Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Learning Obedience through Suffering

Church controversies have had their roots in political differences as well as personality conflicts and different approaches to biblical interpretation.In the mid-nineteenth century, several church groups in the United States splintered along north-south lines in part because of attitudes towards slavery and Christian engagement in politics. Personality driven conflicts often disguise themselves as doctrinal debates. In our own time, megachurches often have dynamic personalities that drive their church's success. After his (or less frequently, her) death or public embarrassment, those churches frequently decline, sometimes even when a plan for going forward has been put in place. Among the Churches of Christ, there is a need to ascertain or reclaim the theological undergirding of our movement (and get back to being a movement, as opposed to acquiescing to self-identifying as a denomination). Part of that journey perhaps is an appreciation for the role of suffering in growing toward the apprehension of truth. Jesus, it says in Hebrews 5:8, learned obedience through what he suffered. From experience comes maturity and humility, so older Christians often are less arrogant and assertive than in their youth. There are, as one may observe in social media, glaring exceptions to this rule. Suffering for truth has played a role in the development of churches of Christ.A preacher in Kansas was tarred and feathered for his abolitionist statements. Another in Arkansas was murdered when his evangelism hit too close to home. Members were pushed out of buildings that they had worked hard to build or to purchase when they did not accept changes to worship practice. Preachers sometimes had to borrow money or barter the produce with which they had been paid to return home from preaching revivals. Sometimes the memory of that suffering has hardened the grip of later generations on ecclesiastical traditions and interpretations of biblical doctrine. Scars endure. As the apostle Peter noted,
"But rejoice inso far you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, ou are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you" (1 Peter 4:13-14 ESV).
We should rejoice when we suffer for Christ, but not when we suffer because we tried to win an argument for personal gain or tried to advance an ideological agenda for an entrenched tradition or for change. Our focus should be on Jesus Christ and his intent for his people (See Hebrews 12). That passage in Hebrews 12 reminds that discipline and suffering are often means that God the loving Father uses to advance the maturing of his people.Let us learn to watch our Savior and to listen to our brother or sister as we seek comfort in the Lord.

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