The result? They discovered that deeper work was just too hard. It was simply too difficult to fight through to the redemptive ending, so each deeper partnership ended prematurely. The friendship was severed. And in time, both men's place in the circle was lost.
How is this possible? How is it possible that when a person, striving to be righteous, risks the deeper reconciling work of the gospel, their faith ends up being undermined and profound fellowship is lost?
How is it possible? It is possible because the actual gospel of Jesus is just too hard.
What is the greatest trick the devil ever pulled? It is not in an elaborate game of demonic hide and seek. The greatest trick is accomplished anytime he uses the gospel of Jesus to split God's people apart. It happens anytime he snickers that the gospel is wielded as a tool of spiritual destruction. When he celebrates that people of Jesus-faith would even attempt to actually practice the gospel in anything but a self-serving, periodic, casual, and consumptive way.
Maybe this is why Uncle Screwtape hardly flinches when his nephew's "patient" converts to Christianity (Chapter II). Screwtape also knows that the gospel is just too hard.
And that may be exactly the way it is supposed to be. The work of the kingdom of God is fragile, as fragile as a snow crystal. It is as fragile as it is powerful, necessary, and eternal.
It is fragile because no human can do it, no matter how sincere. It requires the actual work and presence of Christ to survive. It is finitely fragile because it relies upon God's eternal power to hold course. Isn't that exactly the way it is supposed to be?
"He (Christ) is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church … " Colossians 1:17-18a
Maybe we shouldn't be asking ourselves, "How is it possible that faith communities fall apart?" Maybe would should be asking, "What hope is there that these communities could ever hold together?" The hope is as simple as it is elusive. Our hope is in the abiding presence of Jesus.
Jesus plus nothing.
It was Uncle Screwtape who wisely instructed his nephew in Chapter XXV, "What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in a state of mind I call 'Christianity And.'" You know—Christianity and _____. Fill in the blank. Christianity and my particular slice of theological emphasis? Christianity and our influential pastor? Christianity and a particular political stance? Christianity and a financial philosophy? Christianity and a health/dietary program? Christianity and …
The gospel of the kingdom is so fragile that even two of our strongest examples of Christian faith had a hard time holding it together. Peter ran away from his "circle" after personally witnessing the Lord (John 21:1-3). Paul seemed unable to maintain fellowship with Barnabas and John Mark (Acts 15:36-39). And Paul and Peter even struggled to remain reconciled to one another (Gal. 2:11-14), as it seemed Peter believed in Christianity AND "the works of the Law" (Gal. 2:16).
The challenge of risking around the gospel of Jesus (like the steps of reconciling integration in my diverse circle of men) is as old as Christianity. In the end, maybe we should be less suspicious of communities that exist in perpetual fragility and shift our suspicion to those that appear indisputably secure.
Lord Jesus, forgive us. Guide us. Help us.
Tony "The Beat Poet" Kriz is author in residence at Warner Pacific in Portland, Oregon. His most recent book is Neighbors and Wise Men: Sacred Encounters in a Portland Pub and Other Unexpected Places (Thomas Nelson, 2012). You can find Tony at tonykriz.com or on Twitter.
Copyright © 2013 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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