Friday, August 11, 2006

The Gospel of . . . (Wait For It) . . . Patience!

I promised to talk hard at the beginning of the week, and I think I've done a so-so job of doing that without ruffling too many feathers. This might be the feather-ruffling-est post yet, because it is based on the assumption that BCC is full of, if not predominated by, "weaker brothers." That is a biblical phrase for new, or "baby," Christians.

I realize from the outset just talking about this will irritate some, because it presupposes that some congregants are more mature (in their faith) than others, and further, it will suppose that the less mature should defer to the more mature in most matters of church work.

To be very clear, to everyone: Churches like BCC pretty much exist to bring in as many unchurched and weaker faithed people as possible. I'm guessing that at a weekend service, "new" Christians and seekers outnumber "old" Christians 7 to 3. Maybe the percentage is higher, I don't know.
And to be clearer: Nobody wants to run off the people our church is designed to bring the gospel to. The phrase "Real hope for real people in the real world," while not original to BCC, is still our motto.

But those who consider themselves stronger brothers need to bear with their weaker brethren. Many have testified to Dr. Foster's instrumentality in bringing them to Christ. For those fresh in this church thing, it is not hard to see how the knowledge of their salvation can be tied up in love for Dr. Foster, even if just out of gratitude and appreciation. For many at BCC, Dr. Foster is the only preacher they've ever known, and they cannot foresee a church or perhaps even a Christian life without Dr. Foster leading the way. Those further along in their faith can honor this understanding by being patient with it. We've all had heroes. We all still do. Do you take it lightly when your hero falls?

Patience is very key here. Weaker brothers cannot be treated as lesser brothers. Their concerns and confusion must be honored and sympathetically shared. There is no place for condescension. If BCC is truly about helping seekers become disciples of Jesus, we must be patient with the perplexed, hurt, and even angry in this process.

On the flipside, if you are a relatively new Christian or consider yourself a seeker, please be patient with the process itself. It is difficult to do so, I know, but try to understand that those further along in their faith may not be acting out of a religion that has grown stale, but out of a faith that has matured and gained wisdom. This may sting: Wisdom, unlike knowledge, is only gained through experience, so it should go without saying that the longer a Christian has walked with Jesus, the more wisdom he or she will have.

It is impatience that demanded the elders end their alleged silence the day after the weekend announcement and before the first cottage meeting was held. It was impatience that demanded, in the middle of one of those meetings, that a personal question be answered before the elders had finished presenting all the information. It is impatience that demands the currently unknowledgeable and confused must suddenly "grow up" and "see the truth."
We can all get through this ordeal a lot better for it if we would just have a little patience with each other.

Because there are issues of wisdom, patience, and (yikes!) sumbission here that just make accepting what has gone down so, so difficult.

Churches like ours, oddly enough, are made up a bit like the earliest church. In those days there weren't many around who weren't new Christians. The whole Christian thing was new to everybody. Some of them may have had pieces of the Jewish scriptures memorized, but nobody had a Bible. The Gospels hadn't been written, and while the apostles' letters were copied and passed around, there weren't printing presses to make personal copies for everyone. The recognized authorities in the early church were those who had walked with Jesus longest, and obviously the handful of those men could not be everywhere. And yet without all the information at the ready (there was no to log onto ;-), the early church maintained a growing community and by in large submitted to the stronger brothers' wisdom.

As in all churches, however, problems did arise. Take a look at something that happened in Corinth. (This is Paul writing.)
I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas"; still another, "I follow Christ."

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? . . . For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."

-- 1 Corinthians 1:10-13,17,31

The intervening verses I excised (14-16, 18-30) speak to wisdom, and how the true wisdom of discipleship can seem like foolishness to those "wise" in worldly ways. I have seen this dynamic occurring in our situation, when the elders who acted prayerfully and with the desire for spiritual restoration are criticized for not acting at every turn like sharp businessmen.

Notice what the quarrels appeared to be about in this Corinthian division. If you are an early church new Christian, it is likely your salvation was preached by one of the Big Guns. Paul names Cephas (Peter), Apollos, and himself. (Also Christ.) So you have a host of new Christians fighting over prominence, like rival high school students wearing their Apollos and Cephas lettermen jackets. "My discipleship is better than your discipleship." "My apostle can beat up your apostle."

The dissention progressed because, according to Paul, believers were more caught up in loyalty to a human discipler than they were to the One they were to be discipled to. Has this not happened (in some cases) at BCC? Are some not missing the real, critical issues facing our church right now out of loyalty to David Foster? Are some not missing the real, critical issues of their own discipleship because their faith is caught up with affection for him?
That the dismissal of Dave has people "confused" and feeling lost certainly speaks to that possibility.

I know about that confused and lost feeling, because I've been there. I have been so attached to a minister that overhearing two hours of criticism against him put me into shock. I don't mean "angry surprise." I mean going numb, hyperventilating, fainting, and falling to the floor shock. So, yeah, I get the whole attachment to a pastor thing.

But people who loved me were patient with me. That pastor himself was patient with me. My discipleship makeup is definitely one of apprenticeship; as mature as I may consider myself, I've always seen myself as a Timothy to someone's Paul. To paraphrase a quote close to home, "It is not in my DNA to be in charge." ;-) So whatever my temptations in giving loyalty to a mentor all out of proportion, I have learned (and am still learning) that it is because of God that I am in Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 1:30), not any man, even if he be the greatest man I know. If I boast, I want to boast in the Lord.

One of the fruits of the Spirit is patience. If you consider yourself a stronger brother (or sister), ask yourself how you're doing. You should be better at it than folks who haven't been believers as long as you. You shouldn't use their impatience as an excuse for yours.
So much of our anger and arguments could be assuaged if we just put patience into practice. When we are patient with each other, with ourselves, with God and what He's doing, we are really demonstrating the Gospel (2 Peter 3:15).

2 Peter 3 is actually a great chapter all about patience. Here's a verse you might have heard that again ties patience (this time God's) to the Gospel:
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should reach repentance. (v.9)

If God is patient with us on this journey, we ought to reflect that and be patient with each other. We are able to do so by acknowledging that God's promises are true, that he will be faithful to complete the good work he's begun in the brothers and sisters who are really testing our patience right now. ;-)

Don't you love that verse, by the way? God keeps his promises. Everyone who will be saved will make it, no exceptions. Nobody slips through God's cracks. Everybody he wants, he gets. Even if it takes the end of your days and to the ends of the earth; God is patient with you, knowing your repentance is inevitable. Everybody God wants will be saved.

So how do you know if God wants you? Well, do you want him?

Peace (and patience!)


At 11:05 AM, Blogger Brenda Williams said...


This is SUCH a good reminder; thank you!

At 10:40 PM, Blogger Paul E. Ward said...

Just wanted to drop in and let you know your brothers in Christ are praying for you. We attend Brook Hollow Baptist Church in West Meade and our pastor Tom Gholson has been leading us in earnest prayer for you.

We don't know all the details and don't need to. Just know we're praying for you and all of the body of Christ.


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