Stealing the bishop’s silver

From the Confession of Faith of the Evangelical United Brethren, one of the doctrinal standards for the United Methodist Church:

We believe man is fallen from righteousness and, apart from the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, is destitute of holiness and inclined to evil. Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.

I’m not sure why this has come home so strongly in the last week. Maybe it has to do with some things in my personal life. Maybe it has to do with this book I’ve been reading about spirituality of the unchurched.

The thought that has lodged in my brain is how poorly suited Christianity is for America. At the very heart of Christianity is the belief that we — all of us — have gone wrong. We are slaves to sin and death. And we will never be free but for the grace of God.

This does not sound like an American story to me.

In our version of the story, Jean Valjean not only steals the bishop’s silver, but he goes on to success and glory based on his own determination and will to win. He writes a series of best-selling books on seizing the moment and cheers for the New England Patriots.

What we fail to understand is that our lives are not ours. They are a gift from God. Not a single one of us has any right to be alive or expect to draw another breath. That we live at all is because God is good and generous to us. Only if we understand that, can we see our own arrogance when we speak about what we deserve and what we have earned. We’ve grabbed the silver off the bishop’s table and convinced ourselves that it was ours all along. We gobble down the apples of Eden and throw the cores at Yahweh’s feet.

But despite our arrogance and greed, there is grace. God loves us. God forgives us. God gives us life. Praise be to God.

I’m not sure how to write these things or preach these things in ways that will be heard, really heard. I know that what I’ve written here is so much gobbledy-gook to those who have no ears to hear it. I’m not sure how to make it otherwise, but the question has been with me this week.


2 thoughts on “Stealing the bishop’s silver

  1. Well said, John. It is hard to convince people to trust in Jesus Christ for salvation unless they believe that they need salvation! Otherwise, who needs Jesus? It may be gobbledy gook, but I think that falls in the category that the cross is foolishness to Gentiles, and that people will not be able to hear and understand, unless they allow the Holy Spirit to open their ears and hearts. We do our best to communicate, but being open to the Gospel requires (often) a world view change before it becomes intelligible.

  2. The confession that “man is fallen from righteousness…destitute of holiness and inclined to evil” is contrary to the American narrative of self-promotion while feigning goodness. We are gods. This is a fool’s worldview vigorously rebuked in Scripture (“Because you compare your mind with the mind of a god, therefore…”). Repentance often begins with a fool’s stumble…

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