Friday, November 12, 2010

Knowledge vs. obedience

I like to study. I love learning new things, figuring things out, finding solutions to complex problems. One of my great joys is to discover -- either through studying with others or through my own pondering -- a conceptual model that makes sense of the world in a new way. Once a friend described me as an "architect of ideas." I was quite taken with the phrase, because that captures one of the things I love to do.

In some ways, I think this love of mine is a reflection of the western Church. Christianity in the western world loves to spin ideas. Even our basic theology -- creation, sin, incarnation, redemption -- is simply a conceptual formula that makes sense of the world. As a theologian I can sit back and read CNN and understand the news stories I read based on this simple dogmatic formula. Of course people will act in depraved ways -- they are sinners. No surprise. Of course from time to time there will be a bright spot, a story of humanitarian goodness. God is at work to redeem creation. My conceptual model makes sense, and I like that.

But observing the world is not the essence of Christianity.

The church in the western world too often piously, passively observes while the world goes to hell. We are called not to knowledge, but to obedience.

Imagine if we were called to knowledge. The story of Jesus calling the first disciples would be very different. It might read something like this: "And as he walked along the seashore, he found Peter and his brother Andrew and James and John, the sons of Zebedee, mending their nets. And Jesus sat down with them and spoke unto them, saying, 'I am the incarnation of the third person of the trinity, one God existing in three persons. My nature is both 100% human and 100% divine. I was born of the virgin Mary through the miraculous intervention of the Holy Spirit. Shortly I will die at the hands of the Romans to achieve your vicarious atonement. Here's a handout summarizing these points.' "

Jesus never said anything like that. He did quite a bit of teaching, but his teaching moved people toward a choice -- either obedience to him or toward rejection of him. The simple call he extended to Peter and Andrew, James and John, was "Follow me, and I will teach you to fish for people." Their journey with Jesus started with obedience, not with knowledge. In fact, knowledge most often follows obedience -- obedience rarely follows knowledge. Fact is, far too many church-goers are caught in the trap of thinking, "If only I knew a little more ..." We excuse ourselves from obedience because of our lack of knowledge.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that action springs not from reflection but from readiness for responsibility. In other words, our lack of obedience might very well reflect a lack of maturity, and this will be remedied not by more knowledge.

Central's ministry staff recently listened to a speaker who related the story of telling his young daughter to clean her room. What if, the speaker said, she had gone away and came back saying, "Dad, my friends and I sat around and talked at great length about your command to clean my room. In fact, we made up discussion questions and had a great conversation. We translated your command into Greek and studied the meaning of each of the words." Do you suppose this father would be happy with his daughter's actions? I doubt it!

So how do you begin to obey? It starts not with the grand scheme of earth-shattering obedience, but with the simple task God has laid in front of you. What is the tiny task that God set before you that you have not yet obeyed? Is it to take out the garbage? To read your Bible? To show affection to your spouse? To pray for a few minutes a day? To lead a small group? To donate a bag of groceries to a food shelf? To give a tenth of your income to God?

If you are racking your brains and not thinking of what God has asked of you, either you are living an exemplary life or you're not paying attention. So here are a couple suggestions.

First, Central has a partnership with two congregations in Njombe, Tanzania. Recently a member of our congregation spent a month there interviewing 384 children -- mostly orphans -- who cannot afford the cost of education. Central is seeking sponsors for each of these children. For less than the cost of a soda pop each day, we can provide a generation of one community's children with a good education. Structures have been carefully set up to avoid corruption and make sure that 100% of your dollars go to the education of these children. Central and the Southern Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania are covering administrative costs. These are not the starving kids with flies on their lips you've seen on TV. Instead, these are kids who have lost parents, who spend most of their time in subsistence living, who dream of being doctors or teachers or lawyers or truck drivers but who can't afford the education that will open these doors for them.

Click on this link to Central's website and follow the sponsorship links. You can sign up right online. If you can't afford $30 a month, you can sign up to give $15, $10, or even $5 a month. We'll group you together with others who are giving so that together, you can sponsor a child.

Second, we're looking for people to commit to praying for Central at a specific time each day as a way to support the mission of Making Jesus Known. If you're willing to commit to prayer for Central at a specific time each day (I encouraged my daughter to do it while she's brushing her teeth) email me and let me know, and we'll put you on our list of pray-ers.

It's not a matter of knowing enough -- it's a matter of being ready to take responsibility. Maybe one of these two options is God's call to you, or maybe there's something else God has placed right in front of you. Will you obey?

1 comment:

  1. As I begin my studies I understand why you so admire and respect Dietrich Bonhoeffer. What an incredible testimony. I also want you to know that I'm still reading your blog - even if I find less time to comment. Thanks!