Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Good Conduct, Good Deeds, Good Works (part 2)

Yes, the Gospel will effect transformation in the lives of its adherents, and those effects will be seen in interactive relationships, as Christians attempt to live out their ambassadorship on behalf of their Lord and their God with respect to their interaction with others and the world.  This is the love that is referenced in Romans twelve and in first Corinthians thirteen, which demonstrate the tangible working out of that love based on what appears to be primarily learned at the meal table of the body of the church (note that the talk of love in both of those letters is surrounded by considerations of the meal table). 

It is this basic demonstration of love and of preferring of one another, and of the apparently awesome transformative power of the Gospel that is then put on display by individuals (functioning as and for their communities), which is what is worked out in the thirteenth chapter of Romans.  Not that Paul’s writings are determinative for the way that one approaches the writings of Peter, but it is with such things in mind, as early evidences of the way in which Jesus (His death and Resurrection) is being interpreted and understood, that one can look to Peter and hear him being so incredibly insistent on the social nature of the Gospel. 

It is worthwhile to first understand this aspect of Peter’s first letter before moving on to what becomes the rather obvious dealings with the church’s meal table (recognizing that the church constituted itself around a meal table).  Peter insists that the church is “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (2:9a), declaring that the covenant God calls the church to be “a people of His own,” that they “may proclaim the virtues of the one who called… out of darkness into His marvelous light” (2:9b). 

Though there is certainly a mysterious and never-to-be-completely-comprehended power to be found in the very proclamation of the message that Jesus is Lord, it should be noted that the proclamation that Peter has in mind is more deed-based than word-based (though the word is not to be neglected---deeds would lead to the opportunity for words to be heard).  To this end, Peter calls this church to “maintain good conduct among the non-Christians, so that though they now malign you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God when He appears” (2:12). 

In that day, Christians were accused of being atheists because they did not worship Caesar or the Roman gods, of being cannibals because of what was said at their meal table (eating the body of their God that they also claimed was a man who had been killed and physically resurrected), and of being usurpers of the social order because they refused to acknowledge the standard and orderly divisions of society in their public or private gatherings. 

Eventually, Christians would become scapegoats, as blame for all manner of maladies and calamities would devolve upon them.  Peter understood that this was happening and would happen, and that much of this was owing to the fact of the radical nature of the lived-out Gospel (incredible social disruption --- women equal to men, slaves and free on equal footing in the Christian community, recognition of a power  higher than that of Caesar and a kingdom greater than that of Rome). 

For this reason, Peter, using the language of public benefaction, calls the church to be civic-minded, doing good deeds that will be recognized as beneficial for their community.  In this way, contrary to being singled out and maligned for being a negative force in society that would be specifically tied to claims about an alternative Lord and way of living, their good deeds would bring glory to the God to which their allegiance was sworn through the Christ.  As the New Testament readily demonstrates, this sense of public benefaction would be learned at the meal table.   

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