Thursday, June 25, 2015
"His Name is John" (Are we about "order" or "amazement"?)
On the 8th day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, "No; he is to be called John." They said to her, "None of your relatives has this name." Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, "His name is John." And all of them were amazed.
Yesterday was the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, and the actions of his parents got me thinking about an essay recently written by the Bishops of Pittsburgh and Georgia, which included
Anglicans say that we seek to do “all things decently and in order.” We want to do things decently, charitably seeking to understand those with whom we disagree and to answer them in the open with persuasive reasons instead of with haughty neglect or raw power. We want to do things in order, as careful stewards of the faith and order we did not invent but rather have received as a precious gift. (You can find their entire essay here).
The first sentence begs the question what Anglicans said this when, to whom, and about what. The quote is from St. Paul: 1 Corinthians 14:40. It is interesting to note that Paul uses this term "order" in 1 Corinthians to talk about his "commands" about marriage, he is careful to divide into one thing he speaks from the Lord (that women should not separate from their husband she, nor husbands divorce their wives), and many things he explicitly says is from himself and not the Lord (1 Cor 7:10ff).
While I agree wholeheartedly that "the faith and order" we have received is a precious gift, I vehemently disagree with the implication that it is unchanging. It is, in fact, constantly changing in the partnership of God and God's people we call the church. We have even gone so far as to change what Paul claimed was "from the Lord" regarding divorce.
Back to John and his parents, their action in naming their child "John" was against the order of the day, so much so that people were "amazed." This incident is just the beginning of the major theme of Luke's writings of a world turned upside down (Acts 17:6). Luke uses the word "amazed" 24 times in the NRSV translation of his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. It is this amazement that catches people up in the style of life Jesus is teaching and the effect of the Gospel on the world when it is done.
I firmly believe that one of the reasons why the church is flailing (or failing) in its mission (particularly its evangelism) is that we are perceived as selling "good order" (perceived as a clarity about what cannot be done and by whom) rather than "amazement." The church rarely does "amazing" things, which always involves the risk of its very life, and its total dependence on the truth of the resurrection (which is the most order-busting act there is).