Mike, what is your fascination with the Apostle Paul?
First, I share his collision with, and not simply conversion to, Christ. Second, it is a calling and not necessarily a choice. And third, the unadulterated definition of “Christianity,” and therefore “church,” are found in the mind of Paul – particularly in the Pauline letters.
Like Paul, I was not looking for Christ and, quite frankly could have been identified as an enemy of His, when He found me. Though not as dramatic as Paul’s Damascus Road accounts, Jesus Christ stood in my bedroom (about fourteen years ago), pointed at me, and told me to believe. Like Paul, I do not recollect a conscious effort to, in fact, believe (the Calvinist in me says, “see!” While the Wesleyan in me says, “It was through God’s prevenient grace that you were ‘wooed’ toward a conscious decision, somewhere.”). What I do know is that, like Paul, I simply believed and a complete reversal of life (thought-out and lived out) took place almost immediately. As Paul dropped from the scene for a period of time before his ministry began, so I spent several years in a small United Methodist Church (Carbonton – where I was baptized), formulating and processing the calling in which I found myself with Christ.
Like Paul, the calling of the collision takes the ethos of the previous religion (or lack thereof) and turns it upside-down in the cause of Christ. It is by calling, like Paul, and not by choice, that I have been sent to the “Gentiles.” Where Paul, literally, went to the “non-Jews,” I have gone to the “Un-churched” (those “without” – not with and outside of the plan and purpose of God). Neither Paul’s calling nor mine are exclusively to such group; for as Paul kept strong ties to the Jewish church in Palestine, so I covet my relationship with the “churched” generally, and the United Methodist’s particularly. Nevertheless, the calling is clear and the purpose is to carry the Good News to those who are in darkness, forgotten and “left loosed” by the church. The vision was never (and is never) to separate the Gentiles (Un-churched) into their own group, but to the contrary, it is to include and find acceptance for them in the present church; thereby tearing down the wall of separation between the two – Jew and Gentile (churched and un-churched).
And, as Paul taught those many years ago, I teach that the “mystery” of Christianity is found in the ‘Cruciform’ (“in Christ,” for Paul). That the Christian life is neither found in Law nor lawlessness (but in the grace of being “without law”); that “works of the flesh” are necessarily irrational (because the flesh, hopelessly bound to sin, has died); that if we have died with Christ, then we are raised with Christ in this life (and the life to come); that the resurrection life is a present reality (and not just a future hope); that Christ lives in us (not that we live “for Christ”); that the church is where the needs of the community meet God’s supply of the needs; where the church is ever expanding with humanity (rather than separating itself from it); where everyone, regardless of who they are, is accepted; where anyone, regardless of what they have done or haven’t done, is included; when Christ is the object of the church (and not simply the subject); and when “Christians” are owned by Christ (and not simply “on loan” to Him).
Thus, like Paul (though I, in no way, am attempting to compare myself to the great apostle; but, am simply following his example), I desire to reach the Un-churched and to “un-church” the church (in the present sense of the word, “church”). I am driven, like Paul, by the collision with Christ, the calling of Christ, and the definition of a “Christian” (and, therefore, the “church”) in Christ.