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Apr19MonLearning from the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. April 19, 2021 by Ben Riche
In Acts 8, the Apostle Philip encountered an Ethiopian eunuch who was studying the prophet Isaiah but didn’t know how the prophecies were fulfilled. After Philip shared the good news about Jesus, the pair came to an oasis, and the eunuch asked the all-important question: “What prevents me from being baptized?” Philip, obliging him (the default male pronoun assigned in Scripture), answered by implication: nothing.
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Would this person get the same answer if he encountered the gospel in one of our churches? Sure, he might be welcomed at the door, to a pew, even to the mercy seat. He might still accept Jesus as his personal Saviour.
But where could the eunuch go from there? Although we don’t practise water baptism, the question remains: Would he be able to immerse himself in the life of our corps? Would he be invited to play a meaningful role in the future of the church? In outreach? In worship? In leadership?
In some places, the answer to some of those questions might be no, which makes me wonder, What prevents full immersion in our church?
Time and Talents
Growing up, I couldn’t figure out why some of our most talented, creative youth lost interest in our corps’ programming, while I had the time of my life. The answer I got from a leader frustrated me so much that I knew it was true: “There’s nothing here for them.”
One of the easiest ways to increase our program engagement is to diversify the programming itself. In the recent territorial survey for young adults, many expressed gratitude for youth music ministries as foundational to their spiritual lives—mine included.
One respondent envisioned a church where “EVERYONE can participate,” including “less-skilled musicians.” Where are the programs for them? How much kingdom-potential slipped through the gaps we left open because we were focused on programs instead of people? When kids showcased their difference, did we lament or accept that difference and immerse them in new ways?
Just as I Am
A couple of years ago, our senior band did a community engagement with other groups around the city. A tuba player asked if I was with the St. John’s Temple Band. I said yes. He told me that in high school, all he wanted was the chance to play in our band. I asked why he hadn’t.
“A leader told me the young people’s band was the end of the road if I didn’t become a senior soldier, so I figured I should just quit while I was ahead,” he replied. The programs he enjoyed were not meant to nourish him and his soul, but to nourish other programs.
I know what you’re thinking: that’s not what they’re intended to do! But on the individual level, it’s what they have done, and it’s what they are doing.
My home corps just made the decision to welcome band members and songsters regardless of soldiership, so I asked new musicians what it meant to have that barrier removed:
“Being welcomed with such encouragement and open arms made me feel closer to God, and a very strong connection to my church family.”
“It makes me feel as though my church is meeting me where I am, and that I don’t have to be any specific thing to be worthy of their acceptance.”
“As someone with a lifelong church involvement outside the Army, especially in the music of worship, and as someone not quite at the point of joining as a soldier, I greatly appreciate the opportunity to join the songsters and lend my voice to the public worship of God.”
Another set of responses in our survey suggested we consider the “othering” impact of the Salvation Army uniform, and its function as a prerequisite for a certain level of involvement.
Whosoever Will May Come
Overwhelmingly, the young adults of this territory want to belong to a church that is inclusive and accepting of whosoever comes seeking God’s grace. We want a church where everybody belongs, has a voice and plays an authentic role in the body of Christ.
This includes people of different ethnicities, people who are not soldiers and those of different genders and sexual orientation. Everybody. The story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch sets the scriptural standard for the radical acceptance of all people into full immersion in the church, the body of Christ. Let’s keep listening and learning on this journey, with humility and love.
Are we ready to become a church that meets this standard, that hears the all-important question and is ready to honestly respond: Nothing is keeping you from full immersion in our church.
Ben Riche attends St. John’s Temple in the Newfoundland and Labrador Division.
llustration: sv_sunny/iStock via Getty Images Plus
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