No faith can command a man’s final and absolute allegiance, that is to say, no faith can be a man’s real religion, if he knows that it is only true for certain places and certain people. In a world which knows that there is only one physics and one mathematics, religion cannot do less than claim for its affirmations a like universal validity.
— J. E. Lesslie Newbigin, A Faith for This One World? (1961) quoted in: Dallas Willard, Knowing Christ Today: Why we Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge HarperOne 2009 page 2.
John 13:5-8 (NRSV)
“Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.'”
[Peter’s horrified reaction at Jesus’ washing of his feet] is the reaction of normal human nature. That the disciple should wash his master’s feet is normal and proper. But if the master becomes a menial slave to the disciple, then all proper order is overturned…. All of us except those at the very bottom have a vested interest in keeping it so, for as long as we duly submit to those above us we are free to bear down on those below us. The action of Jesus subverts this order and threatens to destabilize all society. Peter’s protest is the protest of normal human nature.
… This is not just an acted lesson in humility; Peter could have understood that…. The foot washing is a sign of that ultimate subversion of all human power and authority which took place when Jesus was crucified by the decision of the “powers” that rule this present age. In that act the wisdom of this world was shown to be folly, and the “powers” of this world were disarmed (Col 2:15). But “flesh and blood” — ordinary human nature — is in principle incapable of understanding this. It is “to the Jew a scandal, to the Greek folly.” Only those whom the risen Christ will call and to whom the Holy Spirit will be given will know that this folly is the wisdom of God, and this weakness is the power of God. At that moment, as the man he is, Peter cannot understand. The natural man makes gods in his own image…. How can the natural man recognize the supreme God in the stooping figure of a slave, clad only with a loincloth?
— Lesslie Newbigin, The Light Has Come.
Hat tip to Wesley Hill for this quote.
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Read this passage in light of the missional nature of the church — a topic discussed in this video of Ed Stetzer, that I recently posted on this blog. Stetzer says, for example, that it’s not so much that the Church has a mission as that God’s mission has a Church.
The mission of God requires a people who are bearers of God’s light and presence in the world. As Christ came into the world to mediate God’s presence to the world, his followers — the disciples to whom this Sermon is addressed — are now to continue and extend that mission.
The church doesn’t exist for itself; it exists to serve the world. It is not ultimately about the church; it’s about the people God wants to bless through the church. When the church loses sight of this, it loses its heart. — Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith p. 165.
Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount with a series of shocking statements about who had the blessing of God. The blessings of God’s Kingdom were falling upon unlikely people. Jesus now continues with a series of sayings about his disciples and their role in the world. They are people who are sent on God’s mission to bring hope to the world. (more…)