I cannot remember the person who espoused the thought, but it has stuck long in my mind. In an exchange between preacher and congregation, one punter noted “there are many passages in scripture that I do not understand. That troubles me greatly.” The response was “there are many passages of scripture that I do understand, and they are giving me enough trouble as it is!”
One of the watershed christian books of the 1970s was written by a Brazilian named Juan Carlos Ortiz, entitled simply Disciple. It was an insightful critique of the Western way of doing church and being christian, written out of an experience of revival. Ortiz made a bold, yet totally unverifiable statement: “Western christians are educated to about three years beyond their level of obedience.” The truth of this hit me on a tour of the Philippines, where I met pastors in charge of local churches. Their theological education and understanding of the Bible was way behind my own, yet their responsibility and commitment to mission decried any sense of smugness on my own part. Here were young men, christians only a few short years, taking on leadership responsibilities in the local church, nurturing and pasturing other christians. Ortiz’s comment hit home: I was spending time discussing and analysing faith , and these people were simply putting it into practice.
How are we to reconcile this? Will more education make us better christians? Not really… if we are not prepared and willing to put into practice what we learn. “To obey is better than sacrifice” spoke God in the Old Testament. Perhaps in the 21st century western church, He might challenge us “To live faith is better than to study it.”
It was a characteristic of pharisaic Judaism to know all the ins and outs of faith, yet be of no benefit to anyone for their failure to live it out. Are we in the West at risk of turning faith into a philosophical system rather than a way of life?
When our lives are measured up at the end, there will be no theological test for us to pass. Instead our works will be put to the test. Did we live our love for Jesus? Did we serve and give as Jesus bade? Did we liberate, serve, encourage, give?
Faith is doing.
June 2, 2002