Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. Acts 11:20-21
In his book, Deep and Wide, Andy Stanley asks a question that has been haunting me for some time now: Who is church for? Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Seems like we should be able to answer it without even flinching. But it is killing me…haunting me.
It is killing me because I know the right answer: church is for the lost and broken world around us…it is God’s one and only plan for reaching, saving and healing that world. Church, when all the programs and budgets and theological debates are done, is for that world. That is painful for me to admit because, once I admit that, I know it means I must then look at everything I love and want and do in the church and ask myself whether it fits that purpose…whether it is designed to reach that world. I think you know where that inquiry will lead.
But that question is killing me at an even deeper level yet. It is causing me to examine my own heart and ask some troubling questions about my heart’s inclinations and leanings, especially where that lost and broken world is concerned. With the Lord’s leadership, I have crafted an entire ministry around loving, encouraging and healing the church. It is my passion. So, it is easy for me to want church to be for church people…because they are my audience, my market, the purpose for my ministry. I love pastors. I love church leaders. I love church people…and there is a huge part of me which wants church to be for them.
So, when I read Dr. Luke’s account of the early church and its struggles to answer this same haunting question, “Who is church for?”, I am looking for answers for myself. I am looking for how they got over some of these same biases and prejudices that I feel in my own heart. I am looking for their way forward through that challenge, and I am hoping it will somehow show me the way forward as well. After all, THEY were much more prejudiced than I…they had some very real racial issues at play, some very real doctrinal issues at play…I don’t have any issues nearly that severe…do I?
Imagine my disappointment, then, when I read that Peter simply stood up and told them the story of what he had seen and heard at Cornelius’ house, how he had seen the activity of the Holy Spirit in their lives, and how it all seemed to him to line up nicely with what God had been saying to him through his prayer life…and they listened and then said [paraphrasing], “Oh. O.K., then. We get it. We’re good with that.”
What was their magical, mystical, secret and amazing way through the challenge? They prayerfully listened to pastor Peter’s testimony, and they agreed and they moved forward. Period. That was all it took for them. Aaaauuuggghhhhh!!!!!
I’m depressed. And haunted. You?