We owe a great debt to Martin Luther, the Catholic Priest who set in train the Protestant Reformation, a debt for which there are times I would like to say “Thanks a lot”. While Luther brought back into perspective the sense and place of grace in our relationship with God, he also – perhaps unwittingly – shifted the measure of a good christian life from the way in which a person lives to the way in which they think – the theology that is espoused. An outcome of his nailing the 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral was to shift faith from being a way of life to being a way of thinking. In the intervening years we have seen endless unedifying arguments about what it means to be a christian, often at the expense of a lived and shared grace.
The pattern of faith in the early church was a lived faith which lead to understanding, a practice which formed the groundwork out of which an explanation grew. It is possible to live a life of faith without being able to explain the theology behind it, to live out the love of Jesus without sermonising in words on the nature of love. For all the theological learning which has marked the church in the last centuries, we have continued to find a dearth of christians who are prepared to live the sort of love which Jesus lived, to serve as Jesus served, and to sacrifice as Jesus sacrificed. In marked contrast to the ideal “see how these christians love one another” we find the church riven with relative trivialities.
When Jesus challenged the Jewish leaders it was not primarily about their theology – it was their practice that came under intense scrutiny. The lived faith of Jesus was a tremendous threat to the status quo.
For centuries we have based discipleship on the premise that if you change people’s thinking, you will change the way they act. But centuries of theological debate, and christian education has proved the ineffectiveness of this precept. Jesus’ call to discipleship seemed predicated on the notion that to change the way a person acted would lead to a change in their way of thinking. Understanding flows from experience more readily than the other way around.
Jesus likened the call of faith to an invitation to dance (Matthew 11:17) – to be a part of an experience which involved the whole being, learning to attune oneself to a rhythm, to move according to a beat. I know Baptists have never been traditionally good at dancing (!) but that’s never been a good excuse not to try.
April 21, 2002