Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Generating Conviction

As the Christian assembly is to be a lived-out model of the kingdom of God in the world (a free association of equality as a mutually beneficial fellowship of Jews, Gentiles, men, women, slave, and free that actively disavows honor and the pursuit of the world’s ideal of honor, with the only “competition” geared to taking the lowest place as others are preferred above oneself), the unbeliever or uninformed will enter upon the Christian assembly and see something with which they are entirely unfamiliar.  They would experience that which they could experience in no other place and in no other setting (apart from other Christian assemblies), for the Christians there gathered were worshiping a Lord like no other.  This worship extended beyond the pouring out of a drink offering to their god, and beyond a performance (or multiple performances) of ecstatic speech with interpretation, but extended to the point that those that are serving and those that are sitting at the lowest places are those that the unbeliever or uninformed person would, based upon knowledge of the position of certain individuals within their community, expect to see seated at the places of honor, receiving the best food and drink, presiding over the assembly, being listened to attentively as purveyors of wisdom and knowledge through eloquent speech, speaking in tongues, and interpreting tongues.  This, however, most assuredly to their surprised eyes, would not be the case. 

The church would provide a living, breathing, counter-cultural witness to the claims that those same Christians would be making outside of their assemblies and in interaction with the members of their community.  The church body, in which all prophesy regardless of their social standing (without even getting in to what exactly constitutes prophecy), engaging in what would generally be considered to be an honor-based or honor-gathering public speech act, without distinction or division, from what would be perceived to be the lowest place to the highest place, with all given equal standing and equal attention within the community, would certainly convict. 

In addition, the assembly in which all share equally in food and drink, which would be the most common indicator, apart from seating position, of social status, would certainly convict an untrained onlooker.  The assembly in which none go hungry and in which the needs of all are met, with a conscientious and attentive eye cast towards the wider community for the purpose of meeting the needs of those outside their association, and not for the purpose of gaining honor for their assembly but because of the example of their God that went to a cross and was said to have suffered on behalf of His people and to establish His kingdom, and as a component of their expressed desire to go to the lowest places and people in order to share in their suffering and shame (taking it upon themselves in a sense, as such an association would cause them to be viewed more shamefully as well), would certainly serve to bring a level of conviction.  Such a person, witnessing the activity of the gathered church of Christ, could very well be called to account by all, especially if that calling to account is not a condemnation of his or her sin as we tend to think of it (those things referred to as “activities of the flesh”), but rather, a calling to account that causes that person to reflect on what it means to be truly human and one’s obvious failures in this area. 

The heretofore uninstructed observer would be witnessing that which God has intended for His divine image-bearers.  The true working of the Spirit, rather than being seen as something that results in a personal display of Spirit-led activity, takes place as God’s Spirit flows through the kingdom-modeling activities of His body and calls one more person to conviction and account.  As the Spirit works, gifting a man or woman to participate in God’s kingdom, re-shaping mindsets and transforming the heart so that it stands in opposition to the values of a fallen world, while also being ready to engage in ways to effectively impact and re-shape the values of those that inhabit a fallen world, “The secrets of his heart are disclosed, and in this way he will fall down with his face to the ground and worship God, declaring ‘God is really among you.’” (14:25) 

That deep-seated knowledge of the responsibility to bear the divine image, along with the failure to do so, springs to life.  Without doing so as a means of proof-texting, we can borrow from the letter to the Romans in order to buttress the statement and the ideas that stand behind verse twenty-five to possibly understand Paul’s thinking, as there he writes “because what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world His invisible attributed---His eternal power and divine nature---have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made.  So people are without excuse” (1:19-20).  God is on display through His kingdom community.

As part of this same process of understanding this portion of Paul’s communication, we can look to one of his speeches recorded in Acts, as he speaks about the “Unknown God” of Athens, and about His power, His presence, and His purpose of revealing Himself in the manner in which He has revealed Himself (His Christ and His church), “so that they would search for God and perhaps grope around for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us” (17:27).  Through the gift of His Spirit, which is meant to shape an ever-increasing portion of humanity into conformity to His own image, with this occurring by certain but not limited manifestations of that Spirit that can be referred to as individual gifts, conviction is brought about, and God receives the glory that is due to Him.  Bringing this about has always been part of the role of His people. 

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