Sunday, October 4, 2009

When Church Runs Long

"'Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.' When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do?' Peter replied, 'Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off--for all whom the Lord our God will call.' With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, 'Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.' Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day."
-Acts 2:36-41

I've been a Christian for a long time. There has never been a time in my life when I was not involved with the church. I went to the little kids' Sunday School classes when I was young and I sang "This Little Light of Mine" and I made plenty of crafts out of popsicle sticks and googly eyes. I went to the camps and CIYs. And now I go to class for 19 hours a week and learn about the Bible and how to best tell people about Jesus. And for as long as I can remember, Sunday mornings means church. Because of that fact, along with my own apathy, church can unfortunately seem very ho-hum. When I wake up on Sunday mornings, my first thought is not, "Man, I can't wait to see what God's going to do at church today!" I expect to go church and sing some songs and listen to a sermon and eat some donuts and then come home. Nothing more. Everything that happens at church is completely expected.

But today I saw something that I've never seen before. For the last several weeks, our preacher has been preaching a series called "The Journey." It's been all about what conversion to Christianity means. The first week was about faith, the second about confession, the third about repentance, and finally, today was about baptism. Of course, the sermon ended with a pretty overt invitation for people to be baptized. There was no time like now, the preacher said. It's what God has commanded us to do, and it's how we begin our lives with him.

I tried to keep count of how many people were baptized, but I lost track around 20. I would guess it ended at about 30-35. Old people were baptized. Young people were baptized. Guys were being baptized and then turning around and baptizing their brothers. An Ozark student was baptized. For I don't know, 40 minutes, people just kept coming up to surrender their lives to Christ. The service went quite a bit longer than is typical. It was insane. I had never seen God get so out-of-control. Or more accurately, I had never seen Christians allow God to be so out-of-control.

In a way, I was sometimes skeptical. I mean, there's a system for these types of things, you know? First you mark on your attendance card that you're interested in becoming a Christian, and then one of the elders comes to your house for coffee, and then you meet with the senior minister, and then you read some stuff, and then you come forward at church and are baptized. You can't just run up into the water because you've heard God speak and want to give yourself to him, can you?

We want to have control over so much of what happens in conversion. And for good reason. We want people to understand what is happening when they're baptized. We don't want them making this decision just because it's the "churchy" thing to do or because their friend did it. I was baptized when I was nine years old, and I think it was too soon. I think I believed in Jesus, but I didn't really understand what it meant to be a Christian, to no longer live for myself but only for him. Yet at the same time, there is incredible value and power in someone simply saying, "I don't know everything about God, and I don't know what the road ahead may hold, but I know that I need Jesus and want to belong to him." It's so beautifully faithful and trusting. It's almost like the type of trust a child would have. And word on the street is that that's what Jesus is looking for.

I've been doing a lot of reading about the history of the church recently. Not so much by choice, but due to the fact that I'm taking Church History Readings this semester. What that means is that instead of going to class, I just do a lot of reading and then take quizzes on the books I read. There's a book due every two weeks, but I'm not much of a fan of staying on top of my responsibilities. So I spent this last Friday and Saturday morning reading 400 pages of history. Fun weekend. But anyways, I read about all these crazy revivals in the life of the church where people would travel from miles just to hear a preacher proclaim the gospel, and then thousands of people who give their lives to Christ. Some of the stories are absolutely nuts. Of course, it's just history. The world has changed since the time of the Great Awakening. People are much more sober and well-educated. They won't get caught up in spiritual excitement. Revivals are dead.

What we forget is that there's still a Spirit that likes to reassemble skeletons' dry bones and breath life in them. That there's a God who is still reconciling creation to himself. That there's a Christ that is supreme over the universe. Sure, these great revivals we read about happened a while back, but the God who initiated them is still working. Maybe the problem is that we're too busy cramping his style. We get so concerned about controlling what happens in the church that we're not listening to the head of the church. We want people to come to our churches, so we only preach practical self-help sermons and put the good news about Jesus' resurrection on the shelf. I hope revivals aren't dead, and I wonder why one can't start in little Carterville, Missouri until it stretches across the entire globe.

None of the people at church made it to the buffets as early as they usually do today. But there was a great deal of rejoicing and celebration among the angels in heaven this morning. And somehow, I think that may be more important that an early lunch.


angieabbe said...

Preach it David!

Or as we say here at Hope...

"mmm... testify!!!"

Charlie said...

Everytime I come home I miss something cool. I wish I could have been there to see God work in peoples' hearts. Can I write the foreword of your first book?

JoR said...

There were actually forty baptisms that morning and TWO of them were Ozark student :)