Every Thursday evening a couple of fellows gather together to pray and study Romans. It’s a fun endevour!
I really like how Paul writes. With Paul, it’s not just the words that are significant, it’s the order. Even something as simple as sentance structure, for Paul, can be a way of conveying truth.
The church (local) can be a funny place. We often preach acceptance and love, but execute acceptance and love quite poorly. I once heard it put like this: “The church has a great theology of grace, but a poor practice of it.” Boy, have I found this to be true. Church more often seems to be a place where we’re told to, “shape up or ship out.” It’s a place where you have to tow the party line, and if not, then you’re not welcome. It seems to me that this would produce a congregation of eerily similar individuals. And that doesn’t seem to reflect the beauty of the Kingdom. Often times beauty is found in seemingly ugly places. So it’s one thing to preach acceptance from a pulpit, but it’s a whole other thing to actually accept others. Take your average North American church and imagine what it would look like if a big’ole group of dirty folk showed up one morning. Homeless folk, single teen mothers, drug addicts, homosexuals, non-believers. Imagine the looks. The thoughts. Yikes! How did all those damn dirty folk get in here? Sure, maybe we’d accept them at first, but if they didn’t shape up soon enough then our patience would wear thin. It’s as if we expect some sort of behavioural change before we fully accept someone. Show me that you’re worthy of my acceptance by showing me that you can change! You have to believe before you can belong!
That’s why I think it’s significant when Paul writes something like this: “Through [Jesus] and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith,” (Rom 1:5).
Paul puts faith before obedience, and I’ll be damned if that’s not significant! Obedience comes from faith, it doesn’t work the other way around. This is true. Yet how often do church folk expect outsiders to get the obedience bit right first? Then, when we don’t see obedience (obedience to Jesus or to the Pastors?) quickly enough, we send folk packing.
I long to see a church full to the brim with dirty folk. Dirty folk that are all in the same boat, being faithful to Christ and trying to figure out together what it means to be obedient. But that requires patience, something that the Church could use.
Grace and peace.
[Below is the work of David LaChapelle]