I love summer. Having grown up in Arizona, I feel most at home when it’s warm. And conversely, winter is like exile. Heavy socks and boots are shackles, when I’d prefer flip flops. I wear them all summer. Even to church.
Over the years, I’ve developed a mild disdain for formality in church. Whether it’s stodgy prayer or rigid liturgy. Every church I’ve been at I’ve tried to push my casual approach. The way I dress. The way I design our worship services. The way we interact with our congregation.
You’d be surprised, but not everyone appreciates my resolve to alter church culture. To be honest, I’ve simply written off these objections. But I’ve come to realize I shouldn’t.
I was reading the book of Acts and ran across this:
Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. —Acts 16:1-3 ESV
Paul and Barnabas’s Yoko Ono
The Apostle Paul had been traveling and ministering with Barnabas for some time, and after a disagreement they decided to separate. Mark, a fellow missionary, came between them, because he’d left the group before. Barnabas wanted to give him another chance, so he left with Mark, while Paul moved on with Silas. They traveled to Lystra, where they met Timothy.
Paul was immediately impressed with Timothy and wanted him to join their team. But since he was half-Jew/half-Greek, he wouldn’t be received well by potential believers who were Jewish, because they would know he hadn’t been circumcised. This wouldn’t seem to disqualify him since Paul would even say,
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. —Galatians 5:6 ESV
On a practical level, circumcision would allow Timothy access to synagogues. But the principle extends further. Sure, Paul could present Timothy as an object lesson that grace is found in Christ alone, not adherence to the Law. But a dogged resistance to the most critical of Jewish mandates—circumcision was a command given to Abraham by God, long before Moses would arrive on the scene—would most assuredly put off the very people Paul was trying to reach.
Instead of disaffecting those who held circumcision in high regard, Paul preferred to serve them. Without compromising the truth, he would package the good news however it needed to be received. Good news for them. Bad news for Timothy.
So what nonessentials have I made essential? Newer music over old hymns? Spontaneous prayer over liturgical prayer? Flip flops instead of shoes?
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. —1 Corinthians 9:19-23 ESV