About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing praises to God, while the other prisoners listened. Suddenly a strong earthquake shook the jail to its foundations. The doors opened, and the chains fell from all the prisoners.
When the jailer woke up and saw that the doors were open, he thought that the prisoners had escaped. He pulled out his sword and was about to kill himself. But Paul shouted, "Don't harm yourself! No one has escaped."
The jailer asked for a torch and went into the jail. He was shaking all over as he knelt down in front of Paul and Silas. After he had led them out of the jail, he asked, "What must I do to be saved?"
They replied, "Have faith in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved! This is also true for everyone who lives in your home."
Then Paul and Silas told him and everyone else in his house about the Lord. While it was still night, the jailer took them to a place where he could wash their cuts and bruises. Then he and everyone in his home were baptized. They were very glad that they had put their faith in God. After this, the jailer took Paul and Silas to his home and gave them something to eat. (Acts 16:25-34 CEV)
We find ourselves at least knee deep in the leading wave of the postmodern tsunami. While some find this new shift in human culture to be disastrous, I find myself relishing the challenge and revived by a deep sense of optimism in our emerging new adults who will bring this shift in epochs to pass.
The deep spiritual hunger in this emerging culture is undeniable. I find its passion to make a difference in a world torn apart by war, racism, and cultural hatred refreshing. I am convicted by its revulsion at the institutional churches' irrelevancy. Most of all, I am hopeful that their base of understanding the universe — spiritual as well as scientific, experiential as well as empirical, communal as well as clinical — will awaken us from our monolithic, reductionistic, and often myopic western approach to Christianity.
When describing how post moderns approach church, worship, and religious experience, most "pomo experts" use the acrostic EPIC. This emerging culture wants their spirituality to be Experiential, Participatory, Image-rich, and Communal. (This last feature is sometimes called Connectivity.) That brings us to our focus for consideration for the moment — the modernist conversion experience.
For the last couple of hundred years, evangelical Christianity in the West has focused upon a very rationalistic and individualistic call to conversion — asking Jesus into our heart using the believer's prayer or something similar, a practice we do not find in the early church of the New Testament. This has been especially popular during the broadcast era of modern evangelism. This approach gives people an opportunity to respond intellectually and even with heartfelt emotion. But the response is at a distance. This kind of conversion is accomplished in isolation from community, often without connection to repentance, and with no immediate shared experience with the core of the Gospel — Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection.
We find a growing hostility among the emerging culture toward the lukewarm, often hypocritical witness of those who call themselves Christians. Christianity for many post moderns, is a caricature of Christianity where church building worship gives way to people whose daily lives bear no stamp of Jesus except for their WWJD jewelry, silly bumper stickers, and popular religious slogans. Longing for community, yearning for a life-challenge that changes their behavior as well as gives them purpose, and wanting a genuinely shared experience of any faith commitment, more than a few post moderns look at our modernist conversion practices — rooted in the broadcast era of baby boomers — as simplistic and irrelevant.
I would like to suggest that we return to our roots as Christian people.
Let's recognize that we have unnecessarily separated the community-based baptism, repentance, and confession experiences from faith. We've made faith merely a mental matter of believing in Jesus and removed it from the experience of the Gospel in baptism. (Compare the center of the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 — Jesus' death, burial and resurrection; now notice the experience of baptism in Romans 6 — sharing in that death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.)
Let's together admit that our modern approach to conversion has often left out the strong call to a life change that means leaving sin behind and turning toward the life of God. (Notice the strong call for life-change in Acts which is the basis of the powerful message of Paul in Romans 6 about the power of grace to change us.)
Jesus is the basis of our salvation. God's grace given us through the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, burial in a borrowed tomb, and triumph over death through the resurrection is the foundation and source of our salvation. The Holy Spirit is God's power and presence that brings cleansing and re-creation into our lives. On these two points, most believers agree. But I'm suggesting we go deeper than this. Let's not make the believer's prayer or a stated commitment to repentance or a special formulaic confession of Jesus or the act of baptism into THE work or act that saves us. God has given Jesus to save us and Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit to complete his work in us.
So, let's go back and look at the conversion experiences of the earliest Christians and re-examine the way we speak about conversion and make some changes in the way we call people to come to Christ for salvation. Let's bring back the connections between repentance, confession, and baptism into our understanding of faith in Jesus. Let's not atomize any one of those things away from the others. Instead, let's see them all as integrally related to each other as an EPIC center of redemption — a place where Jesus is declared Lord and Christ; a time where we commit to live with Jesus as our Lord and leave behind our life of selfishness and sin; an experience where we share in the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord in baptism; and a time where we seek the work of the Holy Spirit to cleanse our hearts, indwell us personally, and intimately connect us with the Body of Christ.
[Peter proclaimed on the day of Pentecost] "Everyone in Israel should then know for certain that God has made Jesus both Lord and Christ, even though you put him to death on a cross.
When the people heard this, they were very upset. They asked Peter and the other apostles, "Friends, what shall we do?"
Peter said, "Turn back to God! Be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins will be forgiven. Then you will be given the Holy Spirit. This promise is for you and your children. It is for everyone our Lord God will choose, no matter where they live."
Peter told them many other things as well. Then he said, "I beg you to save yourselves from what will happen to all these evil people." On that day about three thousand believed his message and were baptized. They spent their time learning from the apostles, and they were like family to each other. They also broke bread and prayed together.
Everyone was amazed by the many miracles and wonders that the apostles worked. All the Lord's followers often met together, and they shared everything they had. They would sell their property and possessions and give the money to whoever needed it. Day after day they met together in the temple. They broke bread together in different homes and shared their food happily and freely, while praising God. Everyone liked them, and each day the Lord added to their group others who were being saved. (Acts 2:36-47)