July 28, 2014

Matthew B. Redmond: The Apostle Paul or the Person in the Pew?

Farmers Planting Potatoes, Van Gogh

Farmers Planting Potatoes, Van Gogh

Note from CM: Matthew B. Redmond is a good friend of Internet Monk. He has written for us on this week’s subject, and we have reviewed his book, which holds up as one of the finest, most needed books in recent years. See the links below for those posts.

Today, after a quote that I think sums up Matt’s book well, we hear and discuss a excerpt from a chapter in The God Of The Mundane called, “The Apostle Paul or the Person in the Pew?”

* * *

But I say, be nobody special. Do your job. Take care of your family. Clean your house. Mow your yard. Read your Bible . Attend worship. Pray. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Love your spouse. Love your kids. Be generous. Laugh with your friends . Drink your wine heartily. Eat your meat lustily. Be honest. Be kind to your waitress. Expect no special treatment. And do it all quietly.

- Matthew B. Redmond
The God Of The Mundane: Reflections on Ordinary Life for Ordinary People

The Apostle Paul or the Person in the Pew?
. . . For as long as I can remember I had been reading the letters to the churches in the New Testament and missing something. I missed it as a young man wanting to enter vocational ministry, and I missed it as a seminary student. I sadly missed it as a pastor. Sometimes we may miss things because they are hidden. But we seem to always miss much because we see it every day.

I missed the obvious: the Apostles are writing to normal people.

Most of them are nameless. They are Jew and Gentile, yes. But they are also not apostles. And most are not pastors. They are carpenters, farmers, traders, sailors, fisherman, shepherds, guards. They are mothers and fathers and children. Compared to the life of an apostle, their lives are probably mundane. These are ordinary men and women believing an extraordinary story.

They are not the Apostle Paul, or Peter, or any of the other apostles, who are immortalized in the pages of sacred writ. They are ordinary people who huddled in someone’s home, drank their wine , ate their bread, and listened to the Holy Spirit through the words of an Apostle. And then they went home.

And they got up the next morning and lived a normal life, probably to the end of their days. And now, poof! They are forgotten.

My guess? Most of them lived out the rest of their lives after coming to faith with the most exciting thing in their lives being when they believed and aligned themselves with Christ and his people . They kept on living where they were and making a living as they did before they believed. They lived normal lives. Only more so.

They listened to Paul’s teaching, learned from him, and in faith stayed where they were after he left.

All of this should have been obvious to me but it wasn’t. For years I read and thought and then taught as if Paul was the standard for those I was teaching. “Look at Paul and his singular devotion to Christ,” I would implore them. And then it hit me. The nameless, ordinary believer who listened to Paul and lived faithfully as a farmer, mother, etc., right where they were — they are the standard. The forgotten mundane existence of those whose names we will never know is the endgame.

It is true Paul says to his readers, “imitate me…” And he says it more than once. In each instance, Paul wants his readers to see that he is an example of what he is asking of them in that particular context. His life is consistent with what he is teaching. He isn’t out of step.

But he never asks them to stop being who they are. He never challenges them to go anywhere. We don’t even get hints that lead us to believe he is making them feel guilty for living in comparative comfort compared to his lack of it. That’s weird. And it’s weird because this is so common in our pulpits and in conferences held for zealous college students.

It is not enough to be among the ordinary. The spirituality of the unknown recipients of Paul’s letters is not enough for us. It is not enough to be a believing mother of small children; we feel as if we should have the spirituality of doing it overseas. With bullets flying overhead. And malaria crouching outside.

Someone recently asked me which missionary biographies they should read. I am not sure why she asked. But I’ve been asked before. And I did know she was studying to be something other than a missionary.

So I told her to read a biography of a Christian banker first. By that I meant she needed to read a book about a Christian living a mundane life. She told me she could not find one. Figures.

Peasant Woman Sweeping the Floor, Van Gogh

Peasant Woman Sweeping the Floor, Van Gogh

For some this whole idea of identifying with the person in the pew instead of the Apostle Paul will be a challenge. Maybe it will feel like a death, death to a dream of being someone special, out of the ordinary and above the fray. The idea of being one of the forgotten is formidable.

But for countless others this is the second greatest piece of news they have ever heard. “Wait, it’s all right for me to be ordinary? I can live a mundane existence and not feel guilty about it? You mean , the call on my life is for me to be faithful right where I am?”

So many pastors today, famous ones and otherwise, are asking young people and everyone else if they are willing to give it all and go overseas as a missionary. It’s not a bad question to ask. There is no question in my mind that this question needs to be out there. But they — or someone — also needs to ask, “are you willing to be numbered among the nameless believers in history who lived in obscurity? Do you have the courage to be forgotten by everyone but God and the heavenly host? Are you willing to be found only by God as faithful right where you are? Are you willing to have no one write a book about you and what you did in the name of Christ? Are you willing to live and believe — in stark contrast to the world around you — there is a God of the mundane?”

* * *

The God Of The Mundane: Reflections on Ordinary Life for Ordinary People
By Matthew B. Redmond
Kalos Press 2012.

 

Matt blogs at Echoes and Stars.

Comments

  1. But for countless others this is the second greatest piece of news they have ever heard. “Wait, it’s all right for me to be ordinary? I can live a mundane existence and not feel guilty about it? You mean , the call on my life is for me to be faithful right where I am?”

    Thank you. Thank you thank you for this.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      The “LIttle Way” of St Therese of Lisieux, all about finding Sanctification in daily routine.

      Not Teen Mania(TM)…
      Not Acquire the Fire(TM)…
      Not go as Missionary to Darkest Africa and pass out Gospel Tracts as you go into the stewpot or Christ Will Spew Thee Out of His Mouth…
      Not Wretched Urgency.

  2. “These are ordinary men and women believing an extraordinary story. They are not the Apostle Paul, or Peter, or any of the other apostles, who are immortalized in the pages of sacred writ. They are ordinary people who huddled in someone’s home, drank their wine , ate their bread, and listened to the Holy Spirit through the words of an Apostle. And then they went home. And they got up the next morning and lived a normal life, probably to the end of their days. And now, poof! They are forgotten.”

    75% of the exegetical problems people have with “What does Scripture say to *me*?” would go away if this simple rule were kept in mind.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      For every big shiny Starship Enterprise boldly going where no man has gone before, there are hundreds of grubby little Fireflies just making their rounds and carrying on.

  3. T.S.Gay says:

    “And do it all quietly”
    I have a daughter who is very together spiritually, emotionally, practically. We were talking about church and I mentioned what I had heard at Internet Monk, but paraphrased by me- stay calm, mind your own business, do your own job. You may have heard all this before , but reminding ourselves can help. She was surprised that I thought this was directly from the Bible( but I couldn’t remember where). I was a little surprised that she thought it wasn’t.

    • j shott says:

      It comes from a couple of references, both in Thessalonians. 1 Thess 4:11 and 2 Thess 3:12

  4. Mule Chewing Briars says:

    How to achieve theosis according to the perceived consensus of the Orthodox Church, as far as I can discern it at present:

    1) Go to church
    2) Say your prayers
    3) Love the people around you

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > 3) Love the people around you

      Of course #3 is always simple, clear, and straight-forward. :)

      • Rick Ro. says:

        LOL. Yes, if it weren’t for people, the world would be a lot easier to live in.

      • Mule Chewing Briars says:

        Of course, 1 and 2 are very simple, clear, and straightforward as well.

        • I find #1 to be the easiest (although I suspect this is quite a bit easier in my tradition vis-a-vis Orthodox), and I enjoy #3. The one I can’t seem to have any luck with is #2. I’d actually love an iMonk post on that. Right now I have a prayer book I read through, but most of the time I feel like prayer is a waste of God’s time, and I don’t know what to say. “Hi, God, me again. If you know who “me” is. I know you have kidnapped girls in Nigeria, and women sentenced to death in Sudan for marrying a Christian, and all those hungry kids, but I have this sore on my thumb that really hurts…”

          • Fr. Weejus says:

            I struggle with it as well. I know I should pray more. I have short bursts of thankful statements to God throughout the day. But long extended devotional moments of prayer and supplication are limited. I know paul said to pray without ceasing. I’m just not good at it. He knows my needs. I thank him for his providence. That’s about it, aside from liturgical prayers at church. Though they too are getting less and less but that’s not me, that’s our newfound non-focus on liturgy in our congregation. But hey, that’s another post.

          • Thanks for sharing. This isn’t something I can usually share with people, but it helps to hear that I’m not the only one.

          • Dr. Fundystan – I’m in the same boat, and very rarely discuss it with anyone.

            The thing is, I have a feeling that this “problem” is pretty common, yet people who are from evangelical and/or charismatic backgrounds are pretty much conditioned to not talk about it. ( fwiw, while Lutheran, I spent several decades in those circles before reverting.)

            I cannot recall anyone ever harping on the topic in Lutheran circles, though.

          • I used to worry about that problem, but how about this!

            A loving Dad’s attitude is ‘if it matters to my kid, then it matters to me’.

            So all I’ve got to figure out is … how much is it okay for it to matter to me.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          I find #1 to be, in truth, pretty straight-forward. At least it is/was once I matured enough to love The Church and not ‘date’ The Church [trying to find `the one` doctrinally pure enough while also being cool enough and a with a sufficiently unblemished past to warrant the gift of my own contribution of awesome. Ahh, the hubris of youth, how I do *not* miss you - youth is exhausting].

          But at #2 it all falls apart! Maybe in another 40 years I’ll have that one mastered…

          And #3, it gets crazy complicated and there is all kinds of conflicts and people can just be so darn uncooperative – even when you are trying to help them. But maybe that is old-fogieism too, or it is simply a gift from The Spirit, but at least that is one I want to do. Which does set #3 apart from #2, and frequently #1 as well.

          This is plenty to have to figure out – living a normal life – there is no need for Spiritual Heroism in order to make life overwhelming.

    • Robert F says:

      Which is harder: which is harder, loving the people around you, or loving your enemies? Sometimes, of course, they may be the same.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > loving the people around you, or loving your enemies?

        My biggest struggle regarding ‘enemies’ is simply with depression and discouragement. Mostly they make me tired; why does it have to be a knock-out fight? But I don’t know if I have “enemies” – I’m an established middle class white male Christian in the United States – nobody is genuinely threatening me.

        But there are certainly good number of “haters” around or maybe more appropriately “natterers” – I still haven’t figured out how to deal with them; at least not any way that appears to work; they succeed in grinding away at me. Everyone who succeeds is a crook, everyone who fails is stupid and/or lazy, everyone is driven by g-r-e-e-d, everything is a conspiracy, nothing will ever work, every official is corrupt, … Where does this come from?

        > Sometimes, of course, they may be the same.

        True. Of course – we are that both for others on occasion.

  5. Perhaps there’s a little wink and a nod in that Matt Redman would have a song about God’s grace being “there in the everyday and the mundane”, and Matt Redmond writes a book “The God Of The Mundane”.
    He must certainly benefit from a lot of Google searches.

  6. Patrick Kyle says:

    A brilliant post by one of the best Christian bloggers on the net. This message would have saved me years of confusion and anxiety as a young Christian.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      i.e. “It’s OK to be Normal. It’s OK to just live your life.”

  7. Dana Ames says:

    It is, after all, God working in us to make us fully *human* beings…

    So going to church,
    saying my prayers,
    and loving those around me

    are the realms in which God works all that out, with our openness and cooperation.

    Sounds like a needed book.

    Dana

    • Not Radical enough. Wouldn’t sell.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Yeah, if you’re not single-handedly converting all of North Korea (or being martyred in the attempt), you’re a Lukewarm Backslider and on J-Day Christ will Spew Thee Out of His Mouth — “I Never Knew Ye.”

        I mean, just look at some of those ministry names — “Acquire the Fire”, “Teen Mania” — might as well add “Wretched Urgency Central” for Truth in Advertising.

        (Come to think of it, most of those Missionaries are “Must Provide Own Support”, i.e. constantly begging for money in their progress letters to home. Where does all that cash come from to support those On Fire Radical Full Time Pastors/Evangelists/Missionaries? From the Lukewarm Backsliders in the pews, of course.)

  8. So, was Jesus command to “make disciples” intended for a select few, or for everyone. If it was only for the few, then how did Christianity spread so fast?

    • Chris Auten says:

      Michael,

      Milt Rodriguez says it much better than me, but fwiw I think he gets it right………..

      http://miltrodriguez.wordpress.com/2010/01/20/the-great-assumption/

      • Interesting read. Thank you.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        I agree with what he says.

        But even if I read the great commission the Evangelical way – Jesus had a handful of disciples, he spent a *lot* of time with them, he kept with them even when they really screwed the pooch. Which looks quite a bit different than “evangelism” as practiced in compliance with the Evangelical interpretation of the great commission. He didn’t lead-the-disciples-to-christ’, he lived with them.

        There are very few people who’d want me to live with me; and I don’t blame them.

    • I suppose this depends on what we mean by “disciple.” If, as some claim, a disciple is an apostle-like Christian and the rest of Christians are not disciples (but could be if they really wanted to and tried hard enough), then I suppose that the term disciple applies only to the few (sort of like Marines or Navy Seals of the Church). But if, as I believe, all Christians are disciples of Christ, then making disciples is a matter of proclaiming the gospel to the unconverted (regeneration or being made alive in Christ) and continuing to proclaim and teach it to the converted (holiness, sanctification, theosis).

  9. Fabuloso! Excellente! That’s Spanish for fabulous and excellent.

    • Except that “excelente” is spelled with a single “l”. In Spanish the “ll” has a “y” or “j” like sound.

      And in Spanish exclamations begin with “¡” and end with “!” just as questions begin with “¿” and end with “?”.

      The bill for the Spanish grammar lesson is in the mail.

  10. Cedric Klein says:

    http://www.hornes.org/mark/2006/11/how-to-be-spiritual-according-to-the-bible/

    I don’t trust myself to order or prioritize these, so put no weight on what item comes before another.

    Drink and eat a lot with family and friends (Deuteronomy 14.22-27; Ecclesiastes 9.7).
    Include strangers, people below your socio-economic status, and characters of ill-repute in these parties–if you notice they aren’t being treated in a really welcoming manner, you may need to invite fewer of your friends in order to produce the right environment (Deuteronomy 16.10-15; Luke 14.12-14; Luke 15.1, 2).
    Have frequent sex with your spouse (Ecclesiastes 9.9; First Corinthians 7.2-5).
    Enjoy your work (Ecclesiastes 9.10).
    Work hard (Ecclesiastes 11.6).
    Worship God in public with other people (Psalm 100, ad infinitum).
    Sing really violent songs as prayers (The Psalms).
    Loan money without expecting payment in return (Luke 6.35).
    Pursue profit in business–otherwise you are never going to be able to afford to be open handed (Luke 19.20-26; Ephesians 4.28).
    Enjoy the luxuries you have (Ecclesiastes 9.8).
    If it is an especially holy day, and you hear the Law of God and are feeling especially convicted for your many sins, make sure you don’t weep but rather go party and share food and fellowship with others (Nehemiah 8).
    Gently restore people you catch in wrongdoing and don’t demand payback when you are the victim (Galatians 6.1, 2).
    Teach your children to be spiritual(Deuteronomy 6.1-9).
    Don’t care if anyone else judges you or your children as unspiritual; care what God thinks (Romans 2.28, 29).

  11. Thanks for posting. This is what the church needs to hear.