I Did NOT See This Coming…..
Well this is a first: a dictionary moved me to tears! I can honestly say I have never had that experience in all my life, until this week. It happened as I was doing my homework for my “Interpreting the New Testament” class taught online by Jay Phelan. You know his name from North Park Seminary or if you read the Covenant Companion. One required resource is called, Dictionary of the Later New Testamenti, and it has 1289 pages, is 3 inches thick and weighs nearly 5 pounds (according to my bathroom scale). Needless to say, I don’t lug it around a lot.
This week we are studying 1, 2, and 3 John. (In the Dictionary these are listed under: John, Letters Of, because that is how you do it in dictionaries, I guess. This is where you go to get facts: dates, places, names, etc. This is the background you need to better understand scripture. Surprisingly, this is where things got personal. I was reading on page 590 (in case you want to check my facts). This is the very sentence that got to me: “But the Johannine church was not to survive the conflict”. That was it- tears came to my eyes.
A bit of explanation perhaps, but first, a sidetrack. Like everyone else I don’t watch too much TV (heard that one before), but one show Tim and I watch frequently is called “Persons of Interest”. My favorite character on the show is Detective Joss Carter: a strong female character who has done the right things all along and has a moral core and has been brave and strong and true in her fight against corruption. And they killed her off this week! Man, I did not see that coming either! I didn’t cry, but I sort of wanted to. It was a mini-shock, because I know she isn’t a real person, but I wish she was. She just deserves to be a real person, in my mind. So I didn’t tear up, but if she had been real? Oh, my.
Back to John.
Here’s why “the Johannine church was not to survive the conflict” did make me cry.
Johannine is theology-speak for the church that John founded. I have always loved John (the Gospel, and the writer). I could connect with this follower of Jesus because he was so emotional. He wore his heart on his sleeve. His love for Jesus was steadfast. He was there right until the end. He wasn’t afraid to show his emotions, and he was the one Jesus trusted to care for his mother. Those are just some the reasons I have to love John. So think about John, yes, THAT John being the pastor of our church. You could not find a more loving, caring, supportive Pastor. He was an eyewitness, a personal friend of Jesus; he was front and center for miracles and meals. He understood the Holy Spirit. What more could a church ever ask for? And yet, according to page 589 and 590, conflicts rocked the churches that he founded. In spite of all the love and prayer he poured out on them, the church “was not to survive the conflict.” I did not see that coming. Are you closer to understanding my reactions?
The rest of the dictionary article goes on to define what those conflicts were about, and how they came about, and how the culture of the time played a part. It says, “We can only speculate that something serious happened”, and the “once unified congregation began to tear apart from within”. The conflicts were about Jesus, and who he really was, and a congregation that once loved Him and loved each other became hateful towards each other.
In the end, some of the followers of Christ gave up. They quit. They moved on. That makes me weep. They gave up believing that Jesus was the Christ, and that He was going to return to earth. Most of the eyewitnesses were no longer living. The First Generation of believers were growing old and dying, and persecution and hardship had discouraged them, and some would no longer believe that Jesus was who he claimed to be.
John isn’t a literary character, like Detective Carter. He isn’t a mythical character, like Thor. He is our brother, and one day I assume he will be a friend. We are joined, he and I, because of who we know: Jesus. We are family because of that connection. Even so, I have never sat and wondered what it was like to be John, what it must have felt like to know with all his heart, soul, and mind, the truth about Jesus Christ. What is must have been like to wonder if that truth would survive the evil age he lived in. The odds of the Christian faith surviving his generation were not at all good. Dire, I would say. So I shed some tears for my brother, John. And, I marveled at the power of God to keep the church moving forward against all odds.
What would John say to us, the family gathered at Brookdale Covenant Church, nearly 2,000 years later? Read his letters and find out. (And maybe audit a North Park Seminary class. I’ll be happy to lend you the Dictionary).
i G. M. Burge, John, Letters of, in Dictionary of the Later New Testament, Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, Ill. 1997.