During camp meeting Dr. Hoskins, a church historian and professor, gave a lecture about the history of camp meeting. In the lecture he explored the history, traditions, and theology that created and sustained camp meetings from the late 1700s to now. One of the resounding themes in this lecture was theological democracy. This idea is that the Gospel and participation in the Kingdom is for all. Even before the Civil War, Civil Rights and Suffragette movements, the community of faith provided space for all to come hear the word, sing in harmony, preach, pray, and receive communion. Meetings went further than just a service but also provide space for education in various subjects. The entirety of life was filled up with the dangerous and entertaining work of the Holy Spirit. There within camp meeting people encountered God, were filled with the Holy Spirit and sent out to tell and invite others. The purpose of camp meeting has changed as time and denominations have come and gone, and yet the meaning of camp meeting remains the same. Paul writes to the church in Galatia as conflict arises about just how much space should be made within the Kingdom. Can those who do not first accept Judaism become real Christians? Paul’s answer is simple “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 4:28-29) The call to salvation, the call to holy living, the call to live in right relatedness with self, others, God, and creation has remained the same from Paul to Wesley to camp meetings to now. The invitation remains available to all. The reality that all can be transformed more and more into the image of God is one that all can experience.
This past Church season we have been singing songs that remind us of the grace given to us through the sacrifice of Christ. Foremost among these is the hymn Rock of Ages, written by Augustus Toplady in 1776. Amusingly, it was originally published in Gospel Magazine along with an article about the national economy. There Toplady argued that Great Britain's national debt had grown so large that Parliament could never hope to pay it back; likewise our debt of sin is so great that we have no hope of being free from it by our own actions. It is only through the sacrifice of Christ that we can be saved from our sins. Even as we fasted during Lent, we sang this song and are reminded that our fasting, prayers, and offerings have no power to redeem us; we sing to Christ, "Thou must save and Thou alone!" We now rejoice in this Easter season because we experience Christ’s salvation and resurrection.
The season of Lent is one of reflection and repentance. As we have journeyed to the cross we see Jesus preaching teaching and performing miracles. He goes on as He has done since the start of His ministry pointing all to the Kingdom of God. The life and ministry of Christ is not a set up to the cross, but the continual expression of its mission. Christ’s sacrifice is only worthwhile because of the life He lived. In Christ’s life we see the possibility that humanity and divinity can exist together, that to be perfectly human is not to ere, but to be in right relatedness with YHWH. This way of life can easily be dismissed as impossible; Christ did it because He was also fully God. However, Paul does not let the Roman church (or us) off so quickly. If we are followers of Christ, then we must journey with him through His life death and resurrection. And if we have experienced His life, then we can live like Christ because we have experienced His death. Death can no longer reign in our lives because we have been raised to new life in His resurrection. We can no longer live as we once did. The impossible becomes possible, not because we have done enough, but because of the faithfulness of God exemplified in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of our Savior. The call of repentance is to look at God, and then look at our selves. Where there is a difference we proclaim it, turn from it, and ask to be transformed more into God’s image.