Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Of Dogma and Spiritual Birthdays

My spiritual birthday is this week. I think it would have been yesterday. Monday of Holy Week. I've explained a little about the celebrations of Holy Week when I was growing up in this post. But it was more than just the Love Feast on Thursday. During the week we also had special services most evenings. Always we had something happening on Monday and Tuesday nights. It was at one of those services that I stepped forward to publically acknowledge Christ as my Savior. We had a special evangelist in town for that week. I don't have a clue who he was. I can't even remember how old I was -- probably ten or eleven. But I had decided that the next opportunity I had to step forward, I would do it. During that service I sat in the choir loft and awaited my opportunity. Then when an invitation was made, I stepped out from the loft still wearing the goofy looking white robe from the children's choir performance.

There was no life-altering feeling I got afterward. Many people came up to congratulate me, but I am not sure I got the significance even then. I was just doing what I was supposed to do, after all. In one sense, we were all expected to respond to an altar call. But in another sense, I knew that Christ was calling me. That was part of my confusion about all the congratulations; after all I was just being obedient.

I saw an interview with Cal Ripken, Jr., the former Baltimore Oriole shortstop who set the major league record for consecutive games played. Although he understood that breaking that record was important, Ripken said that he didn't think it was as big a deal as everyone made it out to be, after all he was only showing up for work -- just doing what he was supposed to do. I had a lot of those same emotions. I hadn't had a hit-rock-bottom moment, I just knew that He wanted me. So I obeyed. But the fact that it was during Holy Week made it that much sweeter. I was experiencing spiritual rebirth while the church was celebrating the sacrifice which made it all possible. Just another reason why Holy Week stands out to me.

It's funny, but my Holy Week those thirty plus years ago didn't seem to be a lot like Jesus' last week in Jerusalem. Looking back on those Scriptures, during much of that week Jesus spent a lot of time in confrontation with the religious leaders of the day. Sure there were many times when He and a crowd of followers had a fantastic time of teaching, but we saw a different side of our Lord when He came up against those who had so corrupted the Mosaic Law. The righteous anger burned in His eyes as He took some cords, made them into a whip and started cleaning house -- His Father's house! There's something about seeing people take truth and twist it that is very frustrating. And multiply the frustration by 40 when those truth twisters are the religious. In Jesus' case it was the religious leaders. But we see the religious truth twisters today also.

Over at Walking Circumspectly, Kristen has shared part of her experience with a cult. Certainly there are many groups who claim to have the truth, but have twisted and trimmed their Scriptures to the point where only a shadow of truth remains, stuffed with legalistic and manipulative lies. Reasoning with such people is highly frustrating because they are not interested in what a passage teaches; they are only interested in how they can use that passage to fit their preconceived notions.

I've been debating with an individual over the past week who claims to know the truth, but his idea of what Scripture teaches doesn't square with exegetical interpretation -- that is the meaning taken from the text. He has his own ideas about Jews and Gentiles, about spirit and body, about divisions and unity. Yet if I show him carefully from multiple places in Scripture where his ideas contradict clear biblical teaching, he asserts that I am simply repeating "the dogma of man" instead of truth. No matter that Paul says clearly that he is mistaken, it's the dogma of man. It makes no difference that Peter makes his intentions clear, it's the dogma of man. And in truth, it gets frustrating because it appears to me that he is doing exactly what he is accusing me of doing! Yet all I can do is continue to provide the evidence and watch him try to find an excuse for denying it. And it's more frustrating yet since I believe this man is likely a sincere believer, but he has some strange ideas.

I can only imagine how Jesus must have felt when the Pharisees came up trying to ask Him a trick question, knowing that they really didn't want the answer, they wanted a reason to get rid of the One whose presence threatened their comfy power structure. I couldn't blame Jesus if it mentioned somewhere in Matthew 22 that He was banging His head against the wall of the temple! It's tough to explain truth to someone who is convinced that God is on their side, despite all evidence to the contrary.

But my little debates are just peanuts. I can deal with the frustrations. And all the research and debate only makes me sharper. But I think of all the times over the past thirty or so years since my spiritual birthday. There have been times when I have been stupidly ignorant. Ignorant because I didn't know, and stupid because I didn't bother to check it out. But gradually my dogma gave way to truth. And it continues to this day. I told my small group tonight that my picture of God will be different in ten years because I will understand more about Him. I don't know what areas God will reveal Himself to me, but I know it will happen. Perhaps it would be better described as God leading me to where He has already been revealed, but you know what I mean. I cannot be content with where I am in my spiritual journey. Just as I cannot stay 39 forever, neither can I remain stagnant in my relationship with my Savior. And that could be the most important lesson I've learned since that first birthday.

1 comment:

Connie said...

I think that's one of the most beautiful truths about life with our Saviour, His revelation of self over time. His patience in developing a relationship with us. His Word growing in me and leading me to a deeper understanding of His heart,encourages me about the people I share Him with. It enables me to give them time to "get it," even if it takes 10 years (I can be a slow learner.)Thanks for visiting my site. Happy birthday :o)