1st Century Missional Practices-Paul- Dr. Rodney Reeves (NT Professor, Southwest Baptist University)
I thought this was one of the best sessions of the weekend. I do have to admit that I am biased in this regard as the speaker was my college advisor and professor for several courses! (Thoughts in Italics are mine; this was an especially difficult session to take notes on, so be aware of that as you read!)
“For so long the church saw itself as a means to itself. Everything was an end unto itself. The church however is a means to accomplishing the kingdom of God.”
After reading from 1 Cor. 11:1, “Can you imagine if someone in your church said “You want to know how to be a good Christian, how to follow Jesus, imitate me”? But Paul said that. We tend to set apostles as heroes on a shelf to admire, but Paul didn’t want that. He wanted his converts to imitate him.”
Dr. Reeves then spent the rest of the time discussing how Paul viewed his ministry of the Gospel (after all, we are to imitate him!)…
When it came to the gospel….
“It was a prophetic ministry. Paul was convinced that he was called by God. Saw scriptures in the OT as being fulfilled in his life. Proposes that Paul might have viewed Isaiah 49- servant taking the gospel to the coastlands- as being about himself. We are to read the bible first as a window to an ancient world. But it is also reflective. Find a prophecy in the Word as your calling. Paul did. (He acknowledged then a legitimate function of a “life-verse” as it were.)
-It was an eschatological ministry. He thought the world would soon come to an end. For example, his advice- “Don’t get married- 1 Cor. 7.” We live as if we have all the time in the world. We live with a benchmark age-I got only this much time left, I’m going to use it. Paul lived as if each day was a gift from God.
-It was an apocalyptic ministry. World-shattering. End of the world.
-It was a cosmic (universal) gospel. Christ didn’t belong to him or to Christians, he belongs to the world.
-It was a Spirit-indwelt (he might have said “filled”—it was hard to keep up at times!) Ministry. Paul was convinced that Christ spoke through him. We reserve this for the preacher. But the same Spirit that lived in Jesus lives in you. The same one. The Spirit of Christ lives in you, follower of Jesus. And Christ speaks through followers of his kingdom.
–It was an incarnational ministry. (Dr. Reeves camped out here for quite a while.)
–Incarnational because it was “Present” -The gospel was more than a set of beliefs, 4 spiritual laws, doctrines to sign your name to; it was a way of life, a way to live. The earliest Christians were called “the Way”. Called “apostolic parousia”-Paul convinced the Gospel would go forth if he went forth. He never sent a letter describing the gospel to unbelievers. Why? He was convinced the Gospel must be incarnated. “Sent Timothy to tell them his ways.” -in Corinthians. Not only him though!
–Incarnational because it was imitatable. How did Paul, a Jew, teach Gentile converts to live? Paul kept Jewish law, but did not teach Gentiles to. How did he do this? Paul was convinced the only thing his converts needed to live a holy life was the Spirit of God in them. (Dr. Reeves adds an aside…)”and a letter every now and then from him.” He’s starting with pagans. Immoral. But did not throw the Law at them. Walk by the Spirit.
–Incarnational because it was dyadic. The Gospel was more than individuals living out their own convictions. Rather, their true identity was found in a community. Who you are as a Christian is not defined by your particular set of beliefs, but by a faith which has existed for 2000 years. (eg. Leaving Jew/Gentile, slave/free, male/female, rich/poor at the door when coming into the body of Christ). Counter-cultural. Saying “The Church defines who I am.” What if the singular lens by which we see all things is the body of Christ?” What if we saw all our affinities through that?
–Incarnational because of the Spirit (not sure how that was worded). Spiritual. The Spiritual power within as well. Inside-out kingdom. Guarantor. The evidence of that spiritual life is not virtues developed by human effort, but divine fruit by a willing heart. The Spirit is a gifter of the church. We think spiritual gifts are given to individuals for our benefits. God gifts the church. And how he gifts you is what the church needs. (You could move and have your spiritual gifts changed based on what the church needs!) Why? NO Single one of us can reveal Christ to the world. I get tired of unbelievers pointing out individual Christians who are a mess. DUH! We are a mess. Look at the body! We need each other. The Holy Spirit makes us HOLY. Not a method or set of rules, but submission to the Spirit. Hardest thing to do—bend the knee.
-Some Scriptural Examples of Incarnation of the Gospel
-Phil. 2: The Gospel is not open-ended. There is a paradigm already there. We tend to see this text as Jesus setting aside his deity to become a man (That’s a heresy: gnosticism). B/c he existed in the form of God—it takes a big God to stoop so low and save the world through the most humiliating death in the history of humanity. Save the world through weakness, shame, the injustice of an innocent man dying. That weakness is power. That foolishness is wisdom. That death is life. You are most revealing of the Spirit of God within you when you sacrifice yourself to others. The Gospel is scandalous. It doesn’t make sense. It is illogical. You won’t argue anybody into the kingdom. That God would reveal his deity through his Son by dying on a cross. That’s the way Mark sees it-the centurion points to a dead man and says, “Surely this man is the son of God.” Paul says, “That happened to me!” (Phil. 3) (boasting in flesh…count as loss…gain the resurrection) There is a consistent pattern of humiliation-exaltation. That is not a very popular message today.
There was also some Q/A afterwards.
How does Paul live to be imitated?
Viewing all his life as a reflection of the death, burial, resurrection. Gal. 3/6. 1 Cor. 1:26. American idea is minister out of strengths. Paul says minister out of weaknesses.
How does a church that is increasingly divided into age/affinity group divisions need Paul’s emphasis on dyadic personality?
Church has become a collection of personal preference groups. It is no longer a communion. We are divided into categories. It takes extra effort to subvert the culture. Even between denominations at times. We often have little to no contact beyond the group of our choosing.
About his quote on Paul seeing the only thing his converts needed was the Spirit of God- seriously?
- That is 1 Thessalonians—they have everything they need (Spirit of God). Not a dualistic thing where I don’t participate. There is yielding, sacrifice, participation. But Paul will not allow any legalists coming in and telling them what to do. Eg. Corinthians participating in public banquets with immorality present. Paul doesn’t say “don’t go to banquets.” He says, “Flee fornication b/c the Spirit of God lives in you.”
Follow-up: Why is that so hard for us? How did we get so far from that?
American culture believes in law and order. That thinking has infiltrated the church. How does God do justice? By showing mercy (grace). Did we deserve it? The place of injustice (Jesus’ cross) is the place of our just-ification. Preachers well-intending give lists of how to live a holy life. Members want lists. Look at Jesus though. He tells a story about the kingdom.
Obviously those listening had a lot to chew on here. Often we as Baptists cringe a little when talking about the Spirit because there have been a lot of abuses there. I was especially challenged in my ministry to begin doing a better job of obeying scripture, especially what I am teaching each week so I could say, “Do this with me and let’s follow Christ.” I plan on posting in the future on the current struggles I am having with church life that is split into so many different affinity/age groups, and our huge cultural blind-spot in this area, seeing that this is not(!) necessarily a good picture of the Body of Christ. A few months ago our church did a Bible study for “Dads with Daughters.” Well-meaning, probably helpful, but indicative of our tendency to slice up people rather than be one in Christ. (Only men, of a certain age, with children, specifically female children could attend.)