Saturday, September 15, 2007
A Fork in the Road
Tomorrow morning Terry will be talking about fork-in-the-road moments in our faith.
I'll share one of mine here tonight.
In the summer of 1995 I was blessed to go on a mission trip to Mariupol, Ukraine. It was my second year as a summer youth intern, and the church leadership paid my way, for which I am still grateful.
The Ukrainians were wonderful to us. They were gracious hosts, very open and very inquisitive. During the course of different studies and conversations, they asked me a lot of honest questions about the church. They wanted to know how we were any different than the other various denominations that already had mission teams and established churches there.
Many of their questions were easy to answer. However, many were not. Most had been raised not participating in any church setting, failing to even be a part of the official Russian Orthodox Church before the Soviet Union fell. Therefore, they did not approach the Bible with the same background and biases as I. The answers I had been trained to give regarding various church issues proved inadequate.
Where could I show them in their new Bible I had given them that instrumental music in worship was such an important issue? Or that the church they attended had to have the name "Church of Christ" or they could be sure it was the wrong one? Or that Sunday was the main required and authorized day of worship (otherwise known as "The Lord's Day") and the Lord's Supper could not be taken on any other day?
Yes, I could show them verses that told us to sing, a verse that mentioned churches of Christ saluting them, and an obscure verse in Revelation that mentioned the Lord's Day without specifying what day exactly it was, but none of those prove or disprove anything.
My rehearsed answers could not stand up to honest questioning. They weren't trying to provoke or trick me - they just didn't read the text with the same preconceived notions that I had. They realized a person was still singing, even if an instrument was playing along. When they read of "churches of Christ" saluting them, they had no reason to take that as the sole authoritative name of the church for all time because they weren't trying to defend their own denomination. When they read of the Lord's Supper being initiated on a Thursday evening, they saw no harm in taking it on a Thursday night now, unless I could show them specifically where it was mentioned to be wrong.
And why were these the main things I was supposed to be teaching them, anyway?
It was a fork in the road moment for me.
Would I continue fooling myself that my small corner of the Christian world had all of the answers perfectly right and everyone else was dishonest with their Bibles, or would I open my eyes to the reality that so many of our distinctive teachings could not stand up to honest and oftentimes simple evaluation? And would I continue to believe that salvation was a matter of getting all of these details right?
I took the road that answered "No".
Salvation is a gift from God. It is not attained by works. It is not maintained by works. No matter how good of a life I live, in the end it will still be a gift to me from my Creator.
Honest and dedicated servants of God may come to different conclusions about some of the details of living out their faith. That doesn't mean either is dishonest, and it doesn't necessarily mean one is completely wrong and the other is completely right.
My thanks to Tania, Alex, Natasha, Helen, Oleg, Kostya, and others whose names have escaped me after 12 years. I think God used you to give me some good directions along the road of life and of faith. I hope to meet up with you all again some day when we've received that gift.