There was a time, just a few months ago, when I began to worry about running out of suitable topics for the Window on the World. I don’t worry about that any more, partly because I’m starting to realize that something is always happening, and partly because some of you have started leaving news clippings in my mailbox, for which I thank you.
I have one of those news clippings for you tonight. Actually, it’s an advertisement, and if we don’t all break down in hysterics before I finish, I want to read it to you.
It’s an ad for a culinary establishment called “The Inner Circle.” Underneath the restaurant logo it says, “THE FIRST ALL CHRISTIAN RESTAURANT—NEW JERSEY’S NEWEST SPOT FOR ELEGANT DINING, FUN & FELLOWSHIP—COME AND EXPERIENCE THE FINEST INTERNATIONAL DISHES FROM CAJUN, PASTA, JAMAICAN, CHINESE & SOULFOOD.”
The Inner Circle boasts a full schedule of activities. On Thursday, they have “Fellowship Happy Hour” from 4 to 6, followed by “Business Networking Night.” Friday night is “Singles Mingle” night at the Inner Circle with a “Live Christian Jazz Band.” The joint really starts hopping early on Sunday morning with “Breakfast Sunday School (Kids eat free),” followed by “Brunch in the Spiritual Realm.” The slogan at the top of the ad says it all: “It’s more than a restaurant… It’s a ministry.”
The question I have is whether the Inner Circle is more than a restaurant or less than a ministry. One place to answer that question is in John chapter 17. You’ll remember that John 17 is the passage where Jesus makes his great prayer to his heavenly Father on behalf of his church. Dr. Boice did an exposition of that passage during the Pastor’s Pre-Conference of the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology a week ago. One of the things he pointed out is that the things Jesus did not pray for are almost as important as the things he did pray for. Listen to one of the things Jesus did not pray for:
My prayer is not that you take them out of the world… They are not of the world, even as I am not of it… As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. (John 17:15-18)
You see, the problem with places like the Inner Circle is that they do exactly the opposite of what Jesus prayed that we would do. On the one hand, they take Christians out of the world. We evangelicals are always doing that sort of thing. We withdraw into our own institutions, our own radio programs, our own cable networks, our own publishing houses, our own political lobbies. We have our own Woodstock and our own entertainment awards. Now we even have our own restaurant!
And at the same time we do all of those things in a worldly way. When we set up an “All Christian Restaurant” we have things like “Fellowship Happy Hour” and “Business Networking Night.” We do things exactly the opposite of the way the Lord wants us to do them. We are not in the world any more, but we are of the world. Instead of being a counter-culture, we become a sub-culture.
The wisdom of Jesus’ prayer to send Christians out into the world was pressed home for me a week ago on Saturday night. After PCRT some of us went out to eat at the Mélange at the Warwick Hotel. While we were there, a chef who was in Philadelphia to promote a new cookbook sat down to join us. Matthew White, our church administrator, entered into a discussion with him, and after they had chatted for a while the chef asked what we were all doing at the restaurant. And so Matthew explained that we had been at Tenth Presbyterian Church for a conference on Reformed theology, at which point the chef asked the obvious question: “What is Reformed theology?”
Now, when you ask that kind of question, you need to be careful about who’s listening, because you might get more answer than you bargained for. In this case, Matthew was sitting on the right side of the chef, and a certain young pastor was sitting on his left, a young pastor who spent four years at seminary and three years at university learning all about Reformed theology. Up to that point I hadn’t really been part of the conversation—although I had prayed that the Holy Spirit would guide Matthew in the conversation.
But it’s not every day that somebody begs you to tell them what Reformed theology is, and when they do, you don’t always have your pastor handy, so Matthew said something like, “Phil, maybe you’d like to answer that question.” And the three of us went on to talk about spiritual things for the next hour or so.
When somebody asks you what Reformed theology is, what you give them is the gospel. We didn’t use any Latin terminology, but we quoted plenty of Scripture, and we talked about theology based on the authority of Scripture alone, and about salvation by the righteousness of Christ alone, and about justification by grace alone, through faith alone, all to the glory of God. If someone had had a tape recorder running I suppose they could have recorded an abridgment of the 1996 PCRT.
You see, that’s the kind of thing that is bound to happen to you, if you are out in the world. As you bump into people your Christian faith has a way of spilling over into your conversations with them.
Now, we don’t know what will happen in the life of that chef. He is a serious Roman Catholic, given to intense fasting and prayer. Our sense is that he is still on a spiritual quest and that he desires a deeper communion with Christ than he has yet experienced. It may be that he is not far from the kingdom, and we invite you to join us in praying for his salvation.
I don’t know what will happen in the life of the chef, but I do know this: that conversation was one small part of the answer to the prayer that Jesus prayed—and the prayer that he didn’t pray—for the church. Jesus Christ prayed 2,000 years ago that his people would be sent out into the world to complete his work, and not that they would be taken out of the world. Our little conversation at the Mélange last Saturday night was included in that prayer. And when that prayer was answered in the course of our sharing the gospel, the Mélange was more than a restaurant… it was a ministry.
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Phil Ryken. © 2020 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org