I got e-mail from a former church member who has been reading the Book of Acts, amazed by the way the power of the Holy Spirit transforms ordinary people into extraordinary witnesses. “What a time it relates!” she wrote. “How is it that so many churches turn out to be ‘blah’ in our time? How has the church lost that zeal and become so mainstream, self-satisfied, and comfortable with the status quo?”
Good questions, all of them. When you read about Peter standing up in front of a hostile crowd and accusing them of killing the Messiah, or Stephen being stoned to death for his fearless witness to Christ, or Philip baptizing an Ethiopian eunuch (of all people!), it does make you wonder what’s happened to the church. When did we get so… domesticated?
Fortunately, not all of us know how we’re supposed to behave. I’ve mentioned Dennis Danaeue, who was baptized on Sunday, and who is “as sincere in his desire to follow Jesus as anyone I’ve ever met.” Dennis responded to that blog entry (“Oh, Heavenly Days!) and told me the story of what happened the night he was baptized.
He said he was hungry, and went looking for some food. He knows the manager of a local pizzeria who sometimes gives him any leftovers they have at closing. On Sunday night the manager gave him nine pizzas which, as he says, “suddenly made me everybody’s best friend.” There were a few men standing on a nearby corner. He gave them some of the pizza and when they said thanks he said, “Thank God!” But then he bumped into a crowd of homeless people who had come into Richmond on a freight train, traveling like hoboes. These are people who are known to be violent and, as Dennis reported, they were wearing “Satanic patches on their clothing.”
So, here’s Dennis on the street at midnight with a stack of pizza boxes, and a group of homeless Satanists with a reputation for violence. If he had been in the church a little longer he might have known that in such a situation you are supposed to drop the pizza and run as fast as you can. But he’s a new Christian, freshly baptized, still glowing from the experience and exuding the aroma of Christ (well, that and pepperoni). So he swallows hard and recites a snatch of Psalm 91: “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” And then he offers these people some pizza.
There is a line in his report that might have come straight out of the Book of Acts. Dennis says, “As we ate together I spoke of God and how much God loves them…” Did you hear that? As they ate together (Dennis and a gang of Satanist hoboes) he spoke of God and how much God loves them. Whew! He reminds me of Philip, this one—baptizing Ethiopian eunuchs in the wilderness, preaching the gospel to Samaritans, getting carried away (literally) by the power of the Holy Spirit.
I guess I’m going to have to be more careful about who I baptize, and spend a lot more time teaching people what it means to be Christian. No more of this bold witnessing! No more turning the world upside down! If Jesus had wanted us to behave like that he would have told us so, wouldn’t he?
With a wink and a sigh,