A series of essays exploring what the church, in light of its ongoing reformation begun 500 years ago, will look like in the next decade and beyond: A futurist’s snapshot of the Christian Church.
As I said last week, the characteristics called the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) are principally passed among Followers of the Way much like family norms are passed among members of the family.
The Fruit of the Spirit – all of them – are manifest in all Followers of the Way.
Five more Fruits of the Spirit, characteristics of Followers of the Way of Jesus (patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, and gentleness) are the focus of this essay. These five especially exhibit the Reforming Church best – they exhibit best practices one towards another. In as much as Followers of the Way strive to imitate Jesus, Paul gives us the best window as to what that may be like in the Fruit of the Spirit. The church camp song, “They’ll Know We Are Christians,” is exemplified in these five practices.
Patience is a valued characteristic of Followers of the Way of Jesus. It is the discipline to stand in difficult places (in the gap of justice and righteousness). It is the discipline to expect the best in everyone as well as the discipline towards a generous mercy. It is a companion of faithfulness – to be present with others during their trials.
In fact, all five of these stand as a companion to each other. Kindness is the practice of being with others, present with a gentle spirit. More than that, kindness is the discipline of standing in solidarity with those who are oppressed, making their cause personal, walking with others, in spite of their circumstance, just as Jesus expressed solidarity with sinners and tax collectors.
Generosity! The character of the Followers of the Way is voluntarily generous. For this reason, the Reforming Church abandons any program that either encourages or challenges Followers of the Way to give more. Followers of the Way are willing to give all they have trusting that God will not abandon them. This assertion has been challenged as both naive and unrealistic. And yet, there it is – Fruit of the Spirit. This shift in and of itself will press the ongoing reformation of the church into a new way of being. This will become more apparent, particularly, when the gifts of the people increasingly focus on the merits of the Kingdom of God and the church as the people and the mission they undertake for the glory of God, rather than the church as a building.
In the Reforming Church, the faithfulness of the Followers of the Way is the discipline of believing in what God is doing and not subscription to an ideological formula. The Reforming Church is less concerned about the orthodoxy of Followers of the Way than their orientation to others in need and their ability to stay put. In the Garden when Jesus was feverishly praying, he asked to be released from the terrible thing that he would go through, but by his faithfulness, he endured the awful tragedy that the Reforming Church and the Followers of the Way embrace as hope and salvation. This is the crucible which shapes the faithfulness of the Followers of the Way. They are absolutely dependable for a world in need, and for this reason, so is the Reforming Church.
Gentleness is the character of the Followers of the Way that is empty of all judgment of others. They do not cast judgment, remembering that they are also under the same judgment. They do not condemn or shame those who stand judged and are first to reach out to give those who have been judged another chance, as Jesus advised his disciples (Matthew 18:22). Gentleness is the practice of Followers of the Way bringing to the Way those who have been abandon to their own misguided natures. Followers of the Way practice gentleness with an iron constitution. So grounded are they in the nature of their welcome, hospitality, and mercy that no anger – no hatred – can deter them. They will not take offense nor offend, but constantly strive to stand at the door with welcome arms with an invitation to mercy, forgiveness, and redemption. This is ingrained in the Followers of the Way. Gentleness is a mark of the Reforming Church.
If all of this sounds like the Followers of the Way are a perfect sort. Such I do not intend. These are practices of the Followers of the Way. Followers of the Way are not always on the mark, but they always get up and go at it again, thanks in large part to the support culture the Reforming Church keeps in place. To be sure, a high mark is set for the Followers of the Way, but their calling is worthy of the great care they take to be on the mark.
Next week, the last Fruit of the Spirit – self-control and the spirit of contentment as Paul expressed in the grateful knowledge that God’s realm will succeed in spite of his circumstance in life.