Summary: Calvary Baptist Church, Washington, DC: We will never achieve maturity until we come to terms with our paternity and accept our posterity. Understand that those who shaped us were also maturing; the transforming power of Christ will open wide our hearts.
All of us aspire to maturity. All of us hope to become mature and complete, grown up in every way, accomplished, respected, and honored. It’s a worthy goal. It’s a proper ambition. But we will never achieve maturity until we come to terms with both our paternity and our posterity. Our paternity – where we came from and who shaped us. And our posterity – where we are headed and who we are leaving behind. We will not achieve maturity until we come to terms with both our paternity and our posterity.
When I came to Washington, more than 38 years ago, it was to be the Baptist campus minister at the University of Maryland. I came with eight years of campus ministry experience, three of them at a college that drew the best and the brightest out of Appalachia, and five years at a major state university. I thought I knew how to do campus ministry. I had succeeded in that discipline, and was ready now to put it all to work again at the University of Maryland.
But of course I did have to work under supervision. Baptists were smart enough not just to send me out to College Park unaccompanied. I had to check in with someone older members of Calvary will remember well: Howard Rees. Rees had been doing campus ministry since before I was even born; he knew everybody worth knowing. So to him I was expected to go regularly for consultation. There I supposed I would learn more about how to develop disciples, how to evangelize, how to build interest in Bible study. I presumed that he would help me connect with the powers that be on the Maryland campus and that he would offer me a bulging file full programs and procedures.
None of that happened. None of it. There were no files. There was no organization. There was no curriculum. There was no apparent discipleship strategy. Nothing of that sort. To say that I was disappointed would be to put it mildly. To say that he did not meet my expectations would be a classic understatement. But to fail to say that I learned from him valuable and irreplaceable lessons would be a travesty on the truth.
For what Howard Rees did for me was to tell stories. Stories of students, professors, administrators, pastors. Stories of ambassadors, scientists, teachers, homemakers. Stories that led me to discover that what ministry was all about was the human spirit. Stories that helped me discern that my powers of administration were for nothing if people were not helped, my grand plans for teaching the Bible were pointless if deep wounds were not healed. Stories that led me to feel both the tragedy and the triumph of the human heart. To a great extent, Howard Rees is part of my spiritual paternity; and if I am anything at all in ministry, I represent part of his posterity. Yet, as you may have already sensed from the way I have told this story, I had to reconcile with his place in my life. I had to come to terms with who he was and what he did before I could grow up in ministry. We will never achieve maturity until we reconcile with our paternity and accept our posterity.
The apostle who wrote to the church at Corinth wrote in a very paternal mode. I suppose some would even call it a paternalistic mode; the distinction is that to be paternal is to be caring, loving, and supportive, but to be paternalistic is to be demanding, manipulative, and just plain bossy. Paul knew how to be bossy!
And worse. Paul could whine. He could whine with the best of them. Even when he tells you, as he does in Philippians, that he has learned to be content in whatever condition he finds himself, there is a certain whine about it. Paul worries that people are not taking him seriously, not according him his due, so he cries out, “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Are you not my work in the Lord?” Paul was going to be taken seriously, thank you very much, even if he had to recite for you all his trials and tribulations: three times beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, sleepless nights, hungry and cold, under daily anxiety about the churches. What a litany of complaints!
That’s the mood here in the sixth chapter of II Corinthians. He gives his counsel, paternally and paternalistically, through the filter of his anxiety about his posterity. Hardships, calamities, imprisonments, the whole bit; dishonored, treated as an impostor, disrespected. But, deep down, it is not just all about Paul. It is about his children in Christ. It is not just all about father Paul and his hurt feelings; it is about those he so wants to nurture and grow. And those Corinthian Christians, hearing Paul preach and reading Paul’s pleas, surely had to come to terms with both their paternity and their posterity.