The Inverted Christian-Chapter 2: Is Childhood "Conversion" the Same As Cross Bearing?
Updated: Apr 2, 2020
"The Inverted Christian"
“Jesus Priceless Treasure”
Note: Chapter 2 appears under the blog portion because of technical difficulties. It will be posted later under "The Inverted Christian" section where the theme of the web page is discussed more fully.
It is my custom to read a hymn in my daily quiet time. Their theology and spiritual insights have captured my heart over the last decade or so. My copy of The One Year Book of Hymns by Robert Brown and Mark Norton is well worn and marked-up with notes. The practice has become a delight and I highly recommend it to all. Today’s reading (March 4) was entitled “Jesus Priceless Treasure.” It was written by Johann Franck who lived from 1618 until 1677. It is not a well-known hymn in the church traditions where I have worshiped. However, it stands alone as beautiful poetry, even if it had never been set to music. Please read it slowly and ponder Franck’s thoughts:
Jesus, priceless treasure,
Source of purest pleasure,
Truest friend to me,
Long my heart hath panted,
Till it well-nigh fainted,
Thirsting after thee.
Thine I am O spotless Lamb,
I will suffer naught to hide Thee,
Ask for naught beside Thee.
In thine arm I rest me,
Foes who would molest me,
Cannot reach me here.
Though the earth be shaking,
Every heart be quaking,
God dispel our fear;
Sin and hell in conflict fell
With their heaviest storms assail us;
Jesus will not fail us.
Hence, all thoughts of sadness!
For the Lord of gladness,
Jesus, enters in;
Those who love the Father,
Though the storms may gather,
Still have peace within;
Yea, whatever we here must bear,
Still in Thee lies purest pleasure,
Jesus, priceless treasure!
In addition to Franck’s poetic verse, Brown and Norton furnish a theological insight, historical context, or explanation for each song. A Bible selection striking a similar chord is included to enhance deeper reflection. Hopefully, taken together, they capture the warp and woof of the hymn.
Brown and Norton’s choice of hymn captures well “The Inverted Christian” page’s theme (invertedchristian.com). Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke succinctly what we desire to accomplish by our writing, speaking, and blogging. With tongue and life, he confessed: “When Christ calls a . . . [person], he bids him come and die” (see: https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/98256-when-christ-calls-a-man-he-bids-him-come-and).
The authors combine two little-known Bible passages to drive home their point. These serve to demonstrate the single-minded purpose of the true Christ-follower.
“Jesus told a story about a man who found treasure buried in a field. The man sold all he had to buy the field. A merchant found a pearl of great price and sold his fortune to claim it. That, Jesus said, is what the kingdom of God is all about—giving up everything to gain eternity” (author’s italics). A reiteration of this idea comes from the New Testament Book of Matthew. Consider Jesus’ words when he says:
"The Kingdom of Heaven is like something precious buried in a field, which a man found and hid again. then in his joy he goes and sells all he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13: 44, Amplified Bible).
Jesus' second simile follows quickly on the heels of the first and distinctly reinforces the issue:
“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who is a dealer in search of fine and precious pearls,Who, on finding a single pearl of great price, went and sold all he had and bought it” (Matthew 13: 44 & 45, Amplified Bible).
At first blush, this depth of call to discipleship seems rather extreme?! What the follower should do and should be is excessive by our American Evangelical standards. But with deeper reflection, is what Jesus calls us to do really all that extreme? Or, it this the real and hard truth of the Gospel—what Jesus demands of all who would follow Him?
For this present discussion, I would like to contrast the above commitment which Christ demands, and Bonhoeffer confessed with that of the present-day contemporary church. This will be done from a first-person point-of-view. I will use my experience as one reared in a Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) church as a lens of examination. (I speak from life-long membership, observations, and ministerial education of the SBC and its institutions. These have all worked together to forge my spiritual formation.)
I was reared in a nominal SBC church that was strongly influenced by the Independent Fundamentalist movement. The programs and ethos were moderately Conventional. (I say “Conventional” and not denominational because the SBC is not a denomination per se.) There was a rhyme and reason and / or program for nearly everything done in my home church. It is out of this context that my story unfolds. My home church contained the ethos of both the Independent Fundamentalist’s and the SBC.
When I was 7 (or maybe 8) we had a pastor, who was also studying to be a New Testament and Greek scholar. Under his preaching, I went forward at the end of a service to make my “profession of faith.” As I reflect, I probably “walked the aisle” during the “altar-call” because one of my young friends had gone forward to “made a decision.” I now understand, since I have four grandsons ages 11 down to 5, that a child of this age would have many issues understanding the Gospel. Don’t get me wrong. I have known many who have made a profession of faith in these tender years. But few who had a similar experience remained faithful and went on to become fully devoted followers. And I would argue, these mature and productive believers are the exception and not the rule. I would argue, when these methods of church evangelism and discipleship are employed, many a young person goes off into the world as they grow older. Many never to return to the church.
As was done at the time (in my remembrance), they did only the very minimum of spiritual counseling. Then I was presented to the church for baptism and church membership. I was baptized at this tender age, without a working knowledge and understanding of the Gospel. To offer a further critique of this mode of operation based on an old man’s memory might be to bear false witness.
My experience can be contrasted rather sharply with another part of my spiritual exposure. My mom was brought-up in a Missionary Baptist Church background. This Baptist tradition’s worship service focused on the mourner’s-bench. There, during the biannual “Revival Meetin,’” sinners were compelled to “pray-through,” until their conscious burden of sin and guilt was taken away. All was accomplished by an experience with the “Holy Ghost.” He gave the penitent a personal sense of assurance. Some outside the tradition might observe this to be tantamount only to an emotional experience. Which may or may not be salvation. (This is a topic for another time and place.) And I remember quite well that my mom was offended deeply when I became a “Christian” via these means. In her words, the church pronounced me to be a “Christian” at such a young age. One can soon realize how both theologies and methodologies have their own special issues.
Many things can be learned from ministry experience alone that cannot be understood when in the seminary classroom. Since my induction into ministry in August of 1981, I have encountered innumerable SBC people who have come under this same evangelism and discipleship mode. Later when grown, many came to realize there had been no conversion. Again, like me. They had only “made a decision.” Thankfully, under the preaching of the Gospel and the blessed work of the Holy Spirit, some later repented towards God and placed their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Finally, they found-out what it meant “to take up the Cross!”
In Chapter 3 we will continue to tease-out what it means to “take up the Cross” and to live the “Inverted Christian Life!”