Here I Stand...
When Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray… “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:11-13, 19-20 (NIV)
Yesterday was the 500th Anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg church. He wrote his theses as a challenge to the established church’s practices of selling indulgences and the rampant corruption that existed there. He was of course called on the carpet for these and later writings. Asked to recant, he famously refused with the statement “Here I stand, I can do no other!” For this he was excommunicated, but his actions (along with many simultaneous protests) are credited with beginning The Reformation – or more specifically the formation of the Protestant movement (of which we Baptists are a part!).
Luther’s challenge was really focused on two things: the corruption of the church and the resulting barrier created for the people to be fully present with their God. The selling of indulgences not only took advantage of the vulnerable—those who were concerned for the eternal welfare of their loved ones – it was also built on theology guided by the pronouncements of man and not of Scripture. The theology was corrupted by the culture of that day. I am sure he wished this corruption and marginalization was a new thing and that the resulting Reformation would solve the problem once and for all.
But, it wasn’t, and it didn’t.
Paul called Peter on the carpet around the very same issues. The Gentile Christians were being marginalized and forced to live a different type of faith as Peter gradually caved to the influence and thoughts of his peers. But remember, not even Paul was the first to confront these issues – he was just following the lead of Jesus; who confronted similar actions by the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Of course, Jesus’ actions went even further and paved the way for our free access to God through His Grace for all time.
In a church and denomination that is known for “Soul Freedom” and “Local Church Autonomy”; one wonders when one might be called upon to take a stand?
Well, perhaps these two standards serve as a guide.
Does the way in which we live out our theology—how we understand God is calling us to live- marginalize or oppress others?
Is our theology being compromised by the society and culture in which we live?
Oh, and by the way, before you start pointing your fingers at those who are in a different theological camp than yours, I would remind you of Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:3-5. Sometimes I feel like we are so busy trying to fix the theology of others, we fail to see the challenges of our own.
Forgive me Father, for the actions I ascribe to you that grow out of my own self-interest. Show me how I am preventing others from knowing your love by my attitudes and my proclamations and teach me your ways that all may know you. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Steve Van Ostran