Faith in Action
By Jessica Bayramian Byerly
Jacob Schreiner hadn’t always planned on a future as a minister. In fact, up until his senior year, Jacob had intended to pursue pre-law in college on a full-ride scholarship. And then, as they are want to do in life, things changed. He walked away from college and went to bible school instead. “At 17, I had an encounter with God that changed me,” recalls Schreiner, “I wanted people to meet that Jesus.” He avoided the typical path following graduation in favor of that more organic approach. Then, after nearly seven years, he became a licensed pastor, eventually assuming the role of senior pastor at New Life Foursquare Ministries in Laurel.
Yet, Schreiner’s initial intention toward the analytical mindset of a lawyer has arguably colored and informed his truth as a conduit of Christ. And, in that marriage of belief and pragmatism, is a man at once powerful in the strength of his conviction and humble in his actualization of the human condition.
While becoming a pastor hasn’t defined Schreiner, being a follower of Jesus has. “Getting to lead other people and be a pastor is just an outflow or extension of that reality,” Jacob remarks. “My beliefs, the person that I am today, the life that I live is all in response to meeting Jesus.” That commitment to Jesus’ teachings –to the truths outlined in the Bible – has allowed Schreiner the courage and eloquence of a man fortified by unwavering belief. “Contained in those words is life,” says Schreiner of the Bible. What sort of life do those words define, however, and how does that definition direct action and insight in a complicated and contrary modern world?
Surprisingly, the “life” Jacob describes is far more customized than one might expect from an individual that treats the Bible as a literal representation of God’s words. While his responsibility as a follower of Jesus is to help, Jacob points out that the chronic human conundrum and plague of all religions since life’s origin is defining just what that help should look like. Schreiner’s solution is as dynamic as life: “helping” looks different from situation to situation, person to person. If he is working with a fellow follower of Jesus, then the Christian vernacular is shared and the mutual striving for the “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” that Christianity defines both colors and informs resulting conversations, advice and actions. If the individual seeking help is a non-believer or a follower of a different faith, then Schreiner strives to meet whatever needs are requested of him, while creating an open and welcoming invitation into relationship with Jesus. “The highest calling is that we would love our neighbors as we love ourselves,” Schreiner points out. “The hard part is that the Bible and the cultures of the world hold very different definitions of what it means to ‘love.'”
In a world of increasingly complex matters of the heart and head, compassion is a definition of love with universal manifestations. But what happens when that ideal is met by the immovable practicalities of limited resources, long-term viability, etc. Here, again, Schreiner’s answer is even-handed and simple. “We should not have to choose compassion, and at other times practicality; true compassion cannot be had without it being practical,” says Schreiner. “As hard as the two realities are to reconcile, pragmatism should be compassionate, or it is not truly practical. It is selfish, cold and lifeless. Likewise, our compassion cannot be mere charity that leads to waste and leaves people open to abuses.” As with the struggle between the head and heart, perhaps the real schism is merely semantics. To act from a space of love for ourselves, as for our fellow man, requires an analytical understanding of whatever the need, struggle or problem may be – pragmatism – and a deeper understanding of how that situation impacts the spirit and emotions of those involved – compassion. In this marriage of heart and head can perhaps be found the truest and most universal incarnation of love and the arguable actualization of Jesus’ compassionate pragmatism.
When applied to the healthcare and immigration debates (issues that seem to clearly illustrate the compassion/practicality divide), compassionate pragmatism may provide the only viable solutions. And, in Schreiner’s eyes, government failing to fulfill its God-given role is arguably the epicenter of both problems. “In the scriptures, Government’s role can be summed up as punishing evil and promoting/praising what is good,” explains Schreiner. “While contained within their scope, modern governments are now concerned with creating opportunity, managing goods/services, and enforcing ‘rights,’ which are hard roads for those governments to construct because there is no end to where they can lead.” Spread thin and incapable of managing the unwieldy depth and breadth of the undertaking, governments are now failing to achieve that most basic biblical responsibility to the safety and security of their respective people. When the people take control of their healthcare needs – as Schreiner, his family and fellow ministers have done through a Christian health-sharing ministry – they are able to help each other while covering their basic, emergency and large scale expenses (like the recent birth of Schreiner’s fourth child). The give and take creates balance.
In a country built on and by immigrants, permanent open borders is an obvious and simple solution to the immigration debate that holds true to our forefathers’ intentions and the United States Constitution. The government’s responsibility then lies in enforcing the laws surrounding the manner in which immigrants enter and become citizens in this country. “We should have ways for people who want to come to our country to come,” reiterates Schreiner, “but it is the government’s job to punish those who do not do it according to the law.” In this way, the compassion by which this country was defined is supported by the practical enforcement of the laws regulating it and the people enjoy the safety and security it is purportedly responsible for providing.
In our search for larger answers, we seem to be missing the simple clarity Schreiner eloquently outlines. It’s not our job to decide the right and wrong of the larger picture – to spend our days wrestling with unanswerable questions – but, rather, to be kind, to be generous, to be the love we seek. Providing charity to a starving country may not solve a famine, but it may sustain that one child who goes on, miraculously, to save his people. “When we only look at the big picture,” Schreiner reminds, “we miss the person standing in front of us who needs us.” And those individual encounters may provide our only real opportunity for imminent action, for the realization of our responsibility to one another. “The solution is found in responding to what you can that is in front of you,” says Schreiner with a smile. “And, then, taking a step of faith for the things that are bigger than you.”