Preconceived notions are all too easily accepted as Gospel. There are no exceptions. I am no exception. There is no area of contemporary ministry left untouched by our cultural biases. We place God inside a box of our preconceptions and perceptions of what authentic faith should look like in the 21st century. Three of the most evident areas impacted include ministry qualifications, biblical interpretation, and the Gospel itself.
There are two extremes to this essential element of ministry. On the one hand, there are evangelical circles with such high expectations that the likes of Paul, Peter, and Jesus would likely be disqualified from ministry. On the other hand, there are those with such a nebulous view of Scripture that any principles of qualification or disqualification are subjectively dismissed. There are valid questions to be asked, there is a valid process to follow, and the word of God does set forth qualifications for ministry. The boxed mindset becomes a factor in the application of those qualifying/disqualifying factors.
Protestants tout the priesthood of all believers and then resign themselves to chastising anyone whose life-record is less than sterling. What we fail to realize is that by vehemently insisting on the disqualification of others with postures of pride and condemnation we ironically disqualify ourselves. Men are disqualified for being divorced fifteen years in the past, while there is no issue with Paul being a former persecutor of the church or with a current pastor epitomizing pride, arrogance, and a haughty Spirit. There is a disconnect. There are lines to be drawn, but those lines are more like the ones Jesus traced in the sand than the barricades we erect in His name.
The Baptists interpret the Bible from a Baptist perspective. Calvinists interpret the bible from a Calvinist perspective. Those who advocate liberation theology interpret the Bible from a liberation perspective. You can fill in the the “blanks” for any other perspective, including your own. This doesn’t mean that all interpretation should cease. It does call us to deeper thought and a discernment in the Spirit that pushes us beyond the “boxes” of our preconceptions.
Where are the followers of Christ who meditate, engage, ponder, and dare to be wrong? Where are the theologians with enough faith to look beyond their theological camps for answers? Is it possible we have valued our biblical perspectives more than the very words of God? After all, there is a major difference between holding the Bible in high regard and holding our interpretations in high regard.
The power of the Gospel explodes the old wineskins of our heritage and tradition. The Gospel is not carried forth in Republican vessels, Baptist vessels, cessationist vessels, or seminary graduate vessels. It is carried forth in broken vessels. How many times have we dismissed the beliefs of others as we categorized them as liberal or simply immature? How many conversations have been missed? How much grace has been withheld? The boundary lines we draw around the potency of the good news in the name of pristine theology is utter nonsense. Are there elements of the Gospel that must be preserved? Absolutely. Can the weight of glory really be contained in the casks of contemporary church dogma? Absolutely not.
Repeatedly in the Gospels, the Son of God defies the religious expectations of his day and our own. Its just like God to choose the loser, not the winner. Its just like God to come not for the saint, but the sinner. It’s just like God to save the world through the greater strength of incarnate weakness. Its just like God to confound the wise and let the redemption story go forth on the lips of rebels like you and me. The gospel bursts forth from our boxed ideas of Christianity.
This could easily be mistaken as a call to throw orthodoxy out the window. That is not the intent. This is a reminder that the scribbled lines we draw from our myopic view are not to be mistaken for the masterpiece of redemption God is painting from an eternally panoramic view. This is a call to think outside the boxed Christianity of our own creation.