The People Sermon Series

"The People 05: Getting Past the Bouncer" - Tim Suttle

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"The People 05: Getting Past the Bouncer"

by Tim Suttle


2017.10.29 The People - Getting Past the Bouncer                    

Start w/text for today—we heard it earlier from NIV—now from MSG version:
Listen to it… talk about the early church… listen to it again at end.
Experiment: see if learning the history enlivens how we hear the text.
Everything we’ll talk about today is the backdrop going on behind the text.

Luke 6:39-49 (MSG) He quoted a proverb: “‘Can a blind man guide a blind man?’ Wouldn’t they both end up in the ditch? An apprentice doesn’t lecture the master. The point is to be careful who you follow as your teacher.

“It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this I-know-better-than-you mentality again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your own part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.

“You don’t get wormy apples off a healthy tree, nor good apples off a diseased tree. The health of the apple tells the health of the tree. You must begin with your own life-giving lives. It’s who you are, not what you say and do, that counts. Your true being brims over into true words and deeds.

“Why are you so polite with me, always saying ‘Yes, sir,’ and ‘That’s right, sir,’ but never doing a thing I tell you? These words I speak to you are not mere additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundation words, words to build a life on.

“If you work the words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who dug deep and laid the foundation of his house on bedrock. When the river burst its banks and crashed against the house, nothing could shake it; it was built to last. But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a dumb carpenter who built a house but skipped the foundation. When the swollen river came crashing in, it collapsed like a house of cards. It was a total loss.”

So… we’re in a series called The People right now in which we’re exploring the dramatic rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire.
All this growth — and it wasn’t really planned or strategized.
They didn’t focus on missions programs or evangelism techniques.
Instead they gathered to be formed in Christian virtue…
Especially the virtue of patience.

PT: Their patience made early Christians distinct from Roman culture.
They were distinct in their habitus: a set of embodied dispositions that determine how we perceive the world & interact w/it.
The Christian habitus was distinct… & this was essential to their growth.

They had: private worship, closed to the public—produced transformed people who were visibly distinct from the world around them.

We have: public worship, marketed to the public—producing people who are indistinguishable from the world around us.

PT: This should cause us some tension … for for no other reason other than that the early church grew & the church today is in decline.

The early church saw a major influx of people joining up w/the Christians.
Last week we talked about why—called it a  Push and a Pull
The Push: was how status dominated Roman life & left so many behind.
The Pull: was how these Jesus followers ignored status, & treated everyone with love & respect & grace.

And so they grew steadily for 300 years.
From 120 Christians to the majority of the Roman Empire.
Despite the fact they didn’t allow visitors to attend their worship services.
In fact they had a bouncer at the door to keep out anyone not baptized yet.
Today I want us to talk about getting past the bouncer.
What did a person have to do to join the early church?
What was the process & what was the goal?

Imagine you are living in Rome in 100AD—a normal person w/a job, family… you sacrifice to the gods… how might you encounter Christianity & join the church?

Well, the 1st thing that had to happen was: you had to Meet a Christian in the course your ordinary life … & become friends with them (R: worship is closed).
So you had to meet a Christian in the wild (friend, family, neighbor, coworker)
And you had to notice that they were distinct in some way …
Usually in terms of: love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
Stanley Hauerwas says, “A Christian is somebody who has met one.”
That’s where it starts: you meet a Xian & notice that they are distinct.
Eventually you’d ask: What’s your deal? How can I join up with you guys?
And this person would have to agree to become your sponsor.
PT: That’s step one, you have to Meet a Christian and find a sponsor.

This would trigger the 2nd step in the process: The First Scrutiny.
You would be brought before an elder or teacher & examined.
… to see if they wanted to let you explore becoming part of the church.
They’d interview you a little, but mostly they’d ask your sponsor about you.
And they were looking for one main thing: teachability… you see …
Becoming part of the church wasn’t like joining the Rotary Club.
They were going to make serious demands on the candidate’s life.
So, the #1 thing they looked for was teachability.
Are you willing to learn & to change the way you lived your life?

You see, the early church had this belief that if your life hadn’t conformed to a word, then you hadn’t really heard that word in the first place… they thought:
To listen & then not act on what you heard was a form of self-deception.
If your life didn’t conform to a word you hadn’t really heard it yet.
Knowledge was lived for them / not concepts & abstractions…but embodied.
James “Be doers of the word & not hearers only; and so deceive yourselves.”
If you weren’t a doer of the word, you didn’t know that word yet.            (1:22)

PT: So, you’d have the candidate (who has never seen worship). They just know a Christian or two. And they are standing in front of the leaders of the church while their sponsor was asked these very pointed, personal questions regarding whether or not this person is willing to change, mostly in re: to relationships and vocation.

They knew that way a person lived their lives—their vocation they did, the friends they had—would impact the candidates ability to believe.
I see this constantly as a pastor & in my own journey of faith.
It’s hard to believe something if ur whole family believes something different.
It’s hard to follow a teaching that you have to violate every day in your job.
Change can be impeded by parents who disapprove, friends ≠ understand.
Those things can be powerful hurdles to our discipleship & growth.
The early church dealt with those things right up front.
If you weren’t teachable w/them… said, “come back when ready” (patient!)

“The teachers, like the early Christians generally, believed that at the surest indication of what people thought was the way that they lived, and they were convinced that the candidates behavior was the most reliable predictor of whether they would be able to learn the Christian habitus.” - Alan Kreider
But because the early Christians were PATIENT, and not obsessed w/Church growth… they were willing to hold the line on this stuff… So..
An actor, putting on plays about the gods … the Christians knew:
If you’re steeped in that pantheistic story you can’t live the Christian story
So, they’d ask you to get a new job.
Prostitute, how could you learn about chastity and fidelity & still sleep @ ?
They asked them to quit & then helped them find new work.
Business people would be asked to lose money rather than cheat people.
Soldiers would be asked to refuse to kill.
Painters were asked not to paint pagan themes.

PT: And they thought if you were not willing to make changes in your life, then it’s pointless to teach you about Jesus: 
Because learning wasn’t just about head knowledge for them; it was about life transformation… knowledge was lived. 
Also: allowing people to join & not transform could fatally compromise the distinctiveness of the church, which is the whole basis of their witness! 
If you weren’t teachable … ready to make big changes…
They’d say… let’s wait … be patient & see what happens.

Can you imagine doing this today? “We’d like you to follow JS, but you’re going to need to find a different job first… one that pays a lot more & then you tithe!”
We have a different kind of process at Redemption… we say:
“Belong 1st, & we’ll teach you what that means as we discover it together.”
So you belong first; then learn the habits, rhythms, and practices of the faith.
And then slowly as our lives begin to change & conform to the gospel…
Our their beliefs begin to change & grow as well.
Much of the truth of the gospel can only be known as you experience it.
It’s not just head knowledge, it’s life knowledge … Christianity must be lived—and then you know it to be true because you’ve experienced it.

PT: The early church was trying to foster life knowledge. AND they were very careful about their distinctiveness. So they wouldn’t even let people investigate Christianity unless they felt like they were teachable… willing to change their lives.

So let’s say you’re a candidate, you pass the 1st Scrutiny, what happens next?
Well… next comes the 2nd phase of joining the church: Catechism.
This was called the phase of: hearing the word.
This was a long slow process of being formed in the likeness of Christ.
Your guide was your sponsor—because you didn’t go to worship yet.
You would learn the stories, memorize passages, learn new behaviors.
They were focused on three things: behavior, character, and reflexes.
These are the 3 elements of a person’s habitus.
Behavior: what they do.
Character: why they do it.
Reflexes: What comes naturally to you … is following Jesus reflexive
If someone slaps you in the face do you retaliate or turn the other cheek?
They were looking for what an orthodox theologian named Vigen Guroian called, “Deep Ontological Repair.” (237)
Ontological is about our very being… this phase is about conversion.
Is repair touching every single thing about you… your being, is it healing?

And they were in no hurry. This phase could take as long as it needed to take. 
Time was not a factor… only character mattered.
It was like a minor league baseball player.
They stay in the minors for as long as it takes for them to mature.
While they are there, they are learning, progressing…
They have coaches who train & encourage them …  critique them.
And they submit themselves to a process of becoming a better player.
They had no control over the process… they’re just submitted.
Some people are there for just a few months, some for years.
That’s what the Catechism phase was like for early Christians.
They didn’t rush it… they were patient.
They believed the journey was essential & beautiful & shouldn’t be rushed.

Then once the sponsor thought they were ready (2-3 years usually) they would present the candidate to the Bishop for the 2nd Scrutiny: about character.
This time only the sponsor is interviewed—asked to vouch for the candidate.
They looked at the behaviors, character, reflexes to find real transformation.
If it wasn’t there, you continued phase 2—it could be another year or 2.

But if you passed through the 2nd Scrutiny, you went on to the 3rd phase of joining the church: Preparation for Baptism:
This was called the phase of: hearing the gospel.
Which meant you were finally taught basic doctrines of the faith.
… incarnation … crucifixion … resurrection … ascension … pentecost.
These were so important that they didn’t want you to even try to learn them until your character was ready to receive them … so:
Christians just didn’t have freewheeling discussions of doctrines w/outsiders.
The doctrines were too radical.
They called the Emperor into question.
They called the pagan religion into question.
They changed the way they viewed creation …what it means to be human.
For several years they would only teach you Christian Practices:
Things like non-violence / caring for the poor / patience / refusing status.
They’d teach you virtue: humility & honesty & kindness & compassion (Also pract)
They’d teach you scripture—(memorized Sermon on the Mount)
And these practices would begin to change you.
They would mold your character & shape your imagination.
They prepared the soil of your soul for this 3rd phase… hearing the gospel.

PT: But until you were no longer worshipping many gods, until you left behing the Race For Honor, until your character was transformed, they wouldn’t risk your hearing the gospel (which for them was about the central Christian doctrines re: life, teaching, death, resurrection & ascension of Jesus Christ… you didn’t hear this until toward the end of your training.

Now, there was a 2nd aspect of the 3rd Phase (Prep for Baptism) and it’s kind of strange to us—they called it: Exorcism.
This wasn’t like the movie… nobody’s head was spinning around.
Exorcism was about identifying what spirits were still living in you that were not from God.
Not in like a demonic power …
More like if you had a spirit of pride, they would name it in you.
They’d lay hands on you and call it out.
Then … they’d wait on it to really happen.
If you had a spirit of vanity that still came out every once in awhile.
They would lay hands on you and name that spirit, call it out of you.
And then they’d wait & watch until it stopped happening.

This is challenging to me, because in every church I’ve ever been in, we tiptoe around these things… we don’t talk about this stuff…
They were bold about it…  “you’re proud … you get kinda mean sometimes
…you are so insecure that you lash out at people.”
They would perform these exorcisms where they:
named the spirits that still inhabited their souls & Prayed for deliverance.
Waited for God to act & the person to be changed.
I wonder what kind of community we would have to be to be able to do this kind of thing for each other … w/out doing damage or driving people away? 

PT: The weird thing is that in the early church—when they did this—it really was kind of like an exorcism. People didn’t struggle in phase 3 for years. When they named it & renounced it, God took it away. Fast. This period usually only took a few months.

Then came the 3rd Scrutiny. btw… this is their 3rd intense examination. How many of you would be willing to go thru all that to join a church? So wild to me.
The bishop would examine the candidate & it was up to the bishop.
…perform any last exorcisms that needed to be done.
…then pronounce the candidate ready for baptism.

This was the 4th & final phase: Baptism… listen to what they’d do:
The would gather the night before & keep vigil all night long.
They would fast, sing, & pray thru the night.
The bishop would have the candidate kneel down.
Bishop would breathe into their face (bad breath jokes aside) it was a symbol of the spirit of God that was transmitted down thru the years like a breath…
They would receive & breathe it into their lungs.
He’d make the sign of the cross over them.

Then at dawn they would go out to the water.
Men & women were baptized separately because they’d strip down naked.
(…a sign they’d rid themselves of the outward signs of status and the social hierarchy of Rome behind.)
They were plunged under the water three times… in the name of F,S,HS.
Dying to their old selves / amercing as new creatures.
When they exited they were anointed with oil of thanksgiving.
Put on new robes bleached stark white.
And for the first time in their life they got to go to church.
They would sign their name in the roll book of the church.
For the first time they would receive communion, and the new members would receive milk & honey along with the bread and wine…
Because they have entered into a new land… the promised land.
They exchanged the kiss of peace—the official greeting of a new family.
They prayed, sang songs, & worshipped God together.

PT: That’s the process: 4 phases; 3 scrutinies; Process lasted years (3-5) Learning practices that would form their character so gospel could root & grow & only then:
Could they be baptized & receive communion… Now … after all of that, can you imagine someone leaving the church because they don’t like the music?
Can you imagine walking away … for something trivial?
Can you see how new believers like Perpetua (1st week?) 
…a young Christian… arrested for being part of the church, when she was asked by her father to recant her Christian faith… she said:
“See this waterpot? Could it be called by any other name than by what it is?”
Her father said, “No.”
“Well, so too I cannot be called anything other than what I am … Christian.”
After all the work she had done on her own life, all the scrutiny and examination, the personal transformation, the help of her sponsor…
She was a Christian through and through… down to her bones.
She refused to renounce her faith.
Saturnus, the man who had been her sponsor & helped her thru catechism…
He turned himself in so that he could die w/his students in the arena.
It makes more sense now doesn’t it?

Paul told the church that he thought: “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” 2 Cor 5:17

Wherever one of those Christians went walking around the ancient world, new creation was exploding into the world in & thru them.
They were alive with a whole different kind of life… eternal life.
It made their lives distinct to those around them.
The Holy Spirit worked in & thru them to begin to build & grow the church.
Slowly… patiently… over centuries… all the way down to you & me this am.
Now … let’s hear the text for today again & maybe we’ll hear it in a new way:

39 Jesus told them this parable: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? 40 The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.
Everybody in the early church had a teacher.
12 disciples submitted themselves to Jesus for 3 years.
The Apostle Paul spent three years in Arabia & then went back to Damascus, likely to submit to Ananias in Damascus & to be taught.
Every disciple needs a teacher to submit to & be trained.
Otherwise it’s just the blind leading the blind.
Whoever your teacher is… you will look just like them when fully trained.
He goes on:
41 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
The early Christians offered themselves to be examined. Several times!
They said, “Help me with the plank in my own eye… this is my 1st task!”
They didn’t pull any punches—they were really honest w/each other.
Because it was too important to tiptoe around this stuff.
Every teacher had undergone a time of their own intense scrutiny.
Only then could they help get the speck out of the new believer’s eye.

43 “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn bushes, or grapes from briers. 45 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
There’s no way to fake fruit… it either grows or it doesn’t.
And fig trees don’t produce sour apples… 
There’s an integrity to nature.
You wanna know what kind of tree it is? Look at the fruit.
The gospel isn’t just about giving mental assent to truth claims about Jesus, it’s about the transformation of the whole person in relation to God, self…
And the witness of the church hung in the balance.
There were no revivals or crusades.
The fruit of their everyday lives had to be distinct & good so that friends, family, neighbors, & co-workers had to see it & wonder…
The good stored up in their hearts… flowed out into the world.
It was a reflexive response rooted in a renovation of the heart.
And their mouth spoke from a heart full of love & grace & mercy.

46 “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? 47 As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. 
The object isn’t just to fill our heads with knowledge about God.
It’s easy to know the right words to recite.
Saying “Lord, Lord” ?? … anybody can do that.
But who is really Lord in your life? Look at who you follow… that’s your lord.
Follow Jesus … & you’ll know more than you thought possible about life.
Not only that, you’ll be unshakeable and strong.

48 They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. 49 But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”
And so the early Christians weathered storms of persecutions.
They were sent to the arena to die at the hands of animals & gladiators.
They were intimidated & arrested & tortured & crucified.
The storm came… but their house was built on the rock.
They were faithful to the very end.
We are here because of their faithfulness.
And we are asked to render our lives no less dramatically than they…

Listen: I’m offering myself to you, Redemption Church. If this is the life you want, I’m here for you… to help and and assist you as you seek to follow after God.

Let’s Pray:

Consider your own soul… your own life.
Do you see yourself in this story?
Is your pursuit of God & the church this kind of a pursuit?
Or are you just playing around w/religion… 

What are the practices you are committed to?
What’s your relationship to violence, the poor?
Are you still chasing after status?
Are you steeped in the virtues of our faith… patience, humility, honesty, kindness, compassion.
Are these the reflexive reactions to the world around you?