Unexpected signs of grace in the life of Chattanooga

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March 26, 2012 — The power of Christianity is everywhere felt in Chattanooga, but in the daily record of city life in news pages is rarely identified. This omission is understandable. To point out the Christian element in the story would be repetitive and preachy, and not serve a business or editorial purpose.

In the past week we have seen the operation of grace in the public marketplace:

➤ County government has shown a gracious forbearance toward what is commonly called “popular sovereignty” in letting protesters live on the courthouse for five months. The expulsion of Occupy Chattanooga protesters Tuesday from the sun-dappled courtyard was not an eviction, but a relocation. An ordinary owner of land could order a trespasser off his property and threaten civil action under his rights (at equity, he has the right to be free from torts, or legal wrongs). The county, in respectfully overlooking the protesters five months, acted more like a trustee than an owner. A trustee is a holder of property for the benefit of another. A trustee doesn’t own, but graciously stewards, the assets of others. Thus we the people are allowed a sense of being owners of the courthouse, not merely subjects of a municipal corporation.

➤ A bill before the Tennessee legislature on the teaching of evolution in the government school seeks to allow a question mark to be injected into the monolithic paradigm of evolutionism. Evolution is largely taught as history rather than as an ideology and a form of religious dogma. The question mark allows for open dialogue, a give and take, a conversation. Christianity is generally very willing to debate philosophies hostile to it, whereas defenders of ideological systems such as evolution readily snap at critics, and try to ward off debate with coercion, gags and ridicule. Grace is good. Debate is good.

➤ A local church, Brainerd Baptist, held a demonstration of the grace principle that are still being felt today. On Dec. 24, the governors of that church acted on plan to dispose of F$26,000 given by a member, a donor who presumably is also a faithful tither. At a worship service the deacons passed out Federal Reserve bills in 1,250 envelopes. “You see, grace is defined as ‘free and unmerited favor,’” it was explained. “Grace is receiving something that wasn’t earned with no expectation of paying back the gift. We hope that these grace gifts start a wave of generosity in the city of Chattanooga. We believe the world needs more grace.”

THE MEMBERS OF the congregation often put more bill in the envelope. Michael and Beverly Locke gave the money to a Steak & Shake waitress, a mother of four who wept on receiving it. Angela Stutz gave the cash to a Christian health care ministry. Two couples gave the money to a married woman, “Sarah,” who was taking care of four grandchildren and had suffered a stroke. Pamela Davis used the funds to occupy herself with a widow who had no working furnace in her house and poor insulation. Before the weather in Chattanooga turned warm, she had been trying to raise more money for a gas service deposit. Marlene Collins, in a Wal-Mart parking lot, was roughly approached by a man asking her to pay for a gas tank refill; she rang her husband for advice, then agreed to go with the man to a nearby gas station to pay for fuel. “ I shared with him that I would normally not do this, but was challenged by the church to give this gift and talked with him about his situation and shared God’s love.”

God’s grace protected Mrs. Collins and encouraged her fellow believers involved in the demonstration, one intended as much for church members as for outlying recipients.

Sometimes grace operates under trade names.

In law, for example, grace requires a government prosecutor to give to the defense exculpatory evidence — evidence that would tend to show the innocence of the accused. The feds gleefully hid evidence that would have brought a “not guilty” verdict against an Alaska federal senator, and were roundly blasted last week by a judge’s monitor. In Times Free Press news reporting, grace comes under the moniker of “getting both sides” and presenting two disputants in a story fairly. In government, Hamilton County extends a certain reverence to members of the public by obeying the so-called sunshine law requiring meetings be public, not private. Such rules annoy commissioners and councilmen, but are part of their deference to the people.

GRACE BEING CRUCIAL to understanding man’s dealings with God, it is the focus of dispute, as well, especially in Chattanooga, where the minority report stands upon a vital distinction that, if you are a Christian who rejects creeds and dogmas, you may have trouble perceiving.

We live in an age of grace, as Brainerd Baptist Church wants to demonstrate.

Yet we also live in an age of lawlessness, which at least one local I’ve heard insists has its origins among the people of God. The state of antinomianism (against + law) is seen in many quarters, but even among professing subjects of Jesus Christ. The lawlessness we see in the malicious prosecution of the late Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens and in the prosecutorial abuse of the exculpatory evidence rules last week against rural militiamen called the Hutaree is evil, but merely reflective of a long-held indifference among Christians to the 10 commandments.

If we live under God’s grace and are saved as His people by grace, what is the place of God’s law? If we cannot be saved by keeping God’s law, which Paul in Galatians says is impossible, to what end do the 10 commandments serve and do they have continuing relevance today in some aspect or other of the Christian’s life?

I hope we can explore the distinction between the Christian ideas of justification and sanctification in future posts.

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Sources: Brainerd Baptist church website; The Wall Street Journal, “Report excoriates Stevens prosecutors,” 3/16/2012