This series is exploring Paul’s approach to the God conversation, which lately is the conversation very few people actually want to have. We dodge the question because things immediately get weird or tense, especially if someone religious is in the room. The church could do a much better job with this question. Too often it answers back with finger pointing, fear tactics, threats or power plays. The church sees itself in competition (if not war) with other religions, belief systems, or ideas, and that is our clue that the Christian faith has gone off track.
By now, we should be gaining a glimpse of how different Paul’s Christianity is from today’s. Pauls is an invitation to go deeper, right where we are, because the altar of the unknown God has relocated to life, breath and everything. Paul’s admonition is not a more dogmatic theology, to become politically involved, or more aggressive in on our apologetics. Paul’s faith never avoids reason, but it doesn’t stop with reason either, it continues into inner experience. His message was so scandalous that the religious vowed to kill him (Acts 23:12). It’s a scandal today. There are people who invalidate movement to online ministry.
Sadly, some of our most divided, polarized groups are those from religious frameworks. These produce much of the war, hatred, prejudice and division on our planet. The unbelieving world sees this and rightly opts out, but unfortunately they often toss the baby out with the bathwater. If people of faith could adopt Paul’s anthropology, it would transform the church from an exclusive contender to an inclusive restorer.
“And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.” Acts 17: 26-27
We are all different and different is good. Different is the design. The times create differences. Location, geography, and culture create differences. Modernity and intelligence create differences. Preferences create differences. This is all exactly how it’s supposed to be. Yet within every difference, within every time, within every life is the burning God question, that of existence, purpose and being.
Where did we get the idea that we needed to make everyone believe like we do? The great commission of Matthew 28 says to make disciples (students) of everyone of all that Jesus taught. What if baptism isn’t so much about conversion, as it is helping people to wake up (resurrect) and get “all in” to the “Flow” (trinity) of their lives. Paul’s theology points us to a new, wider place, one where he personally lived the great commission. Helping a person to believe and become free (teachings of Jesus-Gospel) is not converting them to a religion. A unified belief is not the same as a single framework for God.
Is there a part of you that wants to “kill” me?
Once I learned this, my online ministry exploded. Once I quit trying to convert people to an alternative religion, I became free to help people complete their exploration of God through the Christ experience. Two totally different things.
That is why Paul starts where he does. He knows we are all different. He never judges a person based on their belief, but based on their proximity to God. His admonitions help shore up the places where we lose sight of God or lose faith. Paul knows that God gives life, breath, and everything to all people who all bear Gods image. There are no “others” in his mind only variations in proximity.
Paul shows us that all people of all times have tried to address the God question as they “feel” their way toward him. He is not picking apart the means here. He is not addressing the frameworks, systems, or institutions, only that each and every one is trying their best. Some with more success than others, each with an equal sincerity.
Modern Christianity must seem so hostile to Paul. Too often religion is defined by what it’s against. It argues, debates, and diminishes those who are different. Look around, does the church believe that different is good or bad (or evil)? Along the way we became entrenched into one side of a binary system (thanks Plato) and now we fight tooth and nail to defend the means, the apparatus, or the structure. All too often “THE FAITH SYSTEM” (or Box) is more important to us than the seeker of faith. If the seeker doesn’t comply, we retaliate, shun, or diminish. We fail to see that those who are crawling and feeling their way toward God are no different than us. Unless they do it our particular way, we tell them their efforts don’t count. We are blind to the fact that they feel and crawl in their system, while we do so in ours.
Paul believes strongly that we are all different and different is good. In Romans 14:12 & 22 he explicitly tells us that we have to give account for our own faith, not others and that our faith is between ourselves and God.
I know some of you will struggle with just how open ended Paul’s theology actually is. If our institution, religion, or framework gives us a sense of power, or an identity, or superiority, then you may react in a similar way to the religious of Paul’s day with efforts to suppress, stop, or debate such liberty. Yes a liberated faith does spell trouble for institutions who love the means more than the message, but as more and more people move into the expansive, inclusive theology of Paul, the means are changing. This online ministry is living proof.
For those who are just barely feeling your way. I know just how ambiguous and free floating the God question is. Paul’s invitation to all of us is not to abandon or abolish the frameworks from which we all come. They aren’t bad, just limited, they only incubate us so far. He asks that we don’t become overly attached or distracted by a delivery system that we forsake our own feeling and crawling experience.
May we all feel OUR way to God. “How am I experiencing this moment?”