Luke 10 Theology

One Church

This is the sermon that I preached at our community Holy Week services on Monday. This sermon is partly the outgrowth of the work that I have started writing here about Luke 10 Theology. Most important for me in this sermon was the attempt to reclaim some of the greatest and richest elements of my religious tradition the Stone-Campbell Movement (a.k.a. the American Restoration Movement). These are important words that don't often square up with either our speech or practice in many Churches of Christ. This makes this attempt at reclaiming that I think all the more important.

 

PS - 1 Million Restoration Movement nerd points if anyone can tell me how many times I quote directly from the Declaration and Address in this sermon and which propositions each quote comes from. Happy listening!

Love/Fellowship ≠ Endorsement...

I want to take a brief aside to address an objection to what I am advocating (larger cooperation and service alongside people of other Christian traditions). This is an objection that I have heard all of my life and it has been employed in a number of situations. It is a form of "exclusion" that is both very subtle and seemingly innocent. The objection is this: "If you do that people will think that you approve of all of their false teachings."

My contention in this post is that there are a number of difficulties (or problems) with this perspective which are actually damaging  to the life and witness of the church in the world.

  1. This correlation (relationship = endorsement) doesn't function in any other realm of life.
  2. In all honesty there is no one on the planet that we fully endorse without qualification.
  3. This is in direct contradiction with the framework that is laid out for us by Jesus himself.

Let's examine each of these in turn...

This correlation (relationship = endorsement) doesn't function in any other realm of life.
It should give us pause to recognize the selective nature of such a framework. Do parents give unqualified endorsement to all actions of their children? After all, they do live together and love one another. (This is especially true if your kids are toddlers or teenagers right?) When you buy produce at your local grocery store does this mean that you give an unqualified endorsement to the oppressive working conditions that are faced by migrant farm workers? (I am hoping that it is becoming clear what I am getting at here.)

In all honesty there is no one on the planet that we fully endorse without qualification. If unqualified endorsement is signified by relationship or intimacy (or for our discussion "loving our neighbor") then we are in trouble. (The irony is not lost on me that people use these categories to exclude any form or semblance of relationship with people of other Christian traditions. So we can't have a loving and mutually beneficial relationship with other Christians, but we can have the most intimate relationships of our lives like a spouse and our children?!?!) Maybe to make this more poignant we should ask it this way:

  • Which of the 12 Apostles did Jesus give an unqualified endorsement? Peter (when he cut of Malchus' ear), James and John (when they asked Jesus for permission to execute Samaritans by fire from heaven), Judas (this one should be pretty obvious)????
  • When Paul writes to the Corinthians: "To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 1:2-3, NIV) are we supposed to hear this as endorsement of all the things happening in that church (you know really minor stuff like incest, drunkedness, discrimination, etc.)?

We should at least be given pause in our withdrawal of relationship from other people who profess faith in Christ despite our significant theological disagreements in light of the surprising depth of "fellowship" that we see demonstrated between the Apostles (particularly Paul) and the churches to which they address.

This is in direct contradiction with the framework that is laid out for us by Jesus himself.
The perfect example of this situation is recorded for us in the Gospel of Mark:

    “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

   “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward. (Mark 9:38-41, NIV, emphasis mine.)

Here Jesus makes an important distinction between who is with us (in John's mind) and who is with us (in Jesus' mind). Too often we equate the two. "If we're with Jesus--and everyone who identifies themself as a Christian assumes they are with Jesus--then they, if they aren't with us, must not be with Jesus." But Jesus says that we tend to have too small of a view about just who is exactly is "with us".

So what does this mean? What are the implications of what I am trying to say here. A couple of hunches:

  1. This idea that love/fellowship=(unqualified) endorsement is absurd.
  2. The forms of exclusion that are generated from such a position are counter to the very teachings of Scripture about the unity of the church and love of neighbor as we love ourselves.
  3. Jesus calls us to something much bigger than competition ("we're right and you're not of us so you are wrong), or co-existence ("you're ok, I'm ok"). He calls us to self-giving love for one another as we together seek the glory of God and the transformative power of the cross and resurrection of Jesus in our lives by the leading of the Holy Spirit together.

Who is Theologically "Other"??

Yesterday we talked about the various ways that people practice exclusion and began to look at some of the foundational issues regarding the story of the Good Samaritan to serve as a framework for engaging the issue of our relationships to people (not to institutions or traditions as we will see later) who are theologically "other" or different. But an important question that we must answer before we can work ourselves deeper into the theological impications of loving our neighbor as we love ourselves is this: WHO is the person that is theologically "other"? In other words, who is the person that is theologically different enough from myself that we must find a framework in which to understand our relationship with them? But first, some fundamental assumptions that I am taking for granted without much further explanation:

  1. No human being has an unchanging perception of God (if they even believe in one) or the world.
    This is easy to demonstrate. Do you have the same understanding of the world or of God today that you did ten years ago? Do you still believe in the tooth fairy or that babies are made by love and not through sex (because your parents didn't want to tell you about the birds and the bees yet!)? Even if some (or many) of your convictions have not changed in some time (e.g., the divinity of Jesus) the way that you understand them and how they are connected to other elements of your theological framework are always changing. 
  2. No two people who have ever lived have an identical theology.
    This is not to suggest that there has not been over time some major elements of consensus and agreement. However, it is my contention that no two people have ever held the exact same convictions about God and the world, and certainly never at the same time and place.
  3. The way in which human beings understand God is always analogical.
    For example, God is not literally our father because God is not confined by gender. God is not a rock, or a fortress, or a shield (2 Samuel 22:2-3). Ultimately we are limited in our finitude, by the limits of our language and our understanding of that language in the ways that we understand God.

So the implication is this: EVERYONE WHO HAS EVER LIVED IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD IS THEOLOGICALLY "OTHER" THAN MYSELF. 

But why is this important? What does this have to do with the Greatest Commands?

The reason that this is important is because it has been the tendency in the Church to exclude people who are deemed to be "theologically other". But this determination has always been subjective, often violent (whether physically or socially), and has failed to take seriously (in my opinion) the command to love neighbor. There are a million examples of this throughout church history. You could look at the persecution (and execution!) of Anabaptists at the hands of both Catholics and Protestants. Or perhaps less violently (although still an intentional form of exclusion) one could look to a not too distant dust-up in our tradition (Churches of Christ) where Churches who used instruments in worship were excluded from the national directory.

The practice of exclusion to people who are deemed "theologically other" has been a constant element of Christian history. But why? What constitutes the grounds for such an intentional and drastic exclusion (even up to execution!)?

In Churches of Christ this practice has been especially prevalent (I'm sure it is in other religious traditons but I can only speak out of my experience in my tradition.), but only around specific issues. In other words, we demonstrate a selective exclusion of the "theologically other". Some of these issues in our history have been things like:

  • Instrumental Music in Worship
  • Frequency of Participation in the Lord's Supper
  • Church Structure (Elders/Deacons vs. Pastors/Boards)
  • Understanding(s) of Baptism
  • Whether the silence of Scripture is permissive or prohibitive.
  • Cooperation with other congregations (whether more "conservative" or "liberal" Churches of Christ) or other Christian traditions (e.g., Baptist, Catholic, etc.)

The irony of such a criteria for exclusion is that it is inconsistent in its application. In my experience we have never excluded someone who is entirely outside of the Christian faith for their divergent (or nonexistant!) views of any of these issues! However, we have excluded all kinds of other people who truly love Jesus and are obedient in accordance with their understanding of the Scriptures. In other words, somehow we have found a way to justify the exclusion of some people in our understanding of "love your neighbor as yourself" and it has been people within the Christian tradition!!

THIS IS A SIGNIFICANT THEOLOGICAL PROBLEM FOR THE UNITY AND MISSION OF THE CHURCH.

Tomorrow I want to address some of the issues that some will raise in objection to what I am pointing to here. We will try to answer some of the following questions:

  • How can we have fellowship/unity with people that we disagree with? Doesn't the Bible say, "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" (Amos 3:3, KJV)
  • When is the "issue" or "difference" significant enough that we must seperate from them to maintain the purity of the Gospel?
  • Or my personal least favorite: "We can still love them and acknowledge that they are Christians but we must remain seperate because of our differences." (It makes my blood pressure rise just to type it.)

It is my contention that there is a significant difference between LOVE and CO-EXISTENCE. There is functionally no difference between premeditated exclusion and indifferent acceptance of such an arrangement. Therefore, it is a vital task of the church to recover what it means to "love our neighbor" especialy as it pertains to other people within the Christian tradition.

The Declaration and Address (a foundational document of our tradition, the Stone-Campbell Movement also known as the American Restoration Movement) puts it this way:

Christ established one church--just one. This church is made up of everyone who has faith in Christ and is trying to follow him in the ways God's Spirit in scripture has told us, and who others can see are being transformed into his likeness by the way they act. No one else has a right to be called a Christian.

Therefore, nothing should be required to recognize, fellowship, embrace, work, worship, and be fully and visibly united with all Christians that is not specifically made a requirement by God in his word. Nothing should be required in the way local bodies of Christians operate that is not specifically required by Christ and his Apostles for the church. Furthermore, the chief requirements for full fellowship that God has declared are our love for God and for people. This love is formed by our understanding of God's love for us shown through Christ.

God gave us the ability to think and reason--that is a good thing. If, however, in the process of using our reason we come to conclusions that other Christians do not reach, and that causes us to reject them, we have been deceived by the evil one. Our pride has taken over and stopped our continued growth into the mind of Christ--a mind of complete humility and self-sacrifice. Human reason is not the ultimate standard for truth. Christians ought to be growing constantly in their understanding of the profound truths of the gospel--that's part of our spiritual growth as communities. But requiring or even expecting others to be where you are is not conducive to the visible unity Christ so much wants.

Once again, having an understanding of every Christian truth is not a requirement to be a Christian, a part of Christ's church. No one who is trying to follow Christ ought to be forced to confess any belief beyond what they understand and know. All a person needs to know to be part of Christ's church is that they are lost and that salvation is through Christ. When they confess that they believe in Christ and that they want to obey him fully according to his word--nothing else can be required.

Everyone who confesses belief in Christ and commits to obey him, and who shows the reality of their commitment by the way they live, should consider each other as the precious saints of God, should love each other as sisters and brothers, children of the same family and Father, temples of the same Spirit, members of the same body, subjects of the same grace, objects of the same divine love bought with the same price, and joint heirs of the same inheritance. Whoever God has joined together this way, no one should dare divide.

Division among Christians is a sickening evil, filled with many evils. It is anti-Christian because it destroys the visible unity of the body of Christ. It is as if Christ were cutting off parts of himself and throwing them away from the rest of his body! What a ludicrous picture! Division is anti-scriptural, since Christ himself specifically prohibited it, making it a direct violation of Christ's will. It is anti-natural, because it makes Christians condemn, hate and oppose one another--people who are actually obligated in the strongest way to love each other as sisters and brothers, just like Christ loved them. In other words, division repudiates everything Christianity is supposed to stand for.

Two things are responsible for all the divisions and corruptions in Christ's church through the centuries. One is a neglect or even and fundmental misunderstanding of God's will for us in scripture--that we have the mind of Christ and be transformed into his likeness. The other comes from the first. Some Christians, assuming they are "right," that they have gotten the "facts" perfectly, have assumed the authority to impose their conclusions on others as terms of recognition and fellowship.

In reality, everything needed for the church to reach the highest state of perfection and purity on earth is first to receive as members only those who have understood their lostness and confessed their faith in Christ and commitment to follow him according to scripture; second, to keep as members only those who show those commitments in their everyday lives; and third, to see that ministers who reflect these ideals, preach only what is clearly taught in scripture. Finally, they must stick close to what scripture makes primary, seen in the example of the early church in the New Testament, without being distracted or corrupted by human tendencies toward pride and control.

(Declaration and Address, Propositions 1, 3, 6, 8-12)

The Good Samaritan and Exclusion...

In starting this series about a Luke 10 Theology I want to lay out what I understand to be one of the primary theological implications of the second story in this text, the parable of the Good Samaritan.

As a child I was taught that this story had something to do with helping others who were in need. The connections about why the first two people passed by completely escaped me. Later as I grew older I began to learn about the tension between Samaritans and Jews (although it was a sanitized Sunday School version). I certainly never heard about the ways in which they would seek to dishonor and make unclean each other's Temple or about John Hyrcanus who a littl over a hundred years earlier had raised the temple of the Samaritans to the ground. Hatred might not have been too strong a word.

But perhaps a more helpful framework for thinking about the relationship of Jews and Samartians both culturally and in this story comes from Miroslav Volf's award-winning book Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Explanation of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation. (Christianity Today lists this book as one of the 100 most significant books of the last century, and I agree.)

The way in which Volf helps us to think about this story and some of the more profound implications is through his categories of "exclusion". Here is a brief summary of the different ways in which individuals, institutions, and cultures organize and practice "exclusion".

Exclusion as Elimination
This is the kind of exclusion that can only be solidified by a process of extermination. Only in a denial of their humanity and a denial of their right to live can your ideal, agenda, or culture be held up as superior. One could point to the genocide in Rwanda for a horrific example of exclusion as elimination.

Exclusion by Assimilation
This is the more backhanded expression of "exclusion as elimination". This still denies the humanity and culture of the "other" but does not go as far as to take their lives if they "become like us". Interestingly I think there is some important space created by this category for the church to think about issues related to the role of the church and the issue of immigration.

Exclusion as Domination
This form of exclusion seeks to keep people "in their place". It has both obvious expressions (like the Caste system in India or Apartheid in South Africa), and expressions which are much more subtle and socially acceptable (like economic disparity along racial and gender divisions in the US). This form of exclusion functions to help those on "top" either maintain or grow in their position, power, wealth, etc. at the expense of those below. The poor get poorer while the rich get richer.

Exclusion as Abandonment
This is a form of exclusion that is especially prevalent in the way that the First World relates to those in the Third World, and the way that those in suburbs relate to the inner-city communities. (Some might refer to this as "white flight.") Volf summarizes this form of exclusion like this:

Like the priest and the Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan, we simply cross to the other side and pass by, miniding our own business (Luke 10:31). If others neither have goods we want nor can perform services we need, we make sure that they are at a safe distance and close ourselves off from them so that their emaciated and tortured bodies can make no inordinate claims on us. (Exclusion and Embrace, 75.)

Exclusion by Language and Cognition (a.k.a. "Symbolic Exclusion")
This form of exclusion seeks to seperate from a person, group, or institution through disparaging language and thought that dehumanizes or demoralizes the "other". This form of exclusion is so prevalent that it is difficult to describe the breadth of this practice of exclusion. Here are a couple of examples ranging in "severity":

  • The Jews are an inferior race who threaten the creation of a pure race in Nazi Germany. (The list of names, terms, and propoganda used to demonize and dehumanize the Jews in this situation is both too long and too offensive to list here.)
  • To the girl who dresses more immodestly or provocatively than we deem appropriate (a highly subjective criteria by the way!) we might use terms such as "slutty" or speak in such a way to give the impression that this individual must be sexually active and promiscuous.
  • To people who have different political frameworks we use different oppositional terms (defining ourselves against someone/something else). There are too many here to name like "liberal", "God-hater", "fundamentalist", etc.
  • To those who are theologically "other" we use a whole host of disparaging terms that malign both their understandings of Scripture (they are "ignorant", "rebellious", "brainwashed") or their character ("they don't respect the authority of God's Word", etc.). This is common even though it is something that the Bible explicitly forbids.

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:6, NIV)

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. (1 Peter 3:15-16, NIV)

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:10-12, NIV)

"Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister." (1 John 4:20-21, NIV)

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’
But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. ...  “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 5:21-22; 7:1-5, NIV)

We have heard from Paul, Peter, James, John, and Jesus.

CAN WE ALL AGREE THAT THIS IS A UNIVERSAL PROHIBITION?????

Volf concludes this section by speaking about a more sinister (and for our purposes more important) category for exclusion: Indifference.

Strangely enough, the havoc wreaked by indifference may even be greater than that brought by felt, lived, practiced hatred. ... Especially within a large-scale setting, where the other lives at a distance, indifference can be sustained over time, especially in contemporary societies. A "system"--a political, economic, or cultural [or religious!] system-- insinuates itself between myself and the other. If the other is excluded, it is the system that is doing the excluding, a system in which I participate because I must survive and against which I do not rebel because it cannot be changed. I turn my eyes away... I go about my own business. Numbed by the apparent ineluctability of exclusion taking place outside of my will though with my collaboration, I start to view horror and my implication in it as normalcy. I reason: the road from Jerusalem to Jericho will always be littered by people beaten and left half-dead; I can pass--I must pass--by each without much concern. The indifference that made the prophecy, takes care also of the fulfillment. ... We exclude also because we are uncomfortable with anything that blurs accepted boundaries, disturbs our identities, and disarranges our symbolic cultural maps. (Exclusion and Embrace, 77, 78)

So what does this have to do with Luke 10 and the Parable of the Good Samaritan?

What I want to unpack in my next post is how this framework of "exclusion" helps us to understand the ways in which we have wrongly practiced various forms of "exclusion" in relationship to people who are theologically "other" both throughout church history (think of the Inquisition) and in our present experience (the polarizing of Churches of Christ in relation to other Christian traditions).

So I leave you with a couple of questions to consider before I take this deeper with the next post:

(1) What forms of "exclusion" have you seen or experienced in relationship to someone who is theologically "other" (a.k.a. "different") than you?

(2) How might Jesus' story of the Good Samaritan give us a framework for re-envisioning this relationship?
This story is after all about what it means to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Luke 10:27-29)!

(3) At what point does someone become "theologically other"?
(This I think is the most profound and shaping question for this entire discussion, and the very question which this parable helps us to get a more theologically robust answer for.)

An Introduction to Luke 10 Theology...

As I spend the next couple of weeks thinking about an upcoming opportunity for me to preach at our community Holy Week services I want to take some time here to express in a more systematic way some of things that I am wrestling with, especially as it pertains to themes of unity and mission. Why these themes I think are bound up in the story of the Good Samaritan I will get more into in the coming days, but right now I want to lay out the importance of this text for the life of the church in our Post-Christendom reality.

I am quickly becoming convinced that Luke 10 is perhaps one of the most important chapters in the New Testament for the crisis that the contemporary church in the West faces as it seeks to understand its new (marginal) role in Western culture. Allow me to explain.

In Luke you have three inter-related and extremely relevant stories. You find the story of Jesus' commission of the seventy(two) and their work in search of the people of peace (10:1-24). The second story is that of the Good Samaritan (10:25-37), this story I think needs a deeper/closer reading (which we will get to in time). Finally this chapter concludes with a brief scene of frustration between Mary, Martha, and Jesus about who is expected to what in the name of hospitality and cultural expectation (10:38-42). So let me give you what I think these texts give us here and then I will spend the next few weeks unpacking each of these texts as we dialogue about the validity (if there is any) of reading these texts in this way in our context.

The story of the seventy(two) (10:1-24) is a story of MISSION IN SEARCH OF GOD'S ALREADY-PRESENT WORK.

The story of the Good Samaritan (10:25-37) is a story of LOVING OUR NEIGHBOR ACROSS THEOLOGICAL DIFFERENCE.

The story of Mary and Martha at dinner (10:38-42) is a story that DEMANDS THAT WE RETHINK WHAT IS EXPECTED OF US BY GOD IN LIGHT OF THE PERSON AND WORK OF JESUS AND NOT SIMPLY THE EXPECTATIONS OF THE CULTURE IN WHICH WE LIVE. 

There are a number of important things that are here for us to discover and to examine. Things that confront (and sometimes condemn) the way that we have thought about and acted out things in the past. But it is increasingly clear that as followers of Jesus, and as a particular Christian tradition (see our recent struggles) a failure to ask these questions and to be confronted by these texts seals our fate as a group of people who miss out on what God is doing in the world through the leading of the Holy Spirit.

So a couple of questions to ask before we begin...

(1) How have you read/understood these texts up until now?
For example, I assumed for a long time that the story of the seventy(two) was nice but not actually relevant to my life. It was about "them". I have learned much differently in recent years. 

(2) Are there any areas of your individual life or the life of your church that need to be reconsidered or even replaced? If so, what are they and how might any of these three narratives help us think about that. (More on how these stories address some specific issues soon.)

(3) What does it mean to engage Scripture not looking for practices and procedures, but instead looking for the character and nature of God, most clearly seen in Jesus and incarnated in his body, the Church? How might we need to rethink the way we think about the Bible in order that God has the space to speak afresh to us in these texts?

I think this will be a rich conversation, if you join it.