Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Acts 29: A Never Ending Gospel (Bruce Epperly)

In last week's posting Bruce Epperly brought to an end our journey through Luke's Acts of the Apostles, a journey that reminds us that the Christian faith is an adventure.  It's not something to be taken lightly.  But, the Book of Acts ends with Paul in prison, but with the hope of release, perhaps to continue his planned journey to Spain.  In this final posting of this series, Bruce points us forward through history to our own day, where we continue writing the 29th chapter of Acts.  This may be the final contribution for a while, but it has been a blessing to have Bruce be a regular contributor to Ponderings on a Faith Journey.

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Acts 29: A Never Ending Gospel

Bruce G. Epperly

The final words of Acts of the Apostles describe the Apostle Paul teaching and preaching from prison "without hindrance." The message of Acts from start to finish is that God's good news is unfinished and unhindered; it breaks down the barriers of alienation, race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. The good news of God’s presence in the world breaks down the separation of mind, body, and spirit; of contemplation and action; of mysticism and mission; and of reason and ecstasy.

Today, we are writing our own Acts of the Apostles in the ongoing journey of Christian faith and mission. In partnership with God, we are the creators of an unfinished gospel that lives on in our lives and witness. For the author of Acts and for us, divine inspiration does not end with the closing of the canon. God is still speaking, still revealing, still inspiring, and still healing, and we are part of the never ending story of God's movements in our lives and in the world. Like those first Christians, we are making it up as we go along, creating our faith traditions in concert with divine inspiration and our personal, cultural, and planetary context. Like them, we – that is, progressive, moderate, and open-spirited evangelical Christians - are at the margins; our voices are seldom heard on network television or cable news, muted by our own reluctance as well as the strident voices of those who claim to represent Jesus today. But, our story goes on: in fact, the margins may in fact be the frontiers that call us to adventure.

Today, we are creating Christian faith as we go along - a new vision of faith, open to diversity, embracing pluralism, discovering the promise of post-modernism in small stories and life-changing experiences that evolve into a life-transforming faith. Our faith stories honor and nurture experience, but also balance experience with agile and innovative theological reflection in dialogue with the novelties of our time. Acts 29, the unwritten chapter of Acts, is our chapter. Just as God calls every generation to be faithful in its time, God calls us to be faithful "for just such a time as this." This is our time of possibility, adventure, risk, and vocation. This is our time to create, in the dynamic divine-human call and response, a lively spirited-centered, pluralistic, evolving and emerging faith. Our faith is not based on labels that confine, but stature that includes and our emerging and evolving faith embraces Pentecostal ecstasy, evangelical intimacy, moderate rationality, and progressive open-endedness. We are spirit-centered in our openness to following the Spirit's guidance and then creating along with the Spirit new circles of healing and transformation.

This morning, I heard Rev. Harry Knox of the, Director of the Religion and Faith Program of the Human Rights Commission speak of a "fourth great awakening" as the emergence of the gifts of LGBT people for the church. I agree with Rev. Knox’s affirmation, for this awakening of the gifts of LGBT people is emerging alongside a new integration of mysticism and mission, spiritual healing and medical accessibility, tradition and experimentation, theological reflection and emotional ecstasy; all elements of an ever-widening circle of love. These movements reflect a holistic vision of embodied, emerging, evolving, and liberating faith.

Yes, the story of Acts 29 is still being written. It is your story and mine - it is the story of all those who awaken to God's unhindered Spirit and claim our role as partners in the never ending divine-human journey that lies ahead.



Bruce Epperly is Professor of Practical Theology and Director of Continuing Education at Lancaster Theological Seminary. He is the author of 17 books, including Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living and Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God in Ministry.

 

9 comments:

Gary said...

In reading the Book of Acts, what is not found is pluralism and diversity in doctrine, nor the nonsense about God giving gifts to sexual perverts. Epperly is, at best, a heretic.

David said...

Why do we keep talking about "post-modernism" when so many of us haven't grasped "enlightenment" yet?

Thanks for an example Gary.

John said...

Gary,

You said: "...what is not found is pluralism and diversity in doctrine...." Do you really fail to see the doctrinal pluralism which is clearly presented in Acts?

How can you not see the pluralism inherent in conflict between the conservativism of the Jerusalem Church and the Judaisers as compared with the openness of Paul evidenced from the beginning to the end of Acts and never resolved; the very limited number of doctrinal statements from the Jerusalem Council; the admission of women into the ranks of deacons and apostles and into leadership of congregations; the apparent baptism of whole households, presumably including infants; those who would eat meat dedicated to idols and those who would not; the baptism of those who are sexually different (eunuchs); those churches led by apostles and those led by elders only; no explicitly stated unified doctrine as to whether the Eucharistic feast involved the ingestion of the Real Presence or merely an act symbolic remembrance; no Scriptures other than the Hebrew Scriptures; no indication that the teachings of Paul were or would become tantamount to Scripture; no reference whatsoever to the ethical teachings of Jesus; and no clearly defined body (other than the limited example of the Jerusalem Council) to determine what was orthodox and what was heretical?

These unresolved yet clearly tolerated differences of doctrinal opinion in areas which at one time or another will cause enormous rifts in the church all appear to me to be indicia of doctrinal pluralism. As far as I can tell, Acts demonstrates that there was no consensus on a variety of issues which the church would later deem to be of critical importance.

As far as I can tell many of the doctrinal positions which I think you hold to were not deemed of central importance during the time of Acts and thus diversity of opinion was tolerated. It was not until later that the division of opinion were deemed of such critical importance that Church councils were called to find a consensus position with the guiding help of the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit continues to be present through the ages to assist the Church and each of its members in discerning the truth of God's will in the world. Diversity seems to me to be a continuing theme in religion and in how people approach God.

Perhaps I have missed something; what is the evidence of doctrinal unity which you discern from Acts?

John

Brian said...

John's right. Acts of the Apostles is rich with diversity in doctrine and lifestyle. (I'm open and intentional about having a bias, as does everyone else.) I see people from differing cultures and religions finding common ground in the risen Christ. In Acts, they hammer out a deal which is practical and workable. I don't get the impression that they see this deal as being unchangable as reason and compassion dictates.

I always take comfort in a line from the meeting discussed by Paul in Galations.

Galatians 2:10 They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do.

In other words, the fundamentals involved care for the poor, not agreement on abstractions.

God bless those losing unemployment benefits.

God forgive us for choosing to let this happen.

David said...

Extensions?? First thing first. Don't the wealthy deserve their extension first, BEFORE we go broke?

On Wednesday, all 42 Republican senators signed a letter declaring that they would block Congress from any action at all until tax cuts for the wealthy have been safely extended.

The year I was born 1956, the tax rate on $300,000 was 91%

In 1944 > $200,000 it was 94%

Oh, war years. Hey, wait a minute.

I think we should at least go back to 1980 where the top bracket was 70% for over $212,000 (adjust for inflation of course, so if over $545,000 in today's $).

Are we more secure as a nation that the rich bay less than 1/2 their parents did? Do they feel blessed? Did I choose wrong not to understand?

Can anyone explain this?

http://www.ntu.org/tax-basics/history-of-federal-individual-1.html

Brian said...

Amen David. Amen.

David said...

I predict democracy in America will be dead in 5 years. It won't work anyway when the majority has no hope of a better life. Perhaps we've reached the point where all the pandering for votes and power is just too dangerous.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/01/house-gop-global-warming-committee_n_790739.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/01/obama-bush-torture-probe_n_790804.html

Brian said...

Nah.
The sky ain't falling.
It just smells really bad.

David said...

it's putrid at least.

Boner was right, it's "chicken crap".