March 8, 2000

Christian life requires work
but also rest, speakers say

___By Mark Wingfield
___& Ken Camp
___DALLAS--If Texas Baptists are to nurture a new generation of believers, they must work hard but also find time to rest, speakers said during the 50th anniversary conference of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission.
___In addition to an anniversary banquet, conference participants heard presentations on the theme of "Memory and Hope" from Molly Marshall, theology professor at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Kan.; Bill Leonard, dean of Wake Forest University's divinity school; Dan McGee, ethics professor at Baylor University; and Ellis Orozco, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in McAllen.
___Calling 2000 a "year of jubilee," Marshall challenged Texas Baptists to reclaim the idea of sabbath rest. "We are the tired, the battle-weary, the earnest and, yes, the aging."
___She read passages from Leviticus 25 and Hebrews 4 to explain the idea of sabbath, a rest from work she said was commanded by God at creation.
___"Too often when we teach the creation story, we separate the six days from the seventh as if they are unrelated. We are used to thinking of humans as the crown of creation, finished on the sixth day. It would be better for us ... to consider the sabbath as the goal toward which the whole of creation is moving."
___She quoted Genesis 2:2, which says, "On the seventh day, God finished God's work." Yet other Bible passages say God created in six days.
___The answer to this potentially conflicting message may be learned from the ancient Jewish rabbis who taught that an act of creation did occur on the seventh day, Marshall said. "Just as heaven and earth were created in six days, rest was created on the seventh."
___But modern Christians "are not used to celebrating God's rest," she reported. "We want God to be quite busy--creating, redeeming, looking after those other Baptists. And we try to pattern our lives after this perception."
___Perhaps that's why she and other Christians dislike the "parable of the late worker," Marshall said, referring to the story Jesus told about workers who came into the fields at different times throughout the day but were paid the same wages.
___"I want the person who got up early to be paid the most," she admitted. Yet the parable "turns us to think differently" about God's ways, she said.
___The "blue laws" that once prohibited Sunday business weren't the answer to the problem, Marshall said. "These prohibitive approaches safeguarded a day but they also inculcated a legalism which we are still trying to exorcise. We must see sabbath as grace and not law."
___Learning to embrace a day of sabbath, a time of rest, will increase a person's ability to hear the voice of God, she suggested. "Perhaps we cannot hear because we have not cultivated attentiveness."
___Ancient faith also has other lessons to teach 21st century believers, added McGee. He cited six such lessons:
___bluebull Reconciliation. "Reconciliation is the central work of the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ," he said.
___bluebull Servanthood. "Remember the one who saved us came not yielding a sword, but a towel and basin. Servanthood is the model for us to emulate."
___bluebull Identification. Just as God identifies himself with the poor, hungry and helpless, God's people should identify with those who are oppressed and forgotten by society, he said.
___bluebull Community. Christian faith is not a "Lone Ranger" religion, McGee said. "We need each other."
___bluebull Transcendence. Ancient faith teaches that God alone is worthy of worship. "Among religious folk, our most common sin is idolatry. We take something good and treat it as if it were God," he said. "We take the blessing and worship it."
___If these challenges don't seem neat and tidy, that's the way it should be, Orozco said, asserting the role of ethics is to help Christians deal with the "messiness" of life. "Our business is to love people in their messiness, to love people at their point of need as we point them to Jesus," he said.
___Drawing on Jesus' parable of the wheat and tares growing together, he emphasized the role of the pastor in ministering both to Christians and non-believers.
___"The shepherd stands in the messiness of life and loves the wheat and the weeds," he said.
___Understanding American religion will be even messier in the future, predicted Leonard, a Baptist historian and futurist.
___"The systems that nurtured us are coming apart so rapidly we can't comprehend it all," he noted. "We are often a people fighting, arguing, struggling our way toward the future.
___"American Christians are living in a time of permanent transition." And that leaves many asking where they will find their faith identity, he said.
___"One of the great questions that confronts us ... is how we as Christian people and Baptist people will nurture another generation to faith. We've lost a generation, you know. ... Will we lose another generation or not? What identity will we pass on before we slip away?"
___Nurturing this identity happens in ways large and small, he said, citing the little Testament he received as a child from his Sunday School teacher at First Baptist Church of Decatur. That first Bible "started putting an identity into me as deep as the gospel," he said.
___Another question that will shape the future for Baptists is how to take a stand without appearing to be biased bigots, Leonard said in response to a question from the floor.
___"Baptists in the South have been wrong on more social issues than we've been right," he said. Yet historically, Baptists have been unashamedly Christian while ensuring religious liberty for all, he added.
___He cited the witness of Roger Williams in colonial America as an example, noting that Williams strongly challenged the Quakers but let them live peaceably next door to him.
___"Now is a chance for us as Baptists to have the greatest witness I think we have had since the colonial period," Leonard urged, "... if we are unashamedly Christian ... but we respect other religions."

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