"These that have turned the world upside down have come here, also!" (Acts 17:6 KJV)
God delights in turning people's worlds upside down. Consider what He did to the Pharisees and Saducees of Jesus' time. First he sent John the Baptist shake up their prim, "civilized" religion. Then Jesus came and knocked them for a loop. They had considered themselves the 'upper crust' in the hierarchy of holiness -- but Jesus relocated them at the bottom of the barrel, beneath poor widows, little children, Samaritans, tax collectors, and prostitutes. Further, Jesus accepted acclamation and worship as the Son of God, which for them was the ultimate blasphemy.
Wherever the Gospel is preached with power, the world is turned upside down, as the above quotation from Acts attests (the speaker is a Thessalonican, referring to Paul and Silas' arrival in his city).
Peter walked with Jesus for years, and was powerfully anointed with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Still, his world was turned upside down when God sent him to the Gentiles. Peter was so appalled at the thought of going to the Gentiles that God had to instruct him through a graphic vision, and repeat the vision three times, before Peter could overcome his foibles and obey God. Even many years later, Peter still shirked from his responsibility to the Gentiles, and Paul had to call him out on the carpet (Gal. 2:14)
God delights in overturning the orderly progression of our lives. If you are not prepared to have your world turned upside down, no matter how long you have walked with the Lord, eventually you will lose step with God. At best, you will lag behind Him--at worst you will unknowingly resist Him.
God also delights in overturning the religious habits which we substitute for a true relationship with Him. One person may only feel comfortable praying just so, in a certain position, with certain people, in a certain place, using certain holy phrases. Another reads only one particular version of the Bible, because God just doesn't speak to him through other versions. Another only relates to certain styles of worship music, and can't feel the presence of God in churches which use other kinds of music. Another appreciates a certain style of preaching, and other preaching either puts him to sleep or strikes him as over-sensationalized. These preferences and habits in themselves are harmless, but can be pernicious obstacles to genuine fellowship with God if they prevent us from appreciating the faith of others whose religious practices differ. When I fail to perceive God's expression of His nature through my brother's life and faith, my own experience of God is constricted. God wants us to grasp Him fully: "...until we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, together into a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ ... Speaking the truth in love, in all things we shall grow up into the head, namely Christ. From Him the whole Body is built up and knit together joint by joint, and as each part does its share the Body grows and is built up in love."(Ephesians 4:13,15-16) God is jealous for the purity of our relationship with Him. He wants us to know nothing but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2).
God delights in overturning our doctrines and perceptions of Him. We must recognize that our understanding of the Bible is built on conventional understandings and interpretations decided upon by people. All such human decisions are suspect, and must be critically examined and re-examined. Great revivals have occurred when God has overturned cherished dogmas, and Christians have confessed (as Job did): "before I only heard about You, but now I see you with my own eyes. So I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." (Job 42:5) The Protestant reformation, the Baptist movement, the Methodist revival, and the Charismatic renewal of this century all followed this pattern.
God will continue to overturn our perceptions of Him, so that His Church may be vibrant. In science, conceptual revolutions bring excitement and vitality. Aspiring scientists dream of being involved in exploding established theories, and breaking new intellectual ground. Quantum mechanics, relativity, and the discovery of the structure of DNA all led to enormous outpourings of fervent, enthusiastic effort on the part of scientists who struggled to re-make our understanding of the universe. Unfortunately, church organizations tend to entrench themselves in fixed doctrinal positions, and treat any innovations as dangerous encroachments of liberalism. Because of this, the Church is the laughingstock of the intellectual community. Thousands of thoughtful, analytically-minded people have been alienated from the Church because of its rigidity. The Church will never live down what it did to Galileo, until it stops repeating the same mistake (and not only the Roman Catholic church was guilty, despite what Protestants would like to think!). The Church can only regain intellectual credibility, by arming itself with the following mind: "I could be wrong, I'd better listen and carefully consider what this other person has to say." Christians must hold these words close to their hearts, and recall them whenever they encounter a doctrinal opinion which differs from theirs.
In what areas will God overturn Church teachings? Currently there are several areas of controversy within the Church. The battle lines have been drawn. Each side shoots verbal artillery at the other without making the slightest attempt to really listen to what they're saying. Perhaps we might begin to understand God if we paid attention to what He is saying through our Christian opponents. Pro-lifers might concede that they cannot prove from the Bible that a fertilized egg is a person, no matter how strongly or emotionally they believe this to be true: while pro-choicers might acknowledge the seriousness of tampering with (or allowing others to tamper with) life and death. Creationists might consider whether they are trying to make Genesis say more than it says: while Christian evolutionists might admit the possibility that Genesis is something more than just an allegory. Calvinists and Arminians might both recognize that the terms "predestination" and "free will" represent human concepts which cannot capture the nature of the phenomenon they are trying to describe. Trinitarians and Unitarians might acknowledge that the notion of "person", which seems so natural and obvious to us, may be wholly inappropriate when applied to God. Is He One God in three persons? Or is He One person, in three manifestations? Perhaps both of these descriptions are inapplicable, because the nature of God transcends the concepts we use to describe Him.
Prayer: Father, we all see you darkly and imperfectly. We long for the day when we will know You fully, even as you know us (1 Cor. 13:13:12). Lord, it is your intent that by "speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ" (Eph. 4:15 NIV). Help us learn from each other, challenge each other, overturn each other's false ideas about You. Don't allow us to rest in our complacency. Dislodge us from our comfortable ruts. Place within us an unquenchable thirst for more of Your truth and grace. I pray in the name of Your Son Jesus, who sacrificed Himself that the veil might be ripped (Matthew 27:51), that we too might enter into the glory of Your holy presence.
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Last Revised: March 20, 1999
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