In his book The Good and Beautiful Community, James Bryan Smith talks about how William Penn became a Christian. George Fox, the founder of the Quaker movement, had baptized Penn. And two of the major distinctive’s about the Quakers are their pacifism and their refusal to accept class distinctions.
It was common in William’s day for the men to wear swords, not so much for violence as a class distinction. And since William Penn was from an upper-class family he had grown up wearing one. Until he was baptized. Then he began to wrestle with the question, “Can I still wear this?” After all, the Quakers were very much against war and status, both things that the sword represented.
And so finally, William asked George Fox, “Can I still wear the sword?”
Cost of Discipleship
After this past Sunday’s sermon, and the subsequent conversations, one thing I’ve realized is how important it is for American Churches to relearn discipleship.
We have very little idea about what discipleship is or how it takes place. We like the word, and we know it has something to do with Jesus-y things but we don’t know much more than that. So here’s my take in a nutshell: Discipleship is learning how to live like Jesus would if Jesus was living your life.
Sally and I talked Sunday about the idolatry of sexuality (I’m actually pretty conservative about Christian sexual ethics) and about how we can’t put the weight of worship on sex. But our sexuality is only Christian because it is connected to being like Jesus.
And here’s a starting point.
Jesus didn’t live life by Himself.
We don’t do this well. We have such an individualistic society that the idea that anyone, anywhere could tell me how to live is seen as oppressive. So we accrue debt, and fly through relationships and fill our lives with trivial things to numb the fact that we are dully aware of: we are doing life all alone.
And sometimes we even try to use church to numb that fact. But church, real church, can’t numb it, it must confront it, and say “To sign up to be Jesus’ body, you have to sign up for a certain way of life…with others…just like Jesus did.”
But that leads me to my second observation.
Christian living is for Christians
We can’t expect to enforce a Christian ethic on people who don’t believe in or like Jesus about the world, their bodies, what it means to be human etc. We can work for the common good (which I hope we do) and for human flourishing (which has been traditionally been what Churches were known for in the world) but we can’t impose Christian values on non-Christian people.
They didn’t sign up for following Jesus. We did.
Repentance and Kindness
There are two main ethics in the Bible. The ethic of purity, and the ethic of compassion. Think about the stories of the Prodigal Son or Jonah or Hosea to get an idea of the ethic of compassion in it’s clearest form. And for the ethic of purity, we have things like Paul’s letters to churches, or Jesus turning over the tables in the Temples, or most of the Hebrew Prophets.
But sometimes those ethics mix, like in marriage. Because for me to be pure is an act of compassion for Leslie, and for her to be pure is an act of compassion for me. (Maybe this is why the marriage metaphor is used so much to describe God’s relationship with His people).
So what do you do when you are wanting to be pure and compassionate?
You try to act like Jesus.
To the people inside he slowly challenged, prodded and sometimes rebuked. To the people on the outside, Jesus took their side over the religious people of his day. Constantly.
Do you remember Jesus saying anything to Zaccheus about his unjust behavior before Zaccheus repented? What led to that kind of extravagant honesty about his own sinful life?
The only people that I know of in the Gospels that Jesus led with the message of repent, were the religious people.
This week I’ve heard people quote Romans 1 a lot, but not much from Romans 2, but the two have to go together, because this is where Paul does a Rabbinical Ninja move. He gets all the religious Jewish people nodding their head about how bad idolatry, and sexual immorality and breaking the Law is.
And then he tells them this:
But If you judge someone else, you have no excuse for it. When you judge another person, you are judging yourself. You do the same things you blame others for doing. We know that when God judges those who do evil things, he judges fairly. Though you are only a human being, you judge others. But you yourself do the same things. So how do you think you will escape when God judges you? Do you make fun of God’s great kindness and favor? Do you make fun of God when he is patient with you? Don’t you realize that God’s kindness is what leads to repentance?
Did you catch that? “God’s kindness leads us to repentance.”
Essentially, Paul is leveling the playing field, he’s asking people (who can easily find the sin in other people’s lives), to remember how patient God has been with them and their own sin.
Which brings me back to that sword that William Penn wore. William thought that Fox was going to tell him he had to sell it or destroy it. Because it was obviously a strong central conviction for their church.
But that’s not what Fox did.
Instead he just told him, “Where it as long as you can William, wear it as long as you can.”
If Fox would have given him a command (on something that the Bible talks much more about than almost anything else) he would have robbed him of the opportunity to listen to the Holy Spirt, and he would have just given a rule.
Fox knew what we forget. God’s kindness really does lead to repentance.
But if you lead with the demand for repentance, no matter what kind of spin you put on it, you aren’t going to be kind, and you probably won’t get heard. And from the conversations I’m seeing on the internets that might be a good thing.
Once Jesus even told the religious people, if you’re going to throw your rocks of “repentance” just do a little heart work yourself first. And make sure that there is no one, anywhere, who could throw one at you.
Eventually, Jesus would tell that woman to go and sin no more.
But not first. First He led with kindness.