Friday, January 27, 2012

Ring, Ring...Make The Way Plain

One of my standard messages when speaking in churches is on John the Baptist.  Luke 3:3-6 reiterates the words of Isaiah who states that the role of the forerunner of the Messiah was to “make the way plain, to smooth out the roads, make the crooked path straight.”  It’s a cross-cultural communications outreach message entitled, “Make the Way Plain, Make it Easy.”

The role of every Christian witness is the same as JB.  We are to declare the faith in a manner that people who are not believers can easily understand.  We often don’t communicate the Gospel well because we use Bible-speak vocabulary with words like, “faith,” “salvation,” “born-again” and really get carried away sometimes with our lofty theological  verbiage by interjecting words such as “propitiation,” “sanctification” and “substitutional atonement.”  The words are okay if you have a Bible degree from the University of Martine Prison in Rome, or one who learned the word “saved,” before you could say Mama, but for the average non-churched secularist, Buddhist or Hindu, these words as are as foreign as Mork’s “Nano-nano.”

I remind my listeners that one way of making the way plain, easy for non-believers to accept Christ is NOT BE AN OBSTACLE.   I believe that for 2,000 years the institutional church has consistently set out to see how hard they can make it for seekers to be Christians.  The Judaizers wanted every male in the first century to be circumcised to enter the Kingdom.  Then came those who insisted that a requirement for salvation should be being baptized three times forward or walking five kilometers on your knees to pray to a dead saint.  The church is often not a bridge to Jesus, but more like a boulder on the highway to heaven.

You can imagine my surprise then, when just before I was to deliver my message recently that the pastor had a humble request.  “Please, sir, could you remove your wedding ring before you speak?”

What?  I haven’t had my wedding band off in forty-three years?  Why do you want me to violate my sacred vows to my wife and before God by removing my ring before speaking (I realize that is a bit dramatic, but you get the point)?

The pastor went on to explain that recently there was a lady who wanted to be baptized and join the church.  However, she wears a ring on one finger.  The congregation was in much distress and divided over whether she should be required to remove the offensive object from her hand before becoming a member of the body.  Their interpretation of “women should not be adorned with gold…”  (1 Tim. 2:9) requires that they wear no ornaments of fashion such as earrings, necklaces, bracelets or rings.  Since the pastor was in the midst of such a deep theological debate he felt he needed to be consistent in asking me to remove my insignia of devotion.

Of course I reluctantly complied.  Like the Apostle Paul was willing not to eat meat that was offensive to the church in Corinth, I, too, put away my preferences for the sake of the weaker brothers and sisters (1 Cor. 8:9-13).

So, how does one preach “Make the Way Plain,” to a church that would rather refuse membership to person who wears jewelry than allowing them entrance into a body of fellowship?  Very carefully.  I can admonish people to not be an obstacle without pointing my finger of judgment, with or without my ring being on it.   One learns grace at times like these remembering that just a few years back as a young pastor I taught some pretty silly stuff as well.

I have since learned that the congregation thought my message was wonderful and they would like to have me back for a conference.  Stay tuned for “Make The Way Plain, Part II.”