly blessed by these people! I treasure them.
But I have to wonder how much I am like them, how many cardinal values I now hold sacred and dear which some glad day, in eternity, will cause me to blush when others remind me of them. Most important in evaluating them is to learn, so I can know myself better.
Is it possible to evaluate your own ministry table with a modicum of objectivity, to recognize those items of teaching and practice that might be tenuous, the ones Jesus might sweep to the floor even if He leaves other bits in place? The sorts of things our students will one day discard as unnecessary baggage.
Let’s also think beyond personal conduct. Mode of baptism is another for me. And those of you who remember the battles against charismatics in days gone by, are you amazed at how much impact this movement has on worship style for even its strongest adversaries? What other issues come to your mind?
Back to the Temple grounds. Those money changers had all sorts of righteous justification for what they did. In our zealousness for the truth, we so easily add to God’s truth ‒ like barnacles marring and slowing the best of boats. How can we be more open to spotting those barnacles? For me, it is good to be humbled by my own journey of understanding and of the times I have reversed positions. What about you?