Last week we had a fire in our home. Our aged heat pump flashed out, blowing smoke throughout the house, tripping alarms and setting off smoke detectors. Thankfully, it turned out to be more of a minor inconvenience than a major disaster.
But at first, we didn’t know this. We had smoke in the house, could not find the source – more than a little disconcerting – so I called 911 and calmly explained our situation: “Everything looks okay now, but could you send someone just to take a look?” The dispatcher sent someone all right. In five minutes we had a dozen fire-fighters, six fire trucks, and a battalion chief standing in the front yard.
Everyone involved was consummately thorough, especially the dispatcher. She did not care that everything “looked okay.” She did not respect our schedules or our busy lives. Minor event or four alarm fire, her instructions were direct and clear: “Get out of the house!” I protested several times stating that it was cold outside and we were safe.
She continued to answer: “Get out of the house,” growing more forceful each time until finally it sounded as if my mother was on the line. I relented and did as I was told.
That dispatcher would make a wonderful preacher. See, the best sermons are not necessarily the ones that reinforce our comfort or our long-held beliefs, causing us to rest well in pews. The best sermons are those that cause us to get up and run from the sanctuary. The best sermons say directly and clearly: “Get out of the house!”
I cut my theological teeth in a tradition fixated with defending the Bible. We were “people of the Book” who worked hard to protect the always-under-siege Scriptures. Thus, I heard much high oratory and deep exegesis on the inspiration, infallibility, incorrigibility, and inerrancy of the Bible – this was an almost weekly subject.
In short, I heard a whole lot about the Bible, but didn’t get much help in how to live the Bible. This seemed out of joint because the people that gathered week after week to hear these theological treatises were not doubting, suspicious skeptics. They already believed in the Bible, passionately. Truly, it was “the Word of God for the people of God.” Case closed.
So no, I don’t think Mrs. Casey who taught the primary Sunday School class was about to go off the theological reservation. How could she? She knew more good theology than most preachers. I’m certain that sweet, old Deacon Cooper didn’t know what the word “inerrant” meant, though he shouted “Amen” whenever the preacher used the term in a sermon.
And contrary to the fears of some visiting evangelists, there was never a conspiracy in our church by the Women’s Missionary Union to tear out the writings of the Apostle Paul and replace him with Oprah (though some truly loved Oprah more than Paul).
These good people needed less information about the Bible coming from inside the church house, and needed more real-world, life-giving ways to put the Bible into practice outside the church house. They needed – we all need – to practice some of the oldest words from the New Testament: “Don’t just listen to the Word. Do what it says.”
After all, one can shout “Amen” when a theological axe is ground or when being comforted by the familiar words of custom and still be a blazing hypocrite. And in matters of faith there is little worse than one who seems to have all the right beliefs, who can correctly quote Scripture, canon, and verse, who has a superior sense of orthodoxy, but then lives arrogantly and treats others wrongly. Such living is a betrayal of the truth one claims to defend.
No, the proof of truth is not how often we use the correct theological buzzwords or how long we sit and listen inside our houses of worship. The proof of truth is the practice of God’s grace and burning love out in the communities around us. Get out of the house.
Ronnie McBrayer is the author of “Leaving Religion, Following Jesus.” He writes and speaks about life, faith, and Christ-centered spirituality. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.