Tuesday, June 2, 2009

a bold church

“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John …” – Acts 3:13

After the cripple was healed, the people “were filled with wonder and amazement,” (3:10) and as a result, Peter “addressed the people.” (3:12) Peter’s words, as we saw earlier, are direct – so direct in fact that the captain of the temple throws them in jail. Peter and John then stand trial before the rulers, elders, scribes, Annas (the high priest), Caiaphas (the former high priest), and others from the high-priestly family. And when questioned, Peter and John are more direct than ever – “there is salvation in no one else” (4:12). And when seeing their “boldness,” the rulers are “amazed” (4:13).

The apostles were bold. Each apostle “spoke the word of God with boldness” (4:31). And so we may want to consider – what is Christian boldness?

Let’s start with what boldness is not. Boldness is not arrogance. In the Bible, arrogance (alazoneia) is empty, braggart talk that trusts in its own power. We can all be arrogant in our speech about God. We must crucify our arrogance. God demands humility from his children. Arrogance is the antithesis of emptying one’s self and taking the form of a slave (Phil 2:5-11). Satan is arrogant. God, on the other hand, is humble.

What then is boldness?

Boldness (parrhesia) is a trusting, open, transparent freedom in one’s speech. It rests on the assumption that the speaker himself is powerless, and yet is commissioned to speak on behalf of the One in whom all Power lies. One who speaks boldly trusts God with the outcome of his speech. If his words are rejected, he is okay. If misunderstood, he is okay. If accepted, he is okay. He has learned to be content in all circumstances. His yes means yes; his no means no.

The Greek Fathers used the word parrhesia to describe the “free speech” that Adam and God had before the fall – i.e., the condition of standing naked before God and others and not being ashamed. Parrhesia, they said, died when Adam hid from God. Boldness, therefore, entails coming out of hiding. It’s about speaking truthfully and openly and humbly in the name of the One with the Power.

No wonder the rulers were “amazed” that Peter and John spoke with boldness. I think we’d be just as amazed if we encountered such open, uninhibited speech in our daily life. After all, we’ve learned to calculate our words and to “think before we speak.” All well and good – but, the apostles stood before the rulers and the authorities and the world completely naked and weren’t ashamed to bear witness to what God had done through Jesus. We too must ask, seek, and knock until the door of boldness is opened unto us. We too must come out of hiding.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith.” (Rom 1:16)

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