Archive for April 2011 – Page 2

Dawn Out Of Darkness – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #29

Dear Friends,

I have been laid very low in the last month, both spiritually and physically. It feels like the challenges really began with my trip to Philadelphia in mid-February. While my visit there was blessed and productive in many ways, I also faced a lot of spiritual barriers and struggles during my time in the city. By the time I got Micah Balesback home to Washington, I was quite exhausted. In this state of general fatigue, I came down with a severe cold that essentially incapacitated me for more than a week. Worst of all, this particular bug had the nasty side effect of leaving me without the ability to speak for several days.

Losing my voice was terrible. I had never been unable to speak like that, and, consequently, I never realized how completely I rely on my voice. Most of what I do on a daily basis is interpersonal in nature, and being unable to communicate verbally knocked me totally out of commission. While I was able to communicate again within a few days, the cold and associated congestion continued at a low level, tapering off gradually over the course of many weeks. Even now, more than a month later, I’m still not quite at 100%. To add insult to injury, I was unable to sing for almost a month. This was very disheartening for me, since song is one of the most important ways that I express myself and feel a connection to God.

Shortly after I had emerged from the most intense part of this lingering illness, Faith and I had the opportunity to attend a retreat for people experiencing a call to gospel ministry and eldership. This retreat was held in Barnesville, Ohio and was led by Brian Drayton, Jan Hoffman and Susan Smith. The gathering was a blessed occasion to share fellowship with other Friends who share similar concerns, and we enjoyed deep Sculpture - National Cathedralworship during our time together. For me personally, it was a reprieve from an otherwise very spiritually dark time. God came very near during our weekend together, and this was a great comfort to me.

During the gathering at Barnesville, I felt the Lord revealing to me my own lack of trust in him. I saw more clearly the ways in which I try to control life and produce the outcomes I desire. Being shown this, I felt the hidden power of Christ rise up within me and liberate me from this bondage. For no discernable outward reason, my spiritual chains were loosened and I was released to follow Jesus in a more profound way. I experienced the freedom of deeper submission of my own will to the mind of Christ, and I was invited to live in this freedom always.

I have no doubt that I am only at the very beginning of my journey of inward transformation by the Holy Spirit, but I give thanks for the marvelous light of liberation that Christ shines in my heart. I know from repeated personal experience that the deepest spiritual darkness comes as a prelude to the rising of the Day Star – Christ Jesus – in my heart. It is by being baptized into death – staring despair and evil in the face – that I am prepared to receive Christ and be Sculptures - National Cathedraltransformed inwardly by him. I thank God for these opportunities to be baptized spiritually into Christ’s death so that I might share in his resurrection.

The spiritual unrest that I have experienced this month seems to have been, in retrospect, the darkness that comes before the dawn – not only for me, but also for Capitol Hill Friends. Something new is happening among Friends here in Washington, and March has been a pivotal month for our community. One sign of this transition has been our shift in meeting time. For the last year an a half, Capitol Hill Friends has met twice a month, on Wednesday evenings. This month, however, we made the decision to begin holding our gatherings every Sunday evening, except the first Sunday of the month. This new schedule means we will meet more often, three or four times a month instead of twice. It also means that some folks who were not able to participate on Wednesdays can now join us.

The shift in our gatherings, however, does not fully capture the deep change that I sense happening in our group. Within our leadership team – those of us who have committed ourselves to the CHF community and have taken on the responsibility for care and decision-making – we have experienced a big shake-up this calendar year, and especially in the last month. Perhaps the simplest way to express this change within the core group National Cathedralis to say that it is becoming clearer that we are being called to a more radical form of discipleship as a covenant community. Those of us who have committed ourselves to Capitol Hill Friends are feeling a call to go deeper.

This “going deeper” takes two forms. First, we sense that we need to do more in reaching out to our city, especially in the Capitol Hill neighborhood where we gather. We feel a call to rachet up the intensity of our evangelistic efforts. There is a sense that word-of-mouth outreach within the DC Quaker community has gone as far as it can. At this stage in our life as a community, we feel an urgency about sharing the good news beyond “the hedge,” beyond the DC Quaker bubble. We are looking at a variety of ways to do this, including internet advertising, putting a sign out on the sidewalk during our gatherings, and more direct relationship-building with the residents and commuters who walk by the William Penn House on a daily basis.

At the same time that we increase our outreach to our neighbors in Washington, we also feel a concern to nurture the development of covenant community within our core group. We desire to prioritize Micah Balesour life together in community, seeking ways to care for each other, learn and grow together, and to become more accountable to one another.

We also seek to make space for others who are feeling called to this path of common discipleship. We hope that in the coming years we might be joined by others who feel God calling them into a life of greater commitment to Christ in the context of community. With a bonded, loving and accountable community of disciples at its core, it is our prayer that Capitol Hill Friends will be a blessing to the city of Washington, embodying the love and peace of Jesus in our daily interactions and lifestyles.

Please continue to pray for us as we seek God’s guidance for our community. Please pray also that the Spirit will raise up women and men who are called to join us in this labor. We sense that we cannot do this work as isolated individuals, and we yearn to have others of like mind and heart join us in the harvest field that we are discovering in the District of Colombia.

In the Light that overcomes the ocean of darkness,

Micah Bales

The Universal Light of Christ

I recently came across this video by David Platt, pastor of Brook Hills Church in Birmingham, Alabama. In it, Platt explains why he believes that the 597 million people in northern India who are not Evangelical Christians face eternal torment in hell. Referencing the recent debate around Rob Bell’s new book, he speaks about what he sees as the dangers of universalism.

This video saddens me, because I realize that millions of Christians in the United States share Platt’s worldview – one in which God created a world where millions of people would die without ever having the chance to be in relationship with God – and who would be punished for their misfortune by eternal misery in hell. Because this worldview is so prevalent among Christians in my country, I felt moved to create a video response. In it, I attempt to explain my faith that the saving presence of Jesus Christ is available to all people, even those who have not had the opportunity – for whatever reason – to accept the doctrines of orthodox Christianity.

(PS: I know some folks will not want to spend their precious internet time watching me blab. For those who are more textually inclined, I’ve transcribed the video, below.)

Transcript:

I just got done watching a video made by a pastor in Alabama named David Platt. And in the video, he’s standing in India, and he’s responding, essentially, to Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins, and the charges of universalism that have been leveled at Rob Bell – which, based on reviews of the book that are coming out now, and based on what I have read of it so far – I just got it – it doesn’t seem to be the case. It doesn’t seem that he’s a universalist in the true sense.

But, regardless, I watched this video and there were several different points he made that I feel strong issues with. I guess my initial reaction to the video is a sense of sadness and even shame, because I recognize that David Platt is my brother in Christ. He and I both serve our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And so, I have to take responsibility for him and for what he is preaching, in a certain sense, because we are both trying to serve Jesus Christ as we understand him, and I take responsibility for him as my brother in Christ. So, I feel sad, not only for what he is preaching, but for how it reflects on the Body of Christ, which I believe is God’s presence in the world.

To begin with, he starts out his video essentially saying, “if you’re not an Evangelical Christian, you don’t have Christ.” That needs to be wrestled with a little bit. What does it mean to “have Christ”? As a Friend – as a Quaker – I believe that all people have access to Christ. Maybe David would agree with that, that all people have access to Jesus Christ through his Holy Spirit. I believe that Jesus Christ has saving power in the lives of all people who accept that saving power, even if they do not know the gospel story.

David in his video puts great emphasis on the gospel story, on getting these stories – the biblical stories and the biblical commandments – to the people of northern India. And I think the stories are really important. Those stories are so foundational for me, and so much of what I know about Jesus I understand through my experience of him speaking to me through the Scripture, and in community around the Scripture. So, the Scripture is amazingly important to me.

But the concept that people don’t have Christ unless they have had the Scriptures delivered to them is just incredible to me, because all things hold together in Christ. Christ is in all and through all and creates all. All things were created through Jesus Christ, the Word of God. And so, the concept that people who haven’t – for historical, or cultural, or whatever reasons – received the gospel story, that they would all be condemned to eternal separation from God is just dumfounding to me. Because, Jesus Christ is there with them, whether or not they have heard that story. And I believe that it is possible to accept his lordship in their lives without actually realizing on an intellectual level what, exactly, that means historically, in terms of Jesus’ historical incarnation and coming into the world.

Another thing in David’s video that really disturbed me was his amazing presumption. He seemed to think that we as orthodox Christians can know who’s going to heaven and who’s going to hell. I think that’s blasphemous. It is not our place as Christians to determine who’s going to heaven and who’s going to hell. We are not the judge of that. For us to put ourselves in the seat of judgment is to set ourselves in the place of God. I hope that David will reconsider his apparent attitude of sitting in that seat of judgment, feeling like he knows – and we know as Christians – who is going where. I hope we as a Church can repent of that, because I believe it’s a sin.

Another thing that he says in his video that I felt was wrong was that he says, “…If we believe everyone is going to be OK in the end, then we are free to lead our lives however we want. We can sit back as easy-going Christians in comfortable churches, because, in the end, all of these masses are going to be OK.” I don’t think there’s a necessary correlation between belief in damnation of all those who have not heard the story and an apathy that David assumes, that if someone were a universalist – or simply didn’t believe that every person that didn’t hear the gospel story during their lifetime was damned – I don’t think that there’s necessarily going to be an apathy about missions.

I don’t believe that all people who have not heard the story are damned. I believe that Christ can work in their hearts, even in the absence of the Scriptures. So that’s where I’m coming from. But my entire life is devoted to mission. I want people to hear the story, to accept Jesus, not only in a vague spiritual sense, but in a real, intellectually satisfying sense, where they know – both with their hearts and with their heads – that Jesus is Lord, and they can confess that. That’s what I desire for all people.

But I desire this in a context of believing that people can be saved in spite of their lack of intellectual understanding of who Jesus is. So I would just like to challenge David a little bit on that concept, that if we believed that people weren’t necessarily going to be damned for not intellectually accepting certain ideas about Jesus that we would just give up on mission and go sit in our easy chairs and drink a beer. I don’t think that’s how things play out.

I think that many of us are motivated far more by love for others and wanting to see the redemption in their lives now, rather than a sense of, “all these people are going to hell and I’ve got to save them from that.”
Finally, there was one other thing in the video that disturbed me. David said that his response is the only one possible for those of us who really believe in the Bible. What really caught my eye was “believe in the Bible.” And we hear Christians today talking a lot about believing in the Bible, being “Bible-believing Christians.” That’s kind of a phrase: “Bible-believing Christians.”

I trust the Scriptures. I believe the Scriptures have great authority, and they are extremely important in my walk with the Lord. But, ultimately, I believe in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior, and he is sovereign over all things – over heaven and earth and that which is under the earth, and over the Bible. Jesus Christ is Lord and Sovereign over the Scriptures themselves, and he is the one who we must go to to be able to understand the Scriptures.

I don’t think the Scriptures themselves – without the Spirit, without Jesus Christ – have any power. I believe it is only as we listen to Jesus Christ as he is present with us today, through the power of his Holy Spirit, that we can understand the Scriptures and truly follow him. And I believe that if we get up into our own intellectual understandings and don’t rely on the Spirit, we will misinterpret the Scriptures. We will interpret them as human beings, rather than as sons and daughters of God.

I believe that many of the ideas that David Platt is promoting are reflective of a human understanding of the Scriptures, a human analysis of the Scriptures that does not rely sufficiently on the sovereignty of Jesus Christ.