God is aiming at something the saint cannot see, and He stretches and strains, and every now and again the saint says–‘I cannot stand anymore.’ God does not heed, He goes on stretching till His purpose is in sight, then He lets fly. – Oswald Chambers
I want to fly.
Over the last few years, I have found myself in positions where I’ve had to engage individuals who I’d classify as genuinely nice but extremely narrow-minded–particularly regarding matters of faith and theology. These folks take conservatism to all new heights with a number of what I view to be very legalistic (and from what I can tell, unbiblical) ways of thinking about people, the Christian life and the Church.
It has been overwhelming.
It has also been a wonderful lesson for me in humility. In submission. In “loving in spite of.”
Yet, one of the major takeaways I’ve had this year actually has nothing to do with the relationships themselves. Over and over as I’ve debated and questioned, challenged and been challenged, I’ve had to ask myself this: “How much am I willing to stretch in terms of what I’ve always believed as a Christian?”
Because it’s easy to metaphorically point the finger at a group of people and say, “They are rigid” or “They are grace-less.” It’s not so easy to point the finger back at me and ask, “Where is your love toward them?” or “Where is your grace?” Even harder for me is the realization that I too find it difficult to embrace the new revelations God sends my way. In that way, we all—liberal, progressive or conservative; Wesleyan or Calvinist; Southern Baptist or Holiness Pentecostal, reformed or orthodox, traditional church or organic church, Strange Fire or No Fire–are all in the same boat.
Please note: when I talk about “stretching” in my faith, I am not talking about going from “Holy, Holy, God is Holy” to “There is no God.” That’s not a stretch, that’s a full-on amputation. One that frankly, I can’t ever imagine me having considering how many times I’ve met Jesus (or rather, been met by Him) throughout my life. So I’m not referencing the tenets of the faith; the essential belief that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and was raised from the dead. Why bother calling yourself a follower of Christ if this is not THE core of what you believe? Why not be a follower of Joe? Or a follower of Susan?
Nope, I’m way clear on that.
What IS murky, I must say, is how we define the “essentials” of the faith. If one doesn’t speak in tongues or believe in the other “enthusiastic” gifts of the spirit (referred to this way by John Owen), is one saved? If a person does “operate” in these gifts, are they not? Is there a second baptism of the spirit or is that all complete upon salvation? I personally believe that NOTHING that exists in scripture is off limits for us today. I firmly believe Jesus when He said to His disciples that “greater works than these, will you do.” (see John 14:12) And yet, even as I write this, I itch with conviction because I know there are areas of my Faith that I meet with skepticism on a daily basis. Maybe even rightly so (Yes, I’m looking at you, Benny Hinn). Most of the time, not right at all. So as progressive as I claim to be and as much as I know and believe that salvation comes only from confessing Christ as Lord and Savior and BELIEVING in one’s heart that He died on the cross for our sins and was raised from the dead (emphasis on the heart, not just the confession), I also hold theological perspectives (whether by virtue of the faith tradition I became a part of as a child or picked up along the way in adulthood) that I find to be difficult to release or stretch…even at the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
The truth is that much of what is purported as the “essentials” in American Christianity are not actually “essentials” but social perspectives, cultural traditions and political positions. Because we get these things confused, we find ourselves interpreting the Bible through a secular lens instead of through the lens given to us by the Holy Spirit. How else are some of us able to justify saying that we “the people” should not “have” to take care of the poor? How else can some of us think change is effected when we scream and assault women coming out of abortion clinics as opposed to praying with and extending love and grace to the teen girl who is pregnant and looking for guidance? How else are some of us able to stand by and watch a child being killed because of the color of his skin or what he is wearing and find reasons to side with the killer?
In a recent discussion with some friends of mine, someone mentioned that there were “goal posts” set in place by the ‘fathers of the faith.” First off, the very use of the term ‘fathers of the faith’ is interesting to me given that these ‘fathers’ look very different depending on the tradition you come out of (neo-reformed, Calvinist etc.) Not to mention the use of the masculine ‘father’ that semantically excludes the contributions of women.
Satan must be doing backflips in hell because of all the distractions been able to put in place in the body.
Ahh, but this is a blog post for another day.
These goal posts, just like in football, are the parameters that determine whether something is “good” in the Faith. They provide the framework used to measure all other revelations and thoughts on the Bible. And on the surface, I don’t have a problem with this. If you choose to believe, then you are choosing to set boundaries on what is right and wrong, sin and non-sin; to live by a standard that may not be the same as general society. I understand and accept this.
And I don’t think that we should widen these goal posts in order to make acceptable things that the bible clearly calls sin. It’s a dangerous thing when the church tries to accommodate general culture for the sake of fitting in.
Howsomeever (yeah, I know it’s not a word but for some reason it works), what I cannot accept is the argument that these goal posts have ALREADY been set in place by these named ‘fathers of the faith’ and we should not or cannot move them for ANY reason. This is ridiculous for a number of reasons, but first and foremost this line of thinking makes the assumption that these goal posts were placed in the right position in the first place. I suspect that in the same way social perspectives, cultural traditions and political positions too often influence some of our theological stances today, so it did “back then.” The position of our goal posts should be in constant evaluation and allowed to stretch as the Holy Spirit sees fit.
Isn’t that the core impetus for revival? A move of the Holy Spirit that offers new revelation and an new perspective on this Christian life as well as the ‘to-do’ list for the Church in a particular season.
And we wonder why we haven’t seen an authentic revival in so long.
It’s probably because so many of us in the Body are unwilling to stretch. We remain rigid and unwilling to bend and press toward His will in this season.
I define “stretching” for me as those moments when I accept and allow something (a belief, a perspective, an interpretation of scripture) that clearly is from God and aligns with the Bible, to challenge me to the extent that I’m taken completely out of my comfort zone.
Sometimes this hurts.
But in every case, I grow.
And when I grow, I fly.
As believers, we should look for the stretching opportunities. We should desire to grow.
And from what I can see, many of us don’t.
We’re like the butterfly up top only we’ve decided to stay wrapped in our cocoon of comfortable faith.
We actively resist the stretching that’s required to break free and grow in God.
We remain stagnant.
And dare I say–we miss God altogether.
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