The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism a whole cellarful of fifteen-hundred-year-old, 200-proof grace — of bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly.
The word of the Gospel — after all those centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about the perfection of your bootstraps — suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that the saved were home before they started. . . . Grace has to be drunk straight: no water, no ice, and certainly no ginger ale; neither goodness, nor badness, nor the flowers that bloom in the spring of super spirituality could be allowed to enter into the case.
Since leaving fundamentalism, I feel like those Reformers. I feel like we’ve found a barrel full of Grace — something that was only a rumor in my previous life — and I’ve been just sipping it since, with lots of ice, from a small glass, and with buckets of fruit juice. I’ll get braver as my taste buds are cultivated to know Grace like I now know Rules.
The first time I heard that I was taken back by the changed lyrics. I thought, “Oh. I get it. That’s cute.” The third or fourth time, I thought, “Wait a second. What was I singing before? With the old version?”
You sang it too, didn’t you?
I have decided to follow Jesus.
I have decided to follow Jesus.
I have decided to follow Jesus.
No turning back. No turning back.
What a weird song when you think about it! I hate to be too English-majory about it, but gee-whiz — I am the actor/agent/subject of every sentence! Jesus is merely the object of the action. I chose Jesus. I invited him in. I choose to slurp his tasteless smoothie. I sit in the formal dining room with Him. I eat God’s healthy food. I keep a neat house/soul. I, I, I. What an arrogant jerk I am when I sing this song!
It misses the biggest sin of all. My own temptation to make rules and make everyone else abide by them. The seduction of seeing everyone else as wrong and me and mine as right. The lure of self-righteousness. The hedge-building. The moralism. The rotten, stinking sin of perfection. After all, I have decided, so I‘m good. What’s wrong with you?
Of course I never wanted to give up my own self-righteousness and follow Jesus. But He rescued me. That’s it. That’s the whole message outside fundamentalism: He rescued me. From myself.
By not recognizing the wretched moralistic sin of self-righteousness as sin, you get Keswick theology. Or just bad theology. Or just anthropology, I guess. Or egocentrism. Or just not-God.
I sometimes fear that many of us (and I include myself) find our definition by our obedience, in our ability to persuade others to be like us, and in our ability to win the battles. There is a lot of ego involved in being good, in being right, and as part of the battle, having others know that we are good and right.
In these last two weeks of remembering how God grabbed us by the collar and dragged us out of fundamentalism two years ago today, I brooded about past conversations, wistfully remembered dear (and too often former) friends, and cried over God’s goodness and my own Pharisaical actions.
There was one conversation from November 2007 I couldn’t get out of my mind. We were told that we shouldn’t say this or that because it was sin and Christ’s work couldn’t be done if we sin. We couldn’t be blessed. We were “sitting in the seat of the scorner.” We were bitter. We need to be silent in order to prove that we weren’t bitter. So that God could use us.
Same song, thirty-second verse: “SHUT UP!” Grant actually got a similar email saying the same thing this week.
The thrust of that 2007 conversation, however, was this challenge from our old friend: “There is not one example in Scripture of what you’re doing on your blogs. All confrontation is done privately in Scripture. It is never public. I challenge you to find one example of what you’re doing in Scripture.”
I remember sitting there with this genuinely confused look on my face. I remember saying something about how there are sages (those who speak within a culture) and there are prophets (those who speak from outside a culture), and the Bible has examples of both (obviously!). He insisted that only the sage’s posture is biblical. I got an even more confused look because I know a little bit about this kind of stuff. I said, “It seems to me that everything God has taught me in my education and my experience has brought me to the point of uniquely being able to speak on this issue. Why would I be silent?” He again insisted, “I challenge you to find one example in Scripture.” The presumption being, of course, that such example didn’t exist. And when a religious professional tells you that it’s not in the Bible, you’re supposed to just believe him.
But deep down, like at the end of a tunnel, stuffed with pillows, behind a wall of cement blocks, I heard a tiny Voice screaming, “NO! He’s wrong! HE’S WRONG!! Don’t believe him!!”
I didn’t know what that Voice was yelling about until this week. And it’s not just an example from the Bible. It’s the Example Himself:
Jesus went straight to the Temple and threw out everyone who had set up shop, buying and selling. He kicked over the tables of loan sharks and the stalls of dove merchants. He quoted this text:
My house was designated a house of prayer;
You have made it a hangout for thieves.
Now there was room for the blind and crippled to get in. They came to Jesus and he healed them.
Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple was bold, loud, and raucous. It seemed obnoxious and ill-tempered to the religious elite. It was certainly unconventional and far from being “tempered with gentility.” But it was, of course, good and just and full-of-grace.
The sick and the lame couldn’t get to Him, so He destroyed the barriers. Jesus wasn’t trying to convince the religious elite of anything; He was loving, healing, breaking down doors so He could nurture people. It’s the most public and active example that we have of Christ’s actions to stop religious corruption. And it was beautiful to and necessary for everyone in need! What an amazing Example we have!
So now I just giggle at those who chide me for not being “tempered with gentility.” Of course not! Jesus wasn’t either!!!
And I never saw it until just now. Neither did my old friend. It’s hard to see Jesus in fundamentalism. He’s there, but He gets covered up. Or hedged in.
I s’pose I’ll keep hearing new things outside of fundamentalism. A couple friends have emailed me a few that they’ve noticed this week — the praying for the invisible Church, the communing with each other and with Christ over the elements as not a threat. The list will continue because . . . well, the 200-proof Grace takes forever to digest.
No, I really never, ever wanted to follow Jesus. I didn’t. But He grabbed me and showed me the Way. And there’s no turning back. I was home before I started!