Saturday, April 8, 2017

Such Cute Dogs, Though!: A One-Act Play

Setting: An uncommonly sunny early afternoon in the Portland, Oregon area. ERIC, a young pastor in his early thirties, emerges onto the front step of his townhouse with two adorable dogs in tow. Sadly, those dogs, despite said adorableness, are consigned entirely to supporting roles, so the dogs who portray them must be calm and well-trained.

Enter stage *far* right: two door-to-door EVANGELISTS, young women roughly ERIC's age. No further identifiers will be given, as this what follows wasn't taken personally; indeed, the point of sharing this now is to highlight more universal experiences of people in similar situations. Both evangelists are carrying Bibles and brochures. The script is not a word-for-word rendition of the true story this play is based on--some sections have been condensed, and others have been recreated from memory, as the playwright was still caffeinating at this point in the day.

EVANGELIST ONE (hereafter E1): Oh my gosh, such cute dogs, are they friendly?!

ERIC: The friendliest.

Dogs scamper delightfully towards the EVANGELISTS, then back to ERIC.

EVANGELIST TWO (hereafter E2): Here, we'd like for you to take one of these *hands ERIC one of the brochures* and we wanted to ask you if you know whether you're going to be going to heaven or not when you die.

ERIC: I'm going to nip you in the bud right there--thank you for asking and for wanting to spread the Word, but I'm already a pastor of another church, so I'm probably not the best candidate for the whole spiel. (Stage direction: ERIC usually leads off with this line when put in this situation, as it automatically crosses him off just about any church's list. It has worked to great effect in conversing with evangelists, whether Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Seventh-Day Adventists--all of whom were unfailingly polite and probably could teach ERIC a thing or two about that level of unconditional politeness.)

E2: Well, that's great that you are, though! So, what would you tell someone that they had to do to get into heaven?

ERIC: I mean, that's about the context and the person really.

E2: But what if it was me? What if I needed to know how to go to heaven, what would you say to me?

ERIC: I'd probably say that I've come to understand Jesus Christ to be the Messiah, my Lord and Savior, that by having faith in Him I now do a ministry of good works, and I hope that when I die, that I will get to go be with the Lord.

E2: Well, that's fine, but you know we don't need good works to be saved, right? *Proof-texts random verse from Paul--and let's be honest, there's so many of them to proof text, so just pick one.* 

ERIC: I believe that my faith must be reflected in the works I do, because James wrote that faith without works is dead.

E2: But what about *insert another proof-texted verse from Paul*?

ERIC: I'm not saying faith isn't a part of the equation. But faith has to be outward, it has to be shown by our deeds. By your works, James says, God knows your faith.

E1: So you have to be baptized to go to heaven?

ERIC: I didn't say that. That's confusing mission with baptism.

E1: Because the repentant thief on the cross, Jesus said to him, "Truly, you will be with me in Paradise." And he wasn't baptized.

ERIC (seeing where this is going): No he wasn't. But he didn't recite the Sinner's Prayer, either.

E2: So you think that if someone is just a good person, they'll go to heaven?

ERIC: That isn't what I said, either.

E2: So how can you teach that you need good works to be saved?

ERIC: Because that's what James says. If you believe that faith is necessary for salvation, James says that good deeds are a part of that faith.

E2: Well, just so you know, what you're preaching is a heresy.

ERIC: Okay.

E2: You're sending people to hell with you're teaching, and you're going to go to hell yourself if you keep teaching that.

ERIC: Okay.

E2: Is that what you want to happen?

ERIC: Obviously not, which is why I teach what I teach.

E2: That doing good works is a part of having faith?

ERIC: Yup.

E2: I just can't believe you would do that when Paul says *insert yet another proof-texted verse from Paul here*. Can't you see that the world is ending around us?

ERIC: Look, I do that because that is how I've come to understand Scripture. Scripture says that the day of the Lord comes like a thief in the night, and even Jesus said that He doesn't know when God will return.

E2: But we're meant to be vigilant! Which means that you will know and should know!

ERIC: Are we meant to know if Jesus didn't know?

E2: God says that we will know, though.

ERIC: But why the immediacy? In John 12, Jesus says that the Word He has spoken acts as the judge, but that judgement doesn't occur until the end of time itself. So why does this saving have to be in one person's life, or yours, or mine?

E2: You think people can be saved even after they die?

ERIC: In so many words? Yup.

E2: What is even the point of that?

ERIC: I mean, that's part of the premise of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke...

E2 (cutting off): You need to stop teaching this heresy. I am rebuking you in the name of the Lord!

ERIC: Um...okay.

E2: How can you be a pastor and teach these things?

ERIC: *shrugs*

E2: You need to repent and live by faith alone.

ERIC (sighing): Look, that's just not how the Bible reads. The apostles didn't just live by faith alone, they shared *all* their possessions and gave to everyone as each had need. They lived their faith by their deeds. And when Ananias and Sapphira held back from sharing in those deeds, Peter condemned them. They died.

E1: No, they died because they lied to the Holy Spirit!

ERIC: ...yes, through their actions. That's what Peter said.

E1: But they were never saved.

ERIC: Sure, okay.

E2: It means that they never had faith.

ERIC: But that's not what James premises himself on. His premise is that there are people like Ananias and Sapphira who purport to have faith but don't show their faith by their actions.

E2: So that just crosses out Ephesians and Galatians and *insert different letters of Paul, since we're at the point that we're proof-texting entire books of Scripture now.*

ERIC: No, it doesn't. Scripture contains Paul's and James' interpretations of God, they're allowed to differ.

E2: Scripture doesn't have interpretation, it's God's Word!

ERIC: ...God's Word revealed to limited and imperfect people like us. Which matters to me. I have to be humble enough to admit that I may not have gotten this right, and that I may have even gotten it all wrong.

E2: How can you even be a pastor if you don't think you got it right?

ERIC: Look...that's not my point. It's about humility. I'm not God. I don't get to judge life and death. And I don't get to say that I have gotten it all figured out when even Jesus said there are things God keeps even from Him.

E2: So you've decided that you need good works to make up for this lack of faith of yours?

ERIC: Again, no. That's not it at all.

E2: So you have faith in your works?

ERIC: I have faith in them in that they come from my own faith in God

E2: Well isn't that humble of you! Putting that importance on your works while kicking out God's grace!

ERIC: I have faith in God because of the grace that was freely offered to me and that I accepted. There's enough room in faith for both grace and works.

E2: No, there isn't. You need to stop spreading this heresy now, because you are sending people to hell, and you're going to be sent to hell yourself. You're going to die and get to heaven and God is going to say to you, "Get away from me, I never knew you."

ERIC: You know, if you arrived at my door to try to sell me on your church, you're doing a really bad job of it.

E2: That isn't what I'm trying to do at all. I'm trying to get you to stop spreading heresy.

ERIC: You're doing a really bad job of that, too.

E2: Well, you need to realize that what you're teaching is heresy and that if you died tomorrow you'd go to hell.

ERIC: It really isn't heresy, though. I know what the Bible does and doesn't say.

E2: Then stop ignoring it.

ERIC: I'm wasn't.

E2 (finally beginning to walk away): Well, reconsider yourself before God.

E1: Such cute dogs, though!

E1 and E2 exit stage *far* right.

ERIC looks at the brochure that has been in his hands the entire time. It outlines a purely transactional "way to Heaven" that doesn't even mention God's love. ERIC tears it up, exhales deeply, and gathers up the dogs who have been sitting patiently throughout the entire play. He takes his cell phone to do what he had wanted to be doing this whole time--open up Pokemon GO. He and the dogs exit.


(While I have some commentary on this episode--which really did happen today, largely as written (again, I had to recreate some portions from memory in places where I couldn't quite get it word-for-word)--I'm going to save that commentary for sometime next week and just let this story stand on its own in the meanwhile. ~E.A.)

Vancouver, Washington
April 8, 2017

1 comment:

  1. WHEW, I thought I'd never get to the end of the dialogue! You are a very patient man...