Sunday, November 11, 2007

Just Believe

I finished reading a book by Sarah Cunningham titled "Dear Church: Letters from a disillusioned generation". She was raised in the church and her father was a pastor.

The book was very good and I liked it. But about halfway through it she said something that hit home for me and I had marked it so that I could go back and find it. I wanted to read the verses she gave and after I went back and read this part, I had to blog about it to see if I could get opinions on it. So here it goes, an excerpt from the book on pages 88-89:

Local congregations, of course, have varied requirements for membership; however, many of them still seem to stand in contrast to Jesus' approach. The only task that Jesus mentioned, when asked what God required of people, is "to believe in the one he has sent."

It was belief that made someone a disciple (John 8:31), belief that deemed them God's children (John 1:12), and belief that qualified them as children of Abraham (Galations 3:7). Belief was also the qualifier that got tax collectors and and prostitutes to the door before religious leaders (Matthew 21:31-32).

Throughout the New Testament, we see this same mode of entry revisited by author after author. Paul reminded people that the Spirit doesn't move because you observe the law, but because you believe what you've heard (Galations 3:5). Peter taught it was only though belief in God that people had hope (1 Peter 1:21). John too passed on a similarly simple command: believe in the name of God's Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another as he commanded us (1 John 3:23). Even the chief priests and Pharisees feared that if Jesus continued to do miracles, more people would believe (John 11:48). In fact, belief was apparently such a central part of Christians' identities that they were referred to as believers (Acts 4:32 is just one example).

Interestingly enough, from Nicodemus (John 3) to Zaccaeus (Luke 19), the Samaritan townspeople (John 4:39-42) to the disciples (Matthew 4, Mark 3, Luke 5, John 1), not one person is asked to sign a list of doctrines.

In fact, there is no "repeat after me." No "raise a hand." No "ask Jesus into your heart."

Just believe.

And you know what is cool about belief? It's something anyone can do. Physically disabled, mentally challenged, young, old, smart, uneducated. Not everyone can understand and recite a list of complex doctrines, not everyone can read and process a manual. But even a child can believe.

I once worked with a homeless man who was both schizophrenic and epileptic. Because of his mental illness, he came to think that men he was once imprisoned with had implanted a homing device in the back of his head and were tracking his every move (it sounds bizarre, but real life is sometimes). Whenever something would go wrong - for example, if a salt shaker would get bumped off the table - this man would chalk it up as evidence that the cons were following him and out to make his life miserable. You can only imagine the chaos and confusion that ruled him.

My husband and I went to all lengths to help this man and his wife. We secured temporary housing for them in a hotel and made a return trip to argue with the staff when they tried to evict him. We searched out an apartment in the city where he and his wife could walk to nearby organizations that could support them. We took him, his wife, and his dog (that he refused to leave behind) to our church on a number of occasions.

Despite all our efforts, I never heard this man engage conversion by the definitions of my childhood. Even if the perfect moment presented itself, he would have never - in my wildest dreams - been able to process the beliefs inherent in most of the creeds and church covenants I'd been raised on. But the longer we talked, the more often my husband and I heard the man say, "I think they are following me, but I know they won't get to me because God is watching out for me" or "When they come near, I just ask God to help me."

Less than a year after coming into our lives, this man died suddenly (his wife claimed paramedics didn't even attempt to resuscitate him after he had a seizure). As I sat at the funeral, looking at the man's body in the coffin, a new spiritual principle dawned on me. I thought to myself: without a doubt, this man is experiencing Christ's fullness right now. Like Abraham, like the centurion, like those who ate and fellowshiped with the early church, this man believed.


Blogger Jeni said...

Because I was baptized and then confirmed in the Lutheran Church, I did have to go to classes to be confirmed and to affirm at least some of the teachings of the Church at my Rite of Confirmation however, the main thing was I really was just affirming my belief - so there's that "word" again! And a very powerful word, indeed, isn't it?

8:24 PM  
Blogger Crusader said...

As I read this the Lord was speaking to me. Yes, this is the truth bro. The just live by faith.

Here is the most famous verse:

John 3:16

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."

And a few more:

John 3:36

(This one is John the baptist talking. this is a scary verse, remember it.)

"He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."

John 5:24

"Most assuredly I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgement, but has passed from death into life."

John 6:40

"And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him
may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up on the last day."

John 6:47

"Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life."

And that's just a few from the book of John alone. So there you have it, biblical proof.
But we can't exactly take this as a very liberal thing either.

Hebrews 3:12-13
"Beware bretheren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God;
But exhort one another daily, while it is called "Today", lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin."

The NIV says encourage eachother daily. I had to look it up because I wasn't sure of the meaning of "exhort".
I know there is a ton more to be said but that's all I will say for now.

3:43 AM  
Blogger friend said...

Salvation is simply about God giving his grace - and we receive it freely. But Titus shows us there are more complicated instructions for various groups like older women, younger men and slaves. And then in 2 Timothy we have more instructions for elders and deacons like:

If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer,[a] he desires a noble task. 2Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 5(If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?) 6He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil's trap.

8Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. 9They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.

7:40 AM  
Blogger friend said...

All to say - salvation is simple and clear cut - how we work out our salvation and how we be resposible in shepherding the church is so complex there are many many letters to the church instructing them on how to organize their church activities.

7:42 AM  

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