Towards an Evangelical Resistance
I use the term “resistance” with some reticence here. It’s difficult for me to explain exactly why, but I would much prefer the term “response.” Resistance implies an ultimate objective which seeks to overthrow the existing status quo, which isn’t what I feel Christians ought to be doing at all. Imagine if Christ fulfilled the ancient Jews’ wishes of overthrowing the Roman Empire. What then? The vacuum of power would soon be filled by the next authoritarian structure seeking power over the masses, and then the Jews would have had another form of oppression to worry about and a Messiah who would have left them rather unfulfilled.
It just so happens that Jesus did indeed give His followers a method of resistance: repentance. Quite a broad term (with a great deal of stigma attached to it) that could mean just about anything, but which becomes all the more interesting when we discover that it means leaving behind an old way of life and entering into God’s prescribed way of living, the Kingdom way of living. Repentance is about being awakened to our sin nature and then calling upon God’s strength to move into a new way of life.
It all sounds like a personal endeavour to holiness, but through such holiness is also carved a response to the present state of things. As Paul puts it, becoming alive to God in Christ is “being transformed by the renewing of the mind,” and no longer being conformed to the “world’s” way of living (Romans 12). From the beginning, the Church was understood to be a counter-cultural force.
Therefore, when I talk about resistance, what I really mean is the response to a specific state of things. I have no delusions about building a utopia. Our job as Christians is to be available as vessels for God to usher in the fullness of His Kingdom rule.
So what do I mean by the term “Evangelical” here then? Again, like resistance, a word with many different meanings and as much (if not more) assigned stigma. I’m sure that in the minds of many, visions of ardently right-wing warmongering Christians arise. When I personally think of the term, I think of the expression of the Christian faith which focuses on individual holiness, the retreat from sin, a focus on the importance of the Bible, and experiencing a living, personal, manifesting relationship with God as well as the desire to express this relationship to others. If your definition is different from mine, then please by all means tell me, I’m willing to learn and be corrected, but this vague and generalised summation is my own understood meaning of the term.
It’s been my understanding that Protestant Christians tend to organise themselves into two kinds of camp; One of the more Evangelical faith, where the personal focus is on spreading the Gospel, achieving piety, avoiding temptation to sin, and acknowledging the authority of scripture. Then, there are those Christians who, having been disillusioned with the Evangelical strains, veer to the “alternative,” more progressive scene where the focus is more on social justice, creative worship, and a higher-critical examination of the Bible.
My question is… isn’t there room for both movements?
In my own personal journey, having been in both these camps myself, I am now beginning to understand that they are equally important. Remember the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector praying at the Temple (Luke 18:9-14)? The Pharisee praises God over how great and obedient he is, thankful that he is “not like the other sinners,” including the tax collector stood near him. The tax collector, by contrast, simply beats his breast and asks for God’s mercy on him. It is he, we are told, not the Pharisee, who walks away justified before God.
If we are to have humility, why are we more willing to be like the Pharisee? A “conservative” Christian might thank God that he is not like those pesky, wishy washy liberals who only seem to focus on social justice, and a “liberal” Christian could just as easily thank God that he isn’t like those hard-nosed conservatives who are more about the supreme authority of scripture and less about peace. But who, then, walks away justified before God?
Both ranks of Evangelical and Progressive Christian are moving in similar directions, perhaps in different ways, but one would hope their hearts are set on converging onto the will of God. We can all stand to learn from each other, so why waste time complaining about the specks in each others’ eyes? Let’s first tend to the planks in our own.
The Evangelical (specifically the Charismatic) movement draws very heavily from manifestations of the Holy Spirit, also known as “spiritual gifts.” These include tongues, prophecy, wisdom, knowledge, healing, and others. The gift of tongues has its origins in Acts 2, when the apostles were overcome by the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost:
1When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.
2Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.
3They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.
4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
5Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.
6When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language.
7Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans?
8Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?
9Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,
10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome
11(both Jews and converts to Judaism Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”
12Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
I’m not going to write out the whole chapter here, but read it! It’s a good one. After an initial bout of skepticism from the passers-by, Peter preaches to them regarding the meaning of the event, using scripture to back himself up, after which we are told that 3000 converted to the new Christian movement.
What interests me is two things: One, that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit drew the natives of many different nations. Two, that this manifestation resulted in the direct conversion of a whole multitude of people.
While tongues are also expressed as the incomprehensible mystery of God’s Spirit working within us, it’s worth noting that the personal mystical experience of God parallels with the removal of the language barrier in any case, demonstrating that in God “there is no distinction” between races or cultures. The impact of the Spirit’s manifestations extends beyond personal ecstasy and actually work to unite the body of the church as a whole. Healing, for example, had a definite socio-political meaning in Jesus’ time. Those who were stricken with disease and infirmity were viewed as social outcasts, shunned from even worshiping in the Temple by over-zealous religious authorities. When Jesus performed a healing, it did more than just cure someone of their infirmity; it restored their social status and symbolised that God welcomed them into His courts.
In Paul’s eyes, the spiritual manifestations of God are indicative of unity and equality among those in His Kingdom:
1 Corinthians 12
12The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.
13For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
14Now the body is not made up of one part but of many.
15If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.
16And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.
17If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?
18But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.
19If they were all one part, where would the body be?
20As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
21The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”
22On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,
23and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty,
24while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it,
25so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.
26If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
So we are one body, each with different gifts and manifestations, unified mystically in Christ Jesus. If the Church represents an alternative way of living to the world, then why would we run away from those spiritual qualities, indeed, those direct personal experiences of God, which serve to unite us and allow us to grow in empowerment of bearing the Kingdom’s witness?
Resistance is evangelical.