This morning Brian and I met with Marco, the pastor of the Apostolic church here in Ancona. We had met a few times but this was the first time that we had just been able to talk and get to know each other. We met to plan the joint prayer room that we're hosting at the end of November. Their church will be covering a 12-hour period on Saturday. The Thursday before, we will be having a joint worship service to kick it off.
I had heard from a mutual friend that Marco's testimony was a powerful one and I asked him to share it with me. He transported us back to his teen years in Sicily where he was introduced to the spiritual world through family members who practiced various kinds of magic and fortune-telling practices. He told us about his lifestyle and how he grew in his ability in various spiritual activities. Just before he was to participate in a rite which would have introduced him to the blacker side of magic, he stepped into an Evangelical service to greet an aunt. What happened during that service that evening set about a course of actions which brought him to his knees before Christ and his life was forever changed. He went from being a violent, frightening fortune-telling handball star to a gentle, kind Christ follower.
As he shared his perspective and experience I found, once again, my theology being shaken, not stirred. I began thinking of the people we've met in the last year or two who have had various spiritual experiences outside of the church, having been left hungry and thirsty for more than they find in their local Mass: exorcisms, visions, fortunes told, angelic appearances, New Age communities, horoscopes, astrological soul charting, rune reading among them. Just the other day, one young lady from our community asked me how to share the Gospel with her friend who tells people's fortunes and can talk to spirits. I'm convinced that another of our friends remains somehow still bound spiritually to spiritual experiences in his past. How do I account for all of this? How do we handle it? What do I believe about it when the teaching I've received up until now doesn't seem to fit or to be enough?
I have to depend on what I know about God, about who Jesus is and what he's done. I have to remember what is TRUE. I have to study the Scriptures and from there, delve cautiously out into the murky waters of the unknown and ask God to guide me. Am I bold enough to believe that others are experiencing God in a way I'm not? Am I courageous enough to admit that I don't have all the answers and that there is more going on behind the scenes than I'm aware of?
God is good, He is love. Christ paid the price, which means not only forgiveness and salvation, but freedom. If this is true then I have to believe that helping people see it and believe it means I'm going to get dirty, and that maybe my theology will, in the process, be refined. I have to believe that God can overcome any obstacle, that his love can reach ANYONE, no matter the challenges. I guess faith involves trusting, even when we don't have all the answers; maybe especially when we realize there's just a whole lot we don't know. It doesn't change what is true. Trying to cling to a theology in the midst of this setting is like trusting in a wet, slippery tree branch while being swept down a flooded river. It leads me to cling to the God behind the theology; in WHO he is and WHO I am because of Him.