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Forming a Community of the Spirit: Hospitality, Fellowship, and Nurture, Part 1

I like to think of our hearing the biblical story as a kind of “intersection” of believers’ stories with the story. By making the biblical story the reference point for my little story I discover where I fit in God’s story. My behavior, character, and destiny are altered. By making the biblical story the filter for my little life’s story I remain accountable and responsible. Like a foundation for the building that is my life, the biblical story keeps me truly “grounded” and safe when the winds of the world, the flesh, and the devil blow my way. The more distance created from the biblical story, the more likely believers will succumb to those winds and face ultimate collapse. The tighter believers remain connected to the biblical story—their foundation—the greater will be their confidence and security that is found only in an obedient relationship with the Creator as expressed by the biblical story.

Regardless of the profession to which believers are called, knowing the biblical story is important. Business people will work for a company or a corporation that has a story. Pastors called to minister at a church learn that each local church has a story. Teachers in the public schools learn that every child has a story and that a story comes out of that community where their students live. Psychologists will hear others’ stories, many of which they will be asked to interpret. Whatever laypeople are called to do and wherever they go they will be asked to hear stories and often interpret them, sometimes for others, always for themselves.

It is in the hearing and interpreting of stories that believers can find the intersection points with the biblical story. Thus, hearing the biblical story can be exciting and rewarding; it need not be boring and exhausting. Not only can laypeople hear and analyze the biblical story, they can also learn to tell their story better in relation to the story. And, with others in mind, lay believers can begin to think creatively about how they can help others intersect with the biblical story. I want to try to find ways my life’s story intersects with the biblical story. And what a difference it makes!

Having discovered great truths within the biblical story, laypeople can then tell the story, and, by telling the story, communicate those truths. When Jesus wanted to speak of the risky, scandalous, and longsuffering love of God for God’s people, he told a story about two sons, one who asked for his inheritance so he could do as he pleased and another son who had no pity or mercy for the other, caring only for himself. For centuries believers have called this story the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11ff.), and it communicates great theological truths in story form.

When God wanted to call Israel back to God from their idolatry, God sent the prophet Hosea to the nation. Through his painful experience with his wife, Hosea was able to communicate both his story and the story of God’s saving mercy and love to an idolatrous people. Imbedded within the story of Hosea and Gomer is a bigger story of God’s longsuffering love for God’s people. When God wanted to tell the people God was willing to reshape them according to the divine plan, God sent Jeremiah to the potter’s house (Jer 18:1–12). There, Jeremiah understood the story within the story. God was like the potter Jeremiah saw, who was willing to work with marred pieces (people) to reshape them into vessels useful and worthy to God. The story told the people of God’s concern for them and of God’s sovereign control over the clay (the people).

We can see in these stories certain transactions occurring that draw people into the story-world created by the biblical narrator. The story-world created invites the hearer/reader to live in a world where all sorts of transactions are possible. The story is presented in such a way that though times, places, traditions, and even events may change, the story-world is not finally bound by these changes. The story contains inexplicable, divinely enabled elements that make possible future transactions for people willing to enter this world and hear and see with the ears and eyes of faith. This makes it possible for people of faith to live obediently according to the transactions of the narrative. Jeremiah spoke of a “Potter-God” who was willing to reshape sinful people. Is the Potter-God still willing to reshape sinful people and make them obedient children of God? The answer is a resounding, “Yes!” The task will be to discover how believers can retell those stories in a form that is understandable to those in our cultures.

What might help to make hearing the biblical story so powerful is hearing the stories of others in which they describe how they wrestled with important life issues and with their faith. Through hearing these stories, believers become connected to each other in ways that are impossible except by this method. Testimony time in Pentecostal worship is only the beginning, albeit an important beginning. It is in testimony time that believers learn more about each other. Conversations of depth and meaning can continue long after worship time is over when believers learn more about the stories of brothers and sisters. Using examples from the Psalter in which psalmists describe their experiences with Torah and with God, Scott Ellington asserts that this process of testimony “is essential because it legitimates the community’s stories and allows for their re-appropriation.”22 He described it this way:

Truth-as-testimony offers a promising way in which to understand the Bible’s truth-claims. Testimony involves selective remembering and includes the beliefs of the one testifying, along with references to the events that are believed to be true. Furthermore, it is at times possible to evaluate testimony about God through the continuing process of bringing together that testimony and fresh experiences of God’s presence and absence. The common thread that allows the bringing together of the worldview(s) of the biblical writers and the worldview(s) of Pentecostals is a commonly held belief that God remains an active agent (indeed the primary active agent) in the biblical stories.23

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Category: Ministry, Winter 2012

About the Author: Steven M. Fettke, M.Div. (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary), Th.M., D.Min. (Columbia Theological Seminary), is Professor of Religion at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida. He was awarded the Delta Alpha Distinguished Educator Award by the Alliance for Assemblies of God Higher Education in 2009. He is the author of Messages to a Nation in Crisis: An Introduction to the Prophecy of Jeremiah (1982).

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