I heard a challenging sermon called “Paul’s Life and Ours” last week on a very familiar passage. In Galatians chapter 1, Paul defends his gospel as coming from Jesus himself.
“15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. 18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days.”
Martin Ban from Christ Church Santa Fe called attention to the fact that there was a difference in the way some of the Galatians received the gospel (Jesus via preached word we assume) and the way Paul received the gospel (via personal encounter with Jesus). Part of their unwillingness to listen to Paul, perhaps came from this difference. Paul was a suspect since he didn’t receive the gospel the way they had (obviously some of them probably hadn’t at all).
The Galatians needed to feel concern with the content of the gospel way before they needed to be concerned and question Paul’s experience. His application was that we need to be more tolerant in the experiential component or “the where,” (the “where” also includes the historical gospel story) when the content of the gospel is believed.
Citing examples of Anne Lamott and his own experience of being a Christian while growing up Catholic, he challenged his congregation to not greet everyone who came to faith in a different way with a hermeneutic of suspicion. In other words, just because someone’s faith journey looks different than yours, that does not make it illegitimate. And you shouldn’t assume it is.
I came out of college ministry that tended to question the legitimacy of one’s salvation if he or she couldn’t produce an adequate time, date, or experience of conversion. I still struggle with being suspicious over crazy faith journey’s like the murderous “Son of Sam who has refused parole though I blame that on own tendency toward skepticism.
But the more I live, and the more I minister, the way Jesus “meets” people and brings them from death to life seems to be vary quite a bit. There is no cookie cutter experience.
Sometimes a person person might be involved in a bible study for a long period of time and eventually the light bulb clicks on and they “get the gospel.” More and more people today find themselves converted to the church before they are truly converted to Christ. After they see Christ’s community, and experience the gospel shared and lived out in community, they may embrace it without a conscious experience. This can happen in youth groups as well.
We pray that Connar never knows a time where he doesn’t trust Jesus as His Lord and Savior. Of course he will need to profess faith one day and say, “Yep, this Jesus, I rest in Him alone.” But I would be completely happy if he can’t remember a time when he didn’t know Jesus. He will have only Jesus to rest in, and not an experience.
And some kids do profess faith at a young age. I don’t think we should immediately be skeptical and withhold Communion or Baptism (if they haven’t received that sign) because we’re suspect of their experience. Provided they can profess a child like faith to the elders, I’m not sure that we should require much past that.
And I also pray for those consciously running from Christ either because of their morality or immorality, that they will turn to Jesus, rest in Him, and experience and display their faith. Their story and experience will look quite different than mine. And there’s plenty of room for all of us in the local church.
We should not expect the cookie cutter experience today because we don’t see that in scripture. Timothy came to faith as the gospel was passed down through his family (II Tim 1). Jesus’ disciples were just told to follow him and they did. Others came to faith by means of traveling Evangelists like Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:48), and some who never personally knew them (Colossians). The thief on the cross came to faith a bit of an unusual way (Luke 23:43) you could say.
The emphasis in scripture seems to be less on conversion experience, but instead on “knowing Christ,” and demonstrating faith NOW as opposed to proving you had faith THEN.
Anyhow, I felt convicted of my suspicions. Provided the content of the gospel is there, and the person is walking with Jesus, but of course struggling like the rest of us, make sure you leave room at the table of fellowship.