Thoughts on Kingdom, Church, and Grace from an American living in Hong Kong

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The New Sacraments: Mystery

A couple weeks ago I was driving near the neighborhood I grew up in and passed an old church we used to attend in the late 1970s. It was called Macomb Christian Community Center back then but the name on the church now was Discovery Church

That got me thinking again on one of the "New Sacraments" I have been writing on recently. Previous sacraments of the church including baptism, marriage and Holy Communion have largely been replaced (at least in priority and importance) with Authenticity, Relevancy, and today's topic, Mystery aka "uncertainty".

Uncertainty and Mystery are BIG in the church today. Like the aforementioned Discovery Church, churches with names like Journey, and The Next Level are increasingly doting the American landscape and for a post-modern generation the message is clear, "I don't know, and you don't know...but maybe we can find out together."

Now, don't get me wrong! Like Authenticity, and Relevancy, I love a little Mystery in my Christianity. I readily admit I don't know everything and fully embrace Paul's admonition to the Corinthians that one day all will be clear but now we see as through a dirty window.

It's just that I'm not sure wearing uncertainty on my sleeve like some badge of honor has any long term appeal. When I attend a college course, I can appreciate the humility of an instructor who admits to not knowing everything about a subject, but at the end of the day, I'm more interested in what he knows than what he doesn't.

Only Socrates knew, after a lifetime of unceasing labor, that he was ignorant. Now every high-school student knows that. How did it become so easy? ---Alan Bloom

For the church, this over-emphasis has, in my opinion, long term consequences. Take for example when Pricilla nd Aquilla approached Apollos and asked him about the baptism of the Holy Spirit and he replied he hadn't even heard of that. They didn't respond that it was OK as each has his own God experience. No, they took him to the side and the Bible says, "expounded to him the way of God more perfectly"

There is a Mystery to be sure but Jesus says in Mark 14:11 "Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the Kingdom of God" Again, what we know is more important that what we don't know. Returning to the names of churches, Christians in the New Testament were referred to as members of "the Way". Can you imagine a church or group of Christians calling themselves that today?

Again, I'm not suggesting Mystery in itself is wrong but rather the over reach of the topic, particularly in many younger and / or post-modern church streams, does not bode well for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Much of the pendulum swing is a reaction to the very real (but sometimes imagined) offenses committed by previous generations. Alan Bloom in his book The Closing of the American Mind says it well when he writes:

The study of history and of culture teaches that all the world was mad in the past; men always thought they were right, and that led to wars, persecutions, slavery, xenophobia, racism, and chauvinism. The point is not to correct the mistakes and really be right; rather it is not to think you are right at all.

In like manner, many of today's Christians with a strong penchant for uncertainty grew up in very dogmatic evangelical Christian homes. Anyone who has been part of this culture for any length of time has been exposed to some forms of self-righteousness, arrogance, and hypocrisy by church leaders who KNEW they were right. Whenever these very human traits are exhibited without the Godly traits of humility, peace, and love our own perception of Christianity becomes distorted. Like Bloom suggests, our goal becomes then not to correct those mistakes and really be right, but to find comfort in not being right at all.

In the days when Christ walked the earth he was always "right". In him there was "no shadow or turning". No uncertainty. He was the straight path in a crooked world, the sure rock in a storm, and the anchor in the waves. I may be uncertain often but thats when I look to the Words of Christ to reset my compass to True North.

The world is looking for answers and we don't do anyone any favors by pretending we don't have one...when we do!


Sherry said...


I think this is very well written. I understand your premise. I also see a big difference between mystery and uncertainty. I can’t see those two words as interchangeable at all. I see mystery as dynamic and uncertainty as somewhat bland.

I found this theological definition of mystery;
any religious truth made known only by divine revelation and accepted through faith.

Being uncertain is a mental state and is subject to change. As in;
I was certain I saw the driver in the blue car run the red light yesterday. Today I am not so sure (un-certain) it might have been a green car.

Mystery is beyond that. I can meditate on Mystery as Roman Catholics do while saying the Rosary

I can even be uncertain while meditating but I still trust in the God of those Mysteries

Steve H. said...

I totally agree Sherry...often in today's discussions they sometime get used interchangeably but I certainly accept your distinctions.

I do love the "mystery" and and have visited Catholic churches on occasion because of that element which is so often missing from my evangelical experience.

Thanks for the contribution!!

Paul said...

Great post Steve!

It seems much of the world (and the church) today lives by the following syllogism:
A: truth is divisive
B: division is bad
ergo, truth is bad

Mystery - what a great subject. I love mystery but I marvel at those who seem more interested in being mysterious than in seeking truth.

Ultimately mystery ought to awaken an appetite for finding out. Perhaps the Colossians were the Discovery Church of their day for Paul wrote to them to make plain that the mystery of God is Jesus Christ. In other words, He's the Answer to your question; He is the Secret revealed.

Now that of course is merely the beginning of a Great Big Mysterious Story. Who is Jesus and what is He like? That's where discovery and meditation and long walks through high and low places come in. The more I know Him the bigger and more mysterious He gets and this makes me want to find out more about Him. So far I have discovered that He is more beautiful, more awesome, more mind-blowing than anything in creation. To quote Dr. Lockeridge, “He’s unparalleled. He’s unprecedented. He’s supreme. He’s pre-eminent. He’s the superlative of everything good that you choose to call Him.”

The Bible also contains many other lesser mysteries, but these only have value to the degree they illuminate The Mystery which is Christ.

I marvel at some preaching I see on TV which gets caught up on this and that prophetic mystery, as in, What does it mean? How does it help me? Should I chop up my credit card and stock up on water? I find myself yelling at the screen, "you could be preaching about Jesus!"

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