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We the Fallen People Includes You and Me

We the Fallen People Includes You and Me

I am a democrat [proponent of democracy] because I believe in the Fall of Humanity.

I think most people are democrats for the opposite reason. A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from the ideas of people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought humankind so wise and good that every one deserved a share in the government.

The danger of defending democracy on those grounds is that they’re not true…I find that they’re not true without looking further than myself. I don’t deserve a share in governing a hen-roost. Much less a nation….

The real reason for democracy is just the reverse. Humankind is so fallen that no one can be trusted with unchecked power over his or her fellows.

“Equality” in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses* by C.S. Lewis

 

Political Partisanship

If you’re anything like me, I’m sure you are frustrated and perplexed by the political partisanship that only seems to increase with each passing election cycle. Whether it be disagreements over abortion, inflation, student loan forgiveness, public school curriculum, or anything else, thoughtful and charitable debate is hard to find. In spite of these divisions, there is one thing almost all politicians, pundits, and activists agree on: “most Americans want what is right and good, and they agree with me.” Both sides of our political discourse will creatively redefine what “most Americans” means to make this statement true. You would be hard pressed to find a public persona who asserts “Most Americans disagree with me on this, but they are profoundly mistaken.” In our contemporary political culture, the voice of the people is considered the voice of God. 

 

Sin and American Democracy

I recently had the pleasure of reading We the Fallen People: The Founders and Future of American Democracy by Robert Tracy McKenzie, Professor of History at Wheaton College. In this deeply thought-provoking book, McKenzie explores the relationship between the Christian doctrine of sin and American democracy. He argues that the founders, who were by no means perfect, had a robust view of the brokenness of human nature that coheres with the biblical view. They designed our constitution with that view of human nature in mind and created built-in checks and balances to guard against the tyranny of the majority. However, within a generation, this view of fallen humanity fell out of favor with the function of American politics. The will of “We, the People” gained the moral high ground simply because it reflects the majority of people who consider themselves essentially good. 

Biblically, this is not true. Humans were created good but were broken and tainted by sin when Adam and Eve fell. God sees “that every intention of the thoughts of (humanity’s) heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). The prophet Jeremiah locates this corruption deep within the human heart as it “is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9). The apostle Paul, summarizing and combining much of the Old Testament, concludes that “none is righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10). Even Jesus himself declares “No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18).

 

Fallen Image-Bearers

Now this does not mean every human being is as wicked and evil as they could possibly be. Each human still bears God’s image even after The Fall (Genesis 9:6), and God’s goodness and common grace prevents humans from being absolutely evil. Also, Christians are not completely exempt from brokenness and sin from the moment of their conversion. Though sin is defeated when Christ redeems us and gives us the Holy Spirit, sinful desires and inclinations still remain within us. This is why Paul commands believers not to allow sin to reign in our mortal bodies (Romans 6:12). Moreover, the reality and depth of human sinfulness should lead even saved Christians to maintain a posture of humility toward others because we are all broken (Ephesians 2:1-9). Gospel-centered Christians can’t divide the world neatly into “good guys” and “bad guys.” Instead, we confess we are all the “bad guys”, and our only hope of being made new is the one Good Guy who died in our place.

Does our broader political engagement and faith in democracy embody this view? McKenzie says no and details major events in Andrew Jackson’s presidency that are emblematic of the opposite shift that still persist today. Notably, Native Americans were removed from the southeast portion of the United States during the “Trail of Tears” in order to distribute more farmland to white settlers. Though there was dissent to this egregious violation of justice and disregard for ratified treaties, such opposition was labeled as ‘elitist’ and wrong because it went against the “populist” will of the people. Jackson would say “the great mass of the people cannot be corrupted” in defense of these policies. This perspective prevails in the present day with our democracy functioning as though humans are individually good and collectively wise.

What should faithful Christians consider in our democratic process in light of this? 

 

Bearing Witness to God’s Kingdom

McKenzie does not argue that returning to the founders’ style of democracy, where only white, property-owning males could vote, would solve our problems. A tyranny of the minority is no better since all are affected by The Fall. He does point to the C.S. Lewis quote noted above and claims our motivation for pursuing democracy must reckon with the reality of human depravity. We should be cautious of assuming a certain perspective or policy is right merely because “the majority” believes it to be so. We should take care to protect the rights of minorities, practice restraint when our preferred “team” is in power, and advocate for principles of justice to be followed, even if they are unpopular. This is because victory for Christian values over our culture should not be the church’s goal, but rather to be faithfully present in the midst of culture to bear witness to God’s kingdom, no matter if the majority accepts or opposes our view.

Our engagement in politics ought to flow out of our virtue formation. One of the most commonly repeated quotes during election season is “America is great because she is good.” McKenzie explains how this is falsely attributed to Alexis de Toqueville, a French author who wrote about American democracy when visiting Jacksonian America. De Toqueville’s actual perspective was the opposite. He said “I cannot regard you (Americans) as a virtuous people.” He recognized a profound individualism in American culture that is antithetical to virtue, in that true virtue seeks the good of the whole at the expense of one’s self. A democracy that elevates the will of the majority, when there are not sufficient structures in that culture to instill the character of self-sacrifice for the betterment of others, will inevitably lead to tyranny and oppression.

Where Is Our Dependence?

As we enter into another contentious election season, let’s keep this in mind. American Christians have been given an immense privilege to have a voice in how our government is run. Engaging politically is potentially one of the most powerful ways to love our neighbors, while simultaneously also being an avenue that can bring immense pain and suffering to them. Let’s use that privilege virtuously to serve others. Let’s engage those we disagree with in a posture of humility. Let’s ask God for guidance and wisdom because we are dependent on him. Let’s interrogate our own political ideals as much as we question the “other side”, knowing that “We the Fallen People” includes ourselves.

Further Reading

McKenzie, Robert Tracy. We the Fallen People : the Founders and the Future of American Democracy. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2021.

Lewis, C. S. “Equality” in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses. First HarperCollins edition 2001 [revised]. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001.

*Lewis’ quote has been adjusted to reflect contemporary norms for gender-inclusive language for human beings.

A Prayer for a New Home

A Prayer for a New Home

A few months ago I received a unique and exciting pastoral request. A young couple, Luis and Marineya of our Downtown Campus, purchased a house, and they wanted a pastor to pray for God’s blessing over their new home. Marineya is from Bolivia and explained it is typical in her culture to invite one’s faith community and spiritual leaders to do this when moving into a new house. She said this can “be a way for us to dedicate our house to God in service in front of our church community since all we have is his and not ours.”

 

I was intrigued by this idea, having never heard of someone doing something like this. Also, I was deeply honored to be asked. So one Saturday evening, their community group, some other church friends, and I huddled together in their home to pray for God’s blessing over their journey there. We used a prayer liturgy adapted from Every Moment Holy, had a time for people to pray specifically for Marineya and Luis, toasted to their new home, and then continued the celebration with food and drinks. 

 

Whole Life Discipleship

 

For me, this experience so beautifully embodied the kind of whole life discipleship we talk about so often. Jesus is Lord over every area of our life and deeply cares for the spaces where we live, work, and play. We should intentionally find ways to remind ourselves of that reality. We spend much of our lives in our homes, and it is important to mark those key transitions with a focus toward God and his vision for them. I am grateful for Marineya and Luis’ initiative to invite their church community and me into this practice. 

 

Below you will find the adapted liturgy we used that evening. I encourage you to consider using this liturgy or something like it the next time you or a friend move into a new house or apartment! Gather others from your spiritual community and prayerfully and intentionally celebrate God’s blessing in the provision of a new home. Also, take some time to peruse the Every Moment Holy website and consider purchasing one of their prayer books. There are so many moments throughout our daily lives where we can intentionally remind ourselves of God’s presence in them. 

 

A Liturgy for Moving Into a New Home

– adapted from Every Moment Holy*

 

Leader: We thank you for _________’s new home, O Lord, for the shelter it will provide, for the moments of life that will be shared within it.

People: We thank you for this new home and we welcome you here.

 

Dwell with them in this place, O Lord

Dwell among them in these spaces, in these rooms.

Be present at this table as family and friends eat together.

Be present as they rise in the morning and lie down at night.

Be present in the work here. Be present in play.

 

May your Spirit inhabit this home, making of it a sanctuary where hearts and lives are knit together.

Where bonds of love are strengthened, where mercy is learned and practiced.

 

May this home be a harbor of anchorage and refuge,

And a haven from which they journey forth to do your work in the world. 

May it be a garden of nourishment in which their roots go deep

That they might bear fruit for the nourishing of others.

 

May this new home be a place of knowing and of being known.

A place of shared tears and laughter;

A place where forgiveness is easily asked and granted,

And wounds are quickly healed;

A place of meaningful conversation, of words not left unsaid;

A place of joining, of becoming, of creating, and reflecting;

A place where diverse gifts are named and appreciated;

Where they learn to serve one another

And to serve their neighbors as well;

A place where their stories are forever twined by true affections.

 

Grant also, O Lord, that their days lived gratefully within these temporary walls, enjoying these momentary fellowships, would serve to awaken within them a restless longing for their truer home. Incline all our hearts ever toward the glories

Of that better city, built by you, O God, a city whose blessings are never ending, and whose fellowships are eternally unbroken.

 

Amen.

 

*The original prayer was written for a family to pray together when moving into a new home, so I shifted the language so that it made sense for the broader faith community to pray over a family as they move into a new home.

Why We Are Not Preaching on the Woman Caught in Adultery

Why We Are Not Preaching on the Woman Caught in Adultery

This week as we continue our series through the Gospel of John, you might notice that we have skipped over the story of “The Woman Caught in Adultery” (John 7:53-8:11). You may even be disappointed as this is one of your favorite stories about Jesus. I’m with you! I love this story because it presents so vividly both Jesus’ compassion and boldness. Yet even though I like the story in this Scripture passage, we will not be preaching from it. Let me explain why by first giving some background about Scripture , and why we have confidence in the Bible as God’s Word.

 

What is the Bible?

Christ Community Church and the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA), the broader association of churches to which we belong, believes that God inspired the words  human authors wrote that have been gathered together into the Bible. According to our statement of faith, “We believe that God has spoken in the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, through the words of human authors. As the verbally inspired Word of God, the Bible is without error in the original writings….” 

We believe this because Jesus, as the truest revelation of God (John 1:14-18; Hebrews 1:1-3), endorsed the entire Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament) as God’s Word that will never become void (Matthew 5:17-18; John 10:34-35). He even identifies the voice of the human author in Scripture as God’s own voice (Matthew 19:4-6; Mark 12:36). Jesus also authorized His disciples to produce authoritative teaching in line with His message that became our New Testament (John 10:27; 14:26). His earliest followers agreed in identifying all Scripture as originating in God and containing absolute truth (1 Timothy 3:15-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21). These biblical writings demonstrate themselves to be God’s Word. They were received as such by the earliest Christians, even as early as Peter viewing Paul’s writings to be as authoritative as the Hebrew Bible (1 Peter 3:15-16). From the beginning, to be a follower of Jesus is to build your life on God’s Word as found in the Bible. This book becomes the center of our gathered worship experience as we hear it read, sung, prayed, and preached over all of us together.

How do we know what is the Bible and what is not? This is why the original writings are so important. John’s Gospel is viewed as Scripture because it was written by an apostle, showed itself to be God’s Word, and was received by the early church as authoritative. If I added my own thoughts to the end of John’s Gospel, those additions would not be seen as part of the Bible and would not be viewed as God’s Word, no matter how insightful I might think they are! In a similar way, if people, even with good intentions, added extra stories or comments to a part of Scripture after it was already written and received by the church, those sections should not be considered as Scripture. Otherwise, the Bible wouldn’t distinctly be God’s Word. 

 

How do we know what the original writings are?

We do not have John’s or any other biblical author’s original manuscript. That does not mean we have no clue about what their original writings included. We have many copies made by Christians throughout history that can be used to determine this. An entire field of scholarly study called “textual criticism” exists and people use their God-given talents to serve the broader church by comparing these manuscripts to determine which readings are more likely to be the original. To make a really complex discipline way too simple, when discrepancies between different copies are found, the reading that is found in the majority of the older copies is more likely to be the original reading. When this comparison is done, it becomes apparent which changes were done, either accidentally or intentionally. Even many of the intentional changes can be seen as misguided instead of malicious;  a copyist simply wanting to add a brief explanation to help readers or include something they mistakenly believed was originally in Scripture.

But before you start getting uneasy about whether we can still trust Scripture if there have been so many errors in copying it down throughout history, know this: after a few hundred years of serious scholarly criticism and discoveries of thousands of new manuscripts from centuries earlier and closer to the time of the early church, the changes to the Bible have been miniscule. There are only a handful of places (this passage, 1 John 5:6-7, and Mark 16:9-20) where a new discovery has substantially changed how a passage is read, and not a single Christian doctrine has been affected by these discoveries. So, we can be reasonably confident that the Bible we have is a trustworthy reflection of the original writings. Far from this scholarly inquiry and reason harming our faith, it has actually bolstered it, with the Bible displaying a much more reliable transmission history than any other ancient text.

 

What about “The Woman Caught in Adultery”?

Looking back at John 7:53-8:11, it is clear this story was not in John’s original gospel. Your Bible likely has brackets around this story with a note that says something like “The earliest manuscripts do not include 7:53-8:11.” This is because the only manuscript before the ninth century to include this story was one from the fifth century found in western Europe (further from where John wrote) and also deviates from earlier manuscripts in other key areas. Other copies from the tenth century onward that have it, often place it, or variations of it, in different places throughout the gospels. It only became more common in its current form and location in manuscripts dating from the Middle Ages.

On the other hand, every other early manuscript omits it, notably including two of the earliest and most reliable manuscripts, called Papyrus 66 and Papyrus 75 that date from the second or early third century and were found in Egypt (closer to where John wrote). Codex Sinaiticus, the oldest complete copy of the New Testament (c. 325 CE), does not include it either. No pastor or theologian from the eastern side of the early church references it until the tenth century. In their commentaries and sermons, they go directly from John 7:52 to 8:12 (keep in mind that current chapter and verse breakdowns were added later). Finally, all the earliest translations of the Greek New Testament (Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Old Latin, and Georgian) skip this story as well.

 

Then how did it get in the Bible?

It is probably a true story about Jesus that His early followers passed around orally, but was not written down in one of our four gospels. This should not surprise us! John himself says that “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book” and this could be one of those (John 20:30). Papias of Hierapolis, a pastor who lived from 60 to 130 CE in Turkey, records a similar story in his writings that he had heard from others. As this story was told and retold between Christians, probably a scribe in the west really appreciated it (like me and so many others!) and sincerely or disingenuously thought it should be included in a biblical gospel. He or she probably added it to John 8 because it fits with Jesus not judging (verse 15). At the end of the chapter Jesus is about to be stoned (verse 59), so Jesus can be seen as taking the place of the sinful woman. Due to both a compelling story and sparse access to early copies of John, eventually it became the dominant reading by the time of the first English Bible translations.

 

What should we do with it?

There are so many stories of God working in the world that can encourage, challenge, and inspire us. These include writings by the Jewish people between the Old and New Testament, early Christian writings, church history, and experiences that you and I have today. There is nothing wrong with cherishing and learning from these stories. Most of them are probably true! According to the evidence we have, “The Woman Caught in Adultery” fits into this category.

 

However, as disciples of Jesus, we make a distinction between these stories, which may contain errors, and God’s Word that is without error in its original writings. The former stories certainly can be read privately and even referenced in public teaching, but they should not be read and affirmed as God’s Word by Christians gathered together. They are not a part of the Bible we build our life on, that is uniquely “to be believed in all that it teaches, obeyed all that it requires, and trusted in all that it promises.”

Further Reading

Evangelical Convictions: a Theological Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of America. Minneapolis, MN: Free Church Publications, 2011.

 

Blomberg, Craig. “The Reliability of the New Testament”. The Gospel Coalition. 

 

Carson, D. A. The Gospel According to John. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1991.

 

Hill, Charles. Who Chose the New Testament Books? Deerfield, IL: Christ on Campus Initiative, 2018.

 

E90 Is Over… So What’s Next?

E90 Is Over… So What’s Next?

“I have loved watching my heart soften toward the individuals that I have been praying for, and how often I’ve been thinking of them and noticing things about them. Much more intentional interactions!” – Linda

 

Spending 90 days praying for others to come to know Jesus was an amazing time together as a church. Over the course of these 13 weeks, close to 400 different people across all five campuses texted me about their experiences witnessing and praying for others. I was blessed to hear so many people, just like Linda, share how praying each day for the same people shifted their perspective toward them. It is surprising (though it really shouldn’t be) how many opportunities for greater connection with others arise when you intentionally and regularly pray for them. I was even more deeply encouraged when I heard about perseverance through the challenges people faced in their witnessing.

 

A handful of people let me know that one of their nine made a decision to follow Jesus during these 90 days. Beyond these, so many more had their nine make significant movement toward God. Some of their nine reached out with spiritual questions for the first time. Others reached out while facing significant life difficulties and asked for prayer. Some of their nine decided to visit church with them. Others saw their relationship with their nine deepen in new ways. There are so many more powerful stories that you can read about on theformed.life/e90

 

But if you’re like me, as soon as these 90 days finished, you wondered what’s next.

 

Was this just a cool 90 day challenge? One more project to mark ‘done’ and move on? No, from the beginning of our team’s planning process, we hoped e90 would be a catalyst for continued growth in prayer and personal evangelism for our church. Though this initiative is done, we continue to be a caring family of multiplying disciples, influencing our community and world for Jesus Christ. Here are four ways you can continue to grow in this even after e90.

 

Keep Praying

 

Just because the 90 days are over does not mean you need to stop praying intentionally and specifically for others to come to know Jesus! This season hopefully started a habit that remains with you well after it officially finishes. Consider how you can keep praying regularly for others. Think about how much movement you’ve seen in yourself and in them over 90 days. How much more could happen through the rest of the year? Maybe your list of nine grew to fifteen. Keep praying for your fifteen! Perhaps there are just two people from your nine God has highlighted to you these past few months. Keep praying for those two!

 

Pray Together

One of the best parts of e90 was that this was something we did together as a whole church. It reminded me that I’m not alone in witnessing to others. This doesn’t have to end either! What if your community group decided to keep praying for others specifically to come to faith as a part of your regular prayer time? What if you and just one other person committed to praying together for your lists? You could do a short phone call once a week and pray together. Or you could exchange names and pray for their list in addition to yours. This would encourage you to stay consistent in praying for others.

 

Learn Together

 

Another awesome part of e90 was how praying and witnessing motivated greater learning about the gospel and how to practically share it with others. This doesn’t have to end either! What if your community group, or just you and one friend picked a book about evangelism to read together? In addition to discussing what you’re learning from reading, you can also debrief how you’re practicing those things as well. If you don’t know where to start, two of my favorite books on evangelism are The Sacrament of Evangelism by Jerry Root, and Questioning Evangelism by Randy Newman.

 

Keep Inviting

 

Lastly, we can continue to grow in personal evangelism beyond e90 by continuing to invite others. Continue to invite them to hang out with you in a relaxed setting with other believers, to read one of the gospels from the Bible together, to come to church with you, to hear your story of what God has done in your life, to consider what following Jesus might look like. Not every invitation will be responded to with an enthusiastic “Yes!” but that does not mean we’ve failed. Even small invitations and planting seeds over time can be used by God to draw others to Him.

 

I encourage you to keep praying, keep learning, keep inviting, and do all these together with other believers. And I hope I continue hearing how God is working through it all to reach others with His love for His glory.

 

Four Lessons St. Patrick Has for the American Church

Four Lessons St. Patrick Has for the American Church

It is unfortunate that St. Patrick has become synonymous with wearing green to avoid being pinched, dyeing rivers green, and consuming large quantities of beer while pretending to be Irish. Little is widely known about the tremendous influence that this man had on the nation of Ireland and western Christianity. Patrick is easily one of the most successful Christian missionaries of all time. The indigenous Christian movement he started took root where missionaries had failed. Patrick’s influence grew to even re-evangelize much of western Europe in the centuries following the chaos of the Dark Ages and the decline of the institutional Roman church. His success is especially remarkable considering this was all done without any aid from other institutions of political or cultural power. As the current American church declines and we are in an increasingly post-Christendom world, we would do well to listen to voices like his.

The Life of Patrick

Patrick was born in roughly 389 AD to upper-middle-class parents in the British part of the Roman Empire. This was only a few years after Emperor Theodosius made Christianity the official religion of the Empire and Christendom was established. Patrick’s father was a Christian deacon and a member of the city council, both highly respected roles. His grandfather was a priest, so it would be fitting to characterize his family as a pious one with high social standing. Despite this, Patrick described his own Christian upbringing as nominal at best.

A drastic change to this life of privilege happened when Patrick was 16. A band of Irish warriors raided his town, and he was taken away to Ireland, outside of the Empire, in captivity. He worked as a slave herding pigs for six years. Finally, apart from his complacent life where he tacitly accepted nominal Christianity, Patrick was forced to consider the ramifications of his faith. In his own words, “the Lord opened the sense of my unbelief.” He began to pray daily and call out to God to sustain and deliver him. His interaction with the religious beliefs of the Irish also strengthened his faith. Their belief in multiple gods and spirits that roamed throughout the land needing to be appeased aroused a deep sense of peace from the security he had in Christ.

After spending six years in Ireland, he received a vision that encouraged him to escape. While sleeping, he heard a voice tell him to rise and find a ship to take him home. He awoke, ran down to a nearby port, and found a ship that took him away from Ireland. He went to Gaul (modern day France) and spent some time learning and living at a monastery in Lerins. Although he felt called to live a life with common men, during this time he developed a strong appreciation for the monastic rule of life. When he left the monastery he returned to Britain to be reunited with his relatives. Later, at the age of 48, he received his version of the ‘Macedonian call’ (Acts 16:6-10). In a dream an angel brought him letters from his former captors in Ireland, and he heard their voices cry out “we appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.” After consulting with the bishops of the British Church, he was ordained a bishop and sent out to Ireland in a missionary band.

His method differed greatly from other Roman missionaries of his time. Instead of forcing conquered “barbarians’’ to convert or waiting for them to come to him as spiritual inquirers, Patrick and his companions would set up a community of faith in each village they visited. They would practice a monastic life of prayer and work, not in a cloister far from society but in the midst of the Irish. As they looked for receptive villagers, the band would pray for the sick, exorcize demons, and mediate conflicts. They were interested in the felt needs of the communities, even regularly praying for fish in the village river. In open-air settings, Patrick would speak about the gospel, using his vast knowledge of Irish culture to communicate the gospel in a way that would connect with them. Parables, symbols, drama, and other visuals were used because of the Irish people’s vivid imagination. Responsive villagers would join the monastic community and partake in their practices.

After a few months, a church would be officially born and the new converts would be baptized. Patrick’s group would leave behind a priest and a few others to continue instruction in Christian doctrine, but take some of the converted villagers with them as they moved on to the next village. It is estimated that Patrick started 700 churches, commissioned 1000 priests, and reached 40 out of the 150 tribes in Ireland, during his 28 year ministry.

Four Lessons for Us

1. The gospel is central.

Patrick’s ministry was rooted in a profound belief that humanity’s only hope was God’s intervention of grace through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. His personal experience of liberation from slavery by divine intervention no doubt made this truth a vivid reality for him. Each of his surviving writings begins with the words: “I, Patrick, a sinner.” This humility was not from self-loathing, but from an honest recognition of his need for a savior. Patrick was zealous to maintain that salvation is a result of God’s work of grace, in opposition to his contemporary fellow British monk, Pelagius, who taught human effort alone was enough to be saved. Patrick’s strong conviction that the unconverted would suffer damnation and had no hope apart from Christ motivated him to return to his former captors to share the good news with them.

The Church today should never grow weary of proclaiming the gospel and trusting in God’s grace. We should take care and not water down the biblical gospel. We must also be zealous like Patrick so that the good news does not become old hat.

2. The gospel changes everything.

Patrick’s missionary bands differed significantly from Roman missionary models by doing their Christian life in the midst of pagan communities. Patrick himself was deeply influenced by the Irish reverence for nature and so developed a sacramental vision of all of life, where the line between the natural and spiritual was paper-thin. Work was an integral part of their monastic life and not a distraction from it. Their concern for the economic realities of their Irish neighbors bolstered their witness.

One of the greatest dangers facing the church today is the unbiblical distortion that creates a sharp sacred-secular divide. This can lead us to believe our Monday work does not matter to a Sunday-focused God. As our culture becomes increasingly post-Christian and the influence of the institutional church wanes, we need to be faithful disciples of Jesus in the particular places He has us the majority of our week.

3. The gospel demands justice and reconciliation.

Similar to the previous lesson, the gospel Patrick preached did not only restore sinners to God but also led them to love one another and pursue justice and peace. In his writing, Epistola, he writes a letter rebuking a nominal-Christian warlord named Coroticus. He had raided some of Patrick’s converts and taken recently baptized women off as slaves. Patrick commands him to release them because he is compelled by “the zeal of God, the truth of Christ… (and) the love of (his) nearest neighbors.” His concern for justice and the flourishing of the Irish was also evident in how he ended the slave trade in that region. Patrick earned the respect of various Irish tribes by acting as a broker for peace to end conflict between clans. His evangelistic effectiveness was integral to his concern for the whole-life flourishing of the Irish.

The American Church would do well to follow Patrick’s footsteps. As we allow the gospel to speak to all of life, it will inevitably move us to work toward a society that is ordered by God’s justice and enables the flourishing of all.

4. The gospel is lived out together.

Though Patrick gets all the recognition and a holiday all to himself, we must never forget that he did not evangelize the Irish by himself. He was not a lone ranger, solo-climber, or solitary pioneer that set out on his own. Patrick owes much of its success to the many unknown members of his missionary bands that evangelized together. They demonstrated a different way of being in community among the Irish that became a compelling witness. Rather than requiring a profession of belief from ‘barbarians’ before partaking in Christian community like the Roman church, they recognized that belonging often precedes belief. Irish inquirers could join their monastic community, “tasting and seeing that the Lord is good” by experiencing the care of His people before making intellectual assent to Christian doctrine.

In a similar way, the American church will go nowhere relying on its celebrity leaders. It takes communities of extra-ordinary believers doing life together so that others can be drawn in to experience the reality that the gospel changes everything.

Let us take time this St. Patty’s day, in addition to any other celebration, to thank God for the work He did through St. Patrick and his friends. Let us also consider how we might emulate him by being a faithful, gospel-centered presence in our communities.