Recently, we continued in our Vital Signs series and concentrated on the value of Faith Development. I reminded us of Dallas Willard’s important truth:
Christianity is not opposed to effort, its opposed to earning.
However, not all “church-sanctioned-faith-plans” are created equal… just doing something for Jesus, without careful examination of the way it shapes us, is important to diagnose.
Jesus had an indictment for his opponents about their followers, the ways in which they made followers, in this stunning verse:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and the Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.” (Matthew 23:15)
What Jesus said in layperson’s terms is, “Your converts were better off in their ignorance than when you’ve brought them into your faith community. You should just leave them alone.”
From there, we looked at a few faith formation realities that emerged from Philippians. One that I didn’t get to flesh out entirely was, “The Permission of Christian Spirituality.”
It takes a step to get to Philippians for this idea. I made the jump that Paul, being trained in the religious traditions of his faith (and the progressive religious school option, at that) would have been exposed to the breadth of rabbinical teachings, which are conveyed in a book called the Talmud, organized a couple of generations after Paul.
One famous rabbinical saying has caught my attention, for it helps shapes the Christian life:
“A person will be called to account on judgment day for every permissible thing he might have enjoyed but did not.” –Talmud
Its a commonly-held (and misplaced truth) that if someone wants to be a Christian, the center of their life becomes church-sanctioned activities, an endless repetition of sitting in rows, reciting prayers, and singing spiritual songs. But since someone can’t be in a worship service all of the time, believers experience a let down for the rest of their hours, doing their best to keep their commitments that they made through whisper-toned prayers during worship, until they can show up again.
Jesus promised us an abundant life, however. Not a split life of sacred and common hours and activities. If a worship service does anything for the common person, it trains us to entertain the idea that the sacred can break into all of life.
Paul gives the Philippian church a rubric to engaging life this way,
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. -Philippians 4:8
Paul gives permission the Philippian church to consider all of life as sacred within the orbit of these “whatevers” – an explosion of the particular, cultural religious tradition where he came from that was weighed down with insider language and commitments.
Jesus is not just the Lord for Israel, Paul proclaimed, but the Lord of the whole world. A careful examination of Paul’s content in the NT (which would take considerable time to lay out, here) would reveal that Paul opens the envelope of friendship to the non-Jewish outsiders whenever possible.
Paul’s “whatever matrix” is Philippians 4:8 is not a foolish attempt to appeal to all, but his confession that all of life belongs within God and the experiences from life that are shaped by the “whatevers” belong in the category of the sacred life.