(This blog post was written by Josh Perry on St. Patrick’s Day, 2009. As we get ready for St. Patrick’s Day, let’s pray that we share not only Patrick’s colors, but his missionary zeal!)
Who is St. Patrick?
To begin with he wasn’t any of the things you probably think.
He wasn’t a saint, at least in terms of the big “S”. The Roman Catholic church has never canonized him and it wouldn’t make him anymore godly if they did. He was a saint in the little “s” way. Just like the Bible calls all redeemed followers of Christ “saints”.
Also, he wasn’t Irish. He was Scottish. He was kidnapped by the Irish when he was about 16 years old. His British grandfather was a priest and his father a devout Roman Catholic, but Patrick did not know God. He sought the God of his fathers during his abduction in prayer and eventually escaped back to his family.
A few years after returning home he trained as a priest and had a vision from God telling him to return to the people who kidnapped him. The vision told him to come and “walk among them”. And that’s what he did.
What was his mission?
For a great book on the missional style of Patrick read The Celtic Way of Evangelism. The gist is that Patrick returned to a culture in which he’d been fully immersed. Contextualization of the gospel was both natural and effective. Rather than take the Roman method of conforming the “pagans” to Roman culture (dress, customs, patterns, and language.) Patrick did mission by becoming a local and allowing converts to maintain their culture of dress, langauge, etc. in order to promote Jesus.
On top of this, Patrick’s Celtic communities excelled in speaking to relevant social issues of the culture and be hospitable. Non Christians were brought into participate in the community of believers before they were believers. And believers pariticipated, save compromise, in the life of the culture in which they lived. The following quote helps understand this better:
The visitor would have observed more of a movement than an institution, with small provisional buildings of wood and mud, a movement featuring laity in ministry more than clergy. This movement, compared to the Roman wing of the One Church was more imaginative and less cerebral, closer to nature and its creatures, and emphasized the ‘immanence’ and ‘providence’ of the Triune God more than his ‘transcendence.’ Most of all, the Roman visitor would notice that Patrick’s ‘remarkable achievement was to found a new kind of church, one which broke the Roman imperial mould and was both catholic and barbarian.’ That ‘new kind of church’ gradually displaced the parish church as Irish Christianity’s dominant form of Christian community.” (Pg. 26-27)
What do I do today?
So let’s celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by wearing something green, drinking something green, and having someone into your home to eat and drink and laugh and talk about how St. Patrick’s Day is really about Jesus.