I like how Eugene Peterson translates this section of Hebrews 13:
10-12 The altar from which God gives us the gift of himself is not for exploitation by insiders who grab and loot. In the old system, the animals are killed and the bodies disposed of outside the camp. The blood is then brought inside to the altar as a sacrifice for sin. It’s the same with Jesus. He was crucified outside the city gates—that is where he poured out the sacrificial blood that was brought to God’s altar to cleanse his people.
13-15 So let’s go outside, where Jesus is, where the action is—not trying to be privileged insiders, but taking our share in the abuse of Jesus. This “insider world” is not our home. We have our eyes peeled for the City about to come. Let’s take our place outside with Jesus, no longer pouring out the sacrificial blood of animals but pouring out sacrificial praises from our lips to God in Jesus’ name.
Outside the camp. This is where sanctification and faith formation happen, where discipleship takes root and grows, where Jesus and the “action is,” as Peterson says.
The author of Hebrews may well anticipate his readers enduring serious persecution, abuse, and suffering. But if you’ll allow me some metaphorical license: For many of us, “the camp” is church as usual, where ministry is relatively predictable, where we insiders are comfortable because we know “how things work around here,” where the mechanisms and rituals of worship are consistent, where assumptions are safe, where (a la Steve Blank), the answers are always “in the building.”
But the narrative of scripture and so many of our lived experiences indicate that this camp is not actually where faith is most profoundly forged. To be sure, the camp – the church building, Sunday morning worship, the conventional and expected programming – can (and even should!) be a powerful tool to complement, reinforce, and nurture that formation. But we tend to operate as if these structures as the origin or the sine qua non of faith formation. Scripture suggests otherwise. The prophets, for example, insist that our assembling for worship is evidence and an expression of faith formation that is primarily happening “outside the camp.” They frequently warn those who would gather to worship while justice and oppression persist out in their communities, who make all the correct and by-the-book sacrifices but have not paid attention to the unexpected people and places to which the Spirit calls. So also, Jesus, who was sent far outside the camp into the wilderness to be tested and tempted, is frequently going to the margins, where faith formation is a messy, rule-breaking, complicated, non-linear, often unsafe, sacrificial undertaking. This is precisely what frustrates the insiders. He keeps going outside the camp to do things that, at the very least, should be done inside (and even then, it ways that are far less disruptive) The entire book of Acts might be summarized as a story of the Spirit taking people outside the camp and forming their faith in unanticipated, disruptive ways.
Last month during the Lent, a small group of people from several churches in my home town gathered each week at various sites of historical significance to pray, lament, confess, and praise God, specifically in ways that referenced the place we were gathered. I participated in a short liturgy that included one of my daughters reading aloud scripture and prayers that lamented the unspeakable removal of native Cherokee from this area in the 1830s. In a public park, amid families walking dogs and children on playgrounds, we remembered, we lamented, we prayed, we worshiped. It was a moment that will stick with my daughters, one which I believe the Spirit is already using to deeply form their faith. I think they found it odd, and even a bit disorienting. And that’s the point. Out in the community, connected to a complex place of pain and suffering, clinging to hope in Christ. Outside the camp.
Where or with whom is your “outside the camp”?
Where is the Spirit taking you?