There’s a fantastic story I’ve been thinking about the last few years. I certainly won’t do the story justice, but I’ll swing for the fences and hope to hit a triple, then give some thoughts at the end.
There’s a man who is from Nepal, deep in the mountains of the Himalayas. When he was a teenager, his mother became deeply ill and on her death bed. Because this region of the world still believes heavily in animism, the father took her to several witch doctors for healing and no one could heal her.
Not knowing what else to do, he then took her to a hospital in a town far away. The doctor (who happens to be a Christian) looked at her, examined her and told the family, “There’s nothing more than can be done. I’m afraid she’s going to die. All you can do now is pray.”
More than likely the doctor made the “all you can do now is pray” statement probably as something to tag onto the end, but the father immediately says, “Ok, will you pray for her?” So the doctor prays for her and immediately she is healed (much to the surprise of the doctor as well!).
This small family become Christians and visit a small church in the town and leave a few days later, taking with them only their personal story, the story of Jesus they’ve learned from hearing the Bible, and two Nepalese hymns (the family, along with the other people in the village they are from, are illiterate, so having a Bible would do next to nothing, they can’t read it!).
As time passes, the 17 year old grows up and as people are sick, as he had seen the doctor do, he prays for the sick and many of them are healed.
Now where they are from, the customary pay to a witch doctor for services rendered is a shot of whiskey. Not really knowing any better, the man takes the shot as payment. Eventually, after praying for several people in a night, it would not be uncommon for this man to come home rip-roaring drunk. Again, all he knows are the stories of Jesus and two Nepalese hymns. He doesn’t know that Paul has written, “Do not become drunk, as some are in the habit of doing, but be filled with the Spirit.”
One night, after he is walking home and after having a few too many shots of whiskey, he loses his shoe. He wakes up the next morning (probably pretty hungover) and prays about the experience and says: “I really feel like God is telling me to give up drinking. I need two shoes and if I hadn’t had so much to drink, I would have them!”
So he stops drinking. From then on.
Over the next few years, under this man’s leadership, literally hundreds of churches are started in the back country of Nepal, deep in the Himalayas. It is a revival the likes of which we read in the book of Acts with thousands and thousands of people coming to know Jesus. And he’s illiterate. No high school education. No formal training. Just the bare essentials of the gospel, a week in a small, rural Jesus community and the power of the Spirit.
You see, no one told him that it couldn’t happen this way. Now would we say that this is the optimal situation Probably not. We would probably all say that we’d at least like some formal training, some education, etc.
But this story really tapped into a stream of thought that’s been running through my mind the last few years: Here in the United States, we over-value education and to a certain degree, information, when it comes to the church and Kingdom of God. Notice I’m not saying education isn’t important, I’m simply saying we overvalue it.
It’s a little like (real) Heresy
Many of us approach books, education, seminary and the like as if to say: “If I can just learn more, gather more facts, know this a little bit deeper, then I’ll really understand and the puzzle pieces will fit together.” And if this is the case, isn’t this a different (and more elite) form of the Aryan heresy and what led to the spread of Gnosticism? That somehow we who have “special knowledge” and ascent to a higher level of thought have the answers?
I wonder if we have put education over and above the work of the Spirit, his work in his Body, and trust our Father who, in case we didn’t know, wants his Kingdom to advance and succeed more than we do.
I wonder what would happen if we spent less time trying to “educate” ourselves via post-graduate education, endless sermon and theology podcasts, spending hour upon hour reading everything that comes out…and a little more time practicing and learning the rhythms and power of the Spirit.
What if we spent just as much time actively listening to God as we did reading about him?
The fact of the matter is that the church we see exploding in scripture was led by, for the most part, uneducated, unqualified, often illiterate, average men and women.
They simply did what Jesus told them to do: “Do everything I’ve taught you and teach your future disciples to do everything I’ve taught you.” What were some of the basics? Well, Luke 9 & 10 outline it pretty clearly when Jesus gives the most basic instructions to the 12 and 72: When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.
Like a loyal Christopher Nolan fan, I really do enjoy the movie Inception (and I’m a fan enough to think that Interstellar is a highly underrated movie!).
What struck me hardest, though, was that it was an infinitely simple plot: What if you could dream inside of a dream? It really was that basic. But where the movie became complicated was when it dove further into that simple principle: What if you could dream inside of a dream inside of a dream inside of a dream?
Suddenly, it gets quite complex.
But the thing is…it wasn’t terribly complex if you fully understood the simplicity of it from the beginning.
I think there might be a very strong parallel here for us when it comes to education. I think we have never fully embraced the simplicity of the Gospel and chosen to give ourselves, through grace, to the very simple things that Jesus has asked of us. After all, the Gospel is not complex, but hard to do. Rather, it’s simple, but hard to do.
What is the fruit of our lives revealing? I wonder if it reveals we are over-educating our obedience levels.
What if we chose to live out of simple obedience first and then dive deeper down the rabbit hole into the complexity of theology. I realize this isn’t a binary thing, sequential thing. But I’m suggesting maybe it’s a posture of our heart. I think we sometimes believe that the reason people aren’t more like Jesus is because they just don’t have all the information, as if the right puzzle pieces need to be put together and then it will all just click.
That really is just a different form of Gnosticism! If the answer is to believe the Gospel harder, or to understand doctrine or theology more fully, that feels like we’re right back where we were pre-Reformation. Rather than “salvation by works,” it’s become “salvation by right thinking.”
What if what people really need is for us to do and live out the simplest truths of the Gospel and the simple things that Jesus gave us authority to do and then they’ll listen more as we dive deeper into the complexities of theology? Do we have a lens, a world view, a pair of glasses that would let us believe that an uneducated, simple, illiterate man is capable of being one of the next great leaders in the Christian faith? Here. Today. In the 21st Century.
If we don’t, how do we ever hope to lead out into mission ourselves?
Disclaimer: I understand I’m not stating important points on things like theology, doctrine, scripture, etc. I’ve specifically left those out to over-exaggerate the point I’m trying to make.