Listening to Peter

“We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen — by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:39-43)

Peter’s testimony to the household of Cornelius echoes the apostolic witness recorded elsewhere in Acts. I think in particular of Peter in Acts 2 and Paul in Acts 13. Here is what I hear in these proclamations.

The resurrection of Jesus is a promise and a sign. It is a promise of a future resurrection of all humanity — the wicked and the righteous. It is also a sign that Jesus of Nazareth was and is the Son of God, the messiah, Christ. He is the one who will judge the living and the dead at the end of the present age. He is also the one through whom we receive forgiveness for our sins.

In the witness of the Book of Acts, those who receive this teaching receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is a present gift offering us peace, joy, and power to trample down sin. The Holy Spirit gathers us into a body and teaches, nurtures, and disciplines us.

As Christians, we are called to live by the Spirit and in accord with the will of God, so that at the resurrection we will be found to have worthily run the race set before us. In our ears, the Lord will say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

This is, I hope, a fair summary of the apostolic preaching recorded in Acts. If it is, I wonder how it is heard today. I wonder how well it accords with what we preach and teach.

Three fruit marks

I’ve been playing around with simple ways to describe what a fruitful Christian looks like from the outside.

Here is one set of three “measures” that might fit the bill. A fruit-bearing disciple of Jesus Christ:

  • Can explain to another person why Jesus is important him or her.
  • Can describe specific ways their love of God is visible in their life.
  • Can describe specific ways they reach out in love to their neighbors.

The goal here is to be able to assess the spiritual maturity of disciples without resorting to some sort of checklist that might promote a legalistic understanding of faith or might create a box into which everyone is forced to fit.

The first criterion might be too vague. Jesus being “important” and Jesus being “my Lord and Savior” are not the same thing. I find people struggle to describe in what way Jesus is their Lord in Savior. Most often — if they can reply at all — they offer a canned phrase that echoes some doctrine or Bible verse rather than an expression of living and vital faith.

I see these not as binary (yes/no) measures but as ways to assess growth. The person who struggles to say more than “I attend worship 3 or 4 times a month” as a description of how their love of God is visible might then be engaged with teaching and counsel about ways to deepen and mature in their love of God.

I’m open to other ideas.

What other ways do you have for assessing the spiritual maturity of disciples?

Seeking authenticity

I’m trying to grasp what people mean when they say Christians need to embrace authenticity.

I read recently someone praise a singer for authentic use of profanity while speaking to an audience.

I read this morning a piece by a man arguing that experiencing a divide within ourselves – a tug-of-war between the part that longs for God and the part that wants to be submerged in the broad stream of popular culture – is a sign that something is wrong with Christianity. I took the point to be that a more authentic Christianity would not create this sense of a divided self.

I can’t figure out how these uses of the concept of authenticity square with Christian teaching about the holiness of God and the falleness of humanity. We are divided in our deepest being. We are called to live transformed and healed and holy lives as the children of God. Our most authentic self is the self we were created to be – holy and happy.

Dropping f-bombs and melting into pop culture strike me as moves away from God’s intention for our lives. People who do so may appear to lead more “integrated” lives without the struggle created by the working of grace, but – at least from a Christian vocabulary – I don’t see how we can call that more authentic.

Is not the real, the genuine, the authentic me the person God created me to be and calls me to become? I am not yet my authentic self, but by God’s grace I hope one day to be so.

Sex we accept, sex we don’t

From the above linked post comparing fornication with homosexual sex.

“So here is the main point at which I am driving. Christians have no chance whatever of challenging homosexual behavior with integrity unless they start with the sexual sins of heterosexuals. We cannot take a morally credible stand against the sexual sins of the small minority of the population if we condone the sexual sins favored by over 90% percent of the population. If fornication is okay, if casual divorce is no big deal, then it rings utterly hollow to try to take a loud (or even a quiet) stand on homosexual behavior.”

And you think we are a mess

I’ve been reading a short history of the Byzantine Empire this week.

It has reminded me how deeply the church has been divided for a very long time. For a couple hundred years the doctrine of the two natures of Christ caused turmoil in the Eastern Roman Empire. Riots erupted and emperors were rocked by theological controversies about Jesus Christ. If not for the Muslim conquests, the churches opposed to the Council of Chalcedon would have remained much larger and stronger.

I have also read about numerous divisions between East and West, including the time the Byzantine Empire arrested the sitting Roman pope and dragged him off to prison before he died in exile. Long before the final schism that divided East and West, there were centuries of conflict, excommunication, and strife.

I’m honestly not sure what to make of it all.

Is it a lesson to us that the whole Constantinian project was a mistake? Is it a reminder that the church militant has always been and will always be by schism rent asunder and by heresy distressed? Is it a call to a radical return to apostolic simplicity? Is it a sign of hope that even through all that strife and bloodshed the church endured and Jesus was proclaimed?

When I ponder these questions, it leaves me all feeling a bit like Ecclesiastes.

Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.

Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil. (Eccl. 12: 12b-14)

Learning at Daniel’s feet

Brent White shares his testimony of his conversion to being a strong conviction about the truthfulness of the Bible.

Included in the post are comments on a British podcast by a Christian apologist and Oxford mathematician. The full transcript of his lecture explaining how the Book of Daniel is a perfect book for Christians trying to figure out how to live in the 21st century. The speaker, John Lennox, speaks specifically of Great Britain, but I think many of his observations apply to us — or will in the coming years. This is how he frames the story of Daniel.

So, we have a young man who has been brought up to believe in God and he’s suddenly without warning precipitated into a completely alien culture. He’s moved physically. Now we haven’t been moved physically in this country, but in recent years and with increasing acceleration, we’ve been shifted from a culture that has been broadly monotheistic, in a culture that is increasingly relativistic, that’s increasingly atheistic, and that’s increasingly marginalising the capacity of the possibility of articulating faith in God in public….

To maintain your faith in God and your public witness in that kind of a situation is not easy. My view is that if we can gain anything from looking at this book that will help us to unpack the secret of Daniel’s stability and his conviction and his power and understanding, then it is worth doing.

If you prefer to listen, the lecture audio is here.