When Theology Interferes with Ministry.


I’m a nerd. A big one.

I like to read. A lot. I read just about everything I can get my hands on. I use Twitter because I want to be informed, not because I care that you have a cat. I use Facebook because you can learn a lot from the articles, blogs, and stories people post. I’m not all that concerned with your recent breakup or even your trip to the beach on spring break.

I also enjoy a good theological debate. The Bible tells us to ponder the things of God and to work out our faith with fear and trembling.

The more I work with and teach middle school students, the greater value I place on a strong theological foundation. Information is more available now then it has ever been and unfortunately, anyone can say anything on the internet; as I’m sure you are aware. It is so easy for us to find our view of God just a little off if we aren’t careful.

There are so many different views on just about every part of Christian theology and this is good so long as it drives you to scripture to seek and find.

But here’s the question I want to pose to all of us today. Is there a time when our theology can interfere with our ministry?

I want to take a look at three different interactions Jesus had with people who weren’t like him.

Jesus and Nicodemus

This story is found in John chapter 3.

Here we are introduced to Nicodemus. The Bible tells us he is Pharisee and ruler of the Jews. In other words, he’s a part of the Sanhedrin, a respected leader, and a prominent teacher in the time of Jesus. In verse 10 we get a clue of just how big a deal Nicodemus is.

Jesus looks at him and says, “Are you the teacher of Israel?” In the cultural context of this question, it would be equivalent to me asking you while sitting in rush hour traffic, “Is traffic not terrible today?”

Jesus is asking an obvious question here, stating Nicodemus is, in fact, the teacher of Israel.

As the story continues, we see Nicodemus come to Jesus at night and is not at all hostile to Jesus. When he gets to the place Jesus is he says, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher from come from God. For no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with them.”

To which Jesus responds, “Truly I say to you, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”

It’s important to note here that, in light of Nicodemus’s stature in the Sanhedrin and as a prominent teacher in Judea, he is well along in age. So, when Jesus says to him “unless you are born again,” it undoubtedly causes an eyebrow raise.

In fact, as we travel through, Nicodemus’s response is incredulous and he says, “How can this be?”

Yes, indeed. It would definitely be hard to imagine a physical rebirth.

And what’s interesting about the rest of the conversation is how Jesus goes into the middle of Nicodemus’s world to explain the things of God. He immediately begins to pull out stories from the Old Testament (v. 14) to which Nicodemus, being a religious scholar (John 7:50), would have immediately been familiar.

Later in John’s Gospel (Ch. 19) we find that Nicodemus has found a relationship with Jesus.

The Woman at the Well 

This story is found in John chapter 4.

The story starts by telling us Jesus was leaving Judea and headed back to Galilee. His journey would take him through a town called Samaria.

First things first, the Jews and the Samaritans hated each other. Back when the Assyrians sacked Jerusalem in 722 BC, they carried off some of the Jews to foreign lands. However, they didn’t carry off all them. They left some behind and sent Assyrian men and woman to move into the country to intermarry with the those who were left. The Old Testament is full of warnings from God about the nation of Israel marrying into other nations or people groups.

This mixed group of people became known as the Samaritans.

It’s interesting when reading this story that Jesus would purposefully go through Samaria while most others would go around.

Anyhow, the story tells us Jesus came upon Jacob’s well near the town of Sychar. He was tired, hungry, and thirsty. So, he sent his disciples into town to buy food while he sat by the well.

While he was sitting there, a woman came out to draw water. John’s gospel makes a point to tell us this conversation happened “about noon.”  The implication here is whoever this woman was she was not welcome at the well when most other woman would travel out to get water, which was usually in the morning.

As the woman approaches, Jesus asks her for a drink.

Makes sense.

Except, Jewish men never spoke to women in public, especially a Samaritan woman. And we know this woman wasn’t even welcome with other Samaritan woman.

Jesus is speaking to a marginalized Samaritan woman. No wonder the disciples were “astonished” when they came back from lunch (v. 27.)

Notice here, the woman came to the well with a bucket intent on getting water and Jesus asks her for a drink.

The woman responds to him saying, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink.” We can tell from the rest of the story, she’s not being respectful when she calls him “Jew.”

If you know how the story goes, Jesus then offers her living water. She’s perplexed by this and says, “Sir, you have no bucket and the well is deep, how can you offer me water?”

Notice she now calls him “Sir.”

Again, Jesus brings up this living water saying that all “who drink it will never be thirsty again.”

Let’s follow the conversation from here.

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty again or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.”

The woman answered him, “I have no husband.”

Jesus said to her, “You are right, for you have had five husbands and the one you have now is not your husband.”

She said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet.”

Then she goes into how and where she’s allowed to worship. Jesus explains that a time is coming when people will worship in Spirit and in truth and how there will be no more need for a temple in Jerusalem because God’s spirit will be for all people all over the world.

She still doesn’t get it and says, “When the Messiah comes he’ll explain everything to us.” And Jesus says, “He is here. I am speaking to you now.” To which the woman at the well leaves her bucket to go tell everyone in town who she has just met.

Verse 39 tells us many become followers of Jesus that day.

Here again we see Jesus meeting people where they are in the middle of what they are doing. He related to this woman by asking for a drink from her and throughout their conversation, we see her position go from a state of hostility to a state of belief.

The Woman Caught in Adultery 

This story is found in John chapter 8.

In verse 2, John’s gospel tell us Jesus is in the synagogue teaching.

It’s also important to note, this story takes place during the Feast of Tabernacles, which is considered a ‘journey feast’ because people made a long journey to Jerusalem to celebrate. There were lots and lots of people around during this time leading us to believe this story was a very public event.

While Jesus was teaching it tells us the Scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in the act of adultery. The passage paints a picture of them dragging this woman into the synagogue and throwing her out in the middle of the room in front of this large crowd of people all the while shouting her transgressions.

Then, turning towards Jesus they say to him, “The law of Moses demands we stone anyone caught in the act of adultery. What do you say?”

Immediately Jesus begins to lean down and write something with his finger on the ground. The Pharisees continued to question Jesus so he straightens and says to them, “Go ahead. If you are without sin, throw the first stone.” Then he bent down and started writing on the ground again.

At this, the Scribes and the Pharisees dropped their stones and walked away one by one.

The Bible doesn’t tell us what Jesus was writing, but it was enough silence the accusers.

What’s interesting about this story is Jesus came to the defense of a sinner. Jesus later explains the seriousness of adultery and he definitely speaks out against it.

These Three Stories 

When I read these three stories, I see three people who became Jesus followers. However, I also see three very different situations and three very different responses by Jesus.

I can assure you Jesus’ theology on sin didn’t change between these three stories. He didn’t flip flop his position or sell out.

He saw an opportunity to push open a door for each of these people that later turned into a gate swinging wide in the kingdom of heaven.

He met these people exactly where they were and spoke to them in terms they could understand. He loved them even if that meant taking the side of the damned in the face of the righteous. He didn’t rebuke them, call them sinners, or legislate them. He showed them mercy and kindness and they ultimately followed.

When we try to put Jesus inside of our theology box, we miss the point. It’s hard for us to say what Jesus would do or not do in a lot of the situations we face today (I would imagine there are lots of things we do that Jesus would never imagine doing.)

I’d even go as far as to say, certain situations require certain responses. Maybe we can’t wrap them all with a pretty bow and categorize them as black and white; right and wrong.

There will come a time when responding a certain way may seem like totally heresy to someone else, or to lots of people. But, if the door to heaven is pushed open just a little bit wider so someone else may enter, then who cares?

If your theology or your convictions keep you from responding in a way that draws people to the kingdom of God, then your theology and your convictions are wrong.

Makes you mad, doesn’t it?

But, isn’t it true Jesus came for people not for theology?