After the French Revolution of the late 1800s, Enlightenment gave way to Romanticism, the European movement of originality. Beethoven broke from classical music, adding solos and a chorus to the symphony. John Keats defied the logical mind and the scientific method to pen poetry about the irrationality of love and the awe of nature. And William Blake tossed aside the pallet of traditionalism to paint from his imagination.
Nearly two thousand years before, Paul was in prison and awaiting trial, when he wrote to the Philippian Church to address a congregational conflict. That some members were going off script, getting too inventive with their Christianity.
What does Paul want the Philippians to do?
Philippians 3:17-4:1 Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
Remember their allegiance is to God over country.
We’re all members of the body, contributing and equal.
We can only be Christian in community.
Since the age of Romanticism, the Western world has rewarded novelty, the virtue of distinctiveness. “Color outside the lines, go your own way, succeed by being set apart.” And yet Paul asked the Philippians to do that exact opposite.
Because they had no written Gospels to reference, no church tradition to consult, no stories in stained glass to study, the Philippians were only left with the living witness of each other. They were being called to behave as examples, to remember that a disciple is simply a pupil, an apprentice dedicated to movements of mimicry.
Modeling is the most formative type of learning and it’s how our faith has been shared ever since: Andrew followed the example of Peter, Salome followed Magdalene, Augustine followed Ambrose, Calvin followed Luther, Fredrick followed Sojourner, Teresa followed Nightingale, Tutu followed King, and we follow all of them back to the Master.
We are descended from a long time of impersonators who have repeatedly infringed upon the copyright of Christ. Who have taught us to live as unoriginals, to embrace the holy compliment, “You’re just an plagiarizer of God’s love, a facsimile of Jesus’ grace, a copycat of the Holy Spirit’s welcome.”
Church, “If faith is imitating the God you believe in” as Gregory Boyle says, then give like its your last widow’s mite, shine like your life is on a lampstand, heal like the lepers have been cleansed, eat like a heavenly banquet has been prepared and be a holy reproduction of Jesus all the way to the cross.