Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Murder in the Cathedral

Every now and again, events occur which should focus our attention. Three articles, one in the Christian Science Monitor, one in USA Today, and one from Barna Research all have such a common resonance with the events of this Sunday, that Fred Winters's death may echo with as much significance as Thomas a Becket's. Becket's death came to be seen as the perfect expression of the end of the Church's domination of political power in the Roman Catholic west; Winters's death may herald the end of the Church's place as a publicly respected and privileged, "safe" institution in American society.

It's been coming for a long time-- it is a wonder that we didn't see it (a lot like the mathematical geniuses who brought us credit/default swaps didn't see what was coming.) We have raised two or three generations in Materialistic Therapeutic Deism, which promotes the ideas that belonging to Christ means being nice to people, putting in time and effort to stay awake in worship, and being happy; and that God is our Cosmic Jeeves to provide us means to those ends. The Monitor piece lays out the reasons for the evangelical collapse with devastating simplicity-- but the best line is this: We fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith.

Warren Buffett says that the economy has fallen off a cliff-- perhaps the Church has fallen off a cliff, too. Maybe for both it was about time. We can't pass on a prosperous economy to our children if we never say no to our appetites, and save; we can't pass on a faith relationship with Jesus Christ without suffering anything for being willing to say something.

It is time to see some horrible truths: that this culture now sees Jesus Christ as a promoter of hate; that they see that hate as centered in churches, personified by pastors; and the most important fact-- they see NO DIFFERENCE between Baptists at worship and Unitarians at worship (remember the shooting in Tennessee?). We are all seen as the same target, no matter how many times we have anathemetized each other. Church is church is church, and all of it is bad.

In both falls, there is a rising, but rebuilding is long and slow. I saw a commentator asked when we would return to valuations that we last saw in 2000, and the commentator suggested that values would not reach those heights for 40-50 years. It may take two or three generations, but the Lord will raise up a new church centered in the good that will stand as the wind and waves turn against us:
  • Denominational lines will fall-- believers in Jesus will see that the space between us (no matter how much we disagree) is not even close to as large as the chasm between us and the world. God who made us, Christ who saved us, and the Holy Spirit who speaks to us through the Scriptures binds us into one living Body.
  • Jesus Christ lives-- we are not promoting a dead ideology, or simply acting as curators in a museum of what Christ has done. He is still doing it-- and where Christ lives, there is liberty. Free men and women will come together to witness-- and to suffer for that witness.
  • Privilege is a comfortable prison-- but a prison nonetheless. Perhaps, when those who follow look back, they will give thanks that we were expelled.

Thankfulness for suffering always rings false, or crazy. But crazy times call for crazy responses. Perhaps what is happening to us, which comes from the hand of God, is good-- even in its sufferings. For Fred Winters's wife and kids, and for the people of First Baptist Church in Maryville, ILL I hope and pray that it is, and will be.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Clay,

    The author of the piece that was published in the Monitor had an interview with my favorite professor, Steve Brown. He gives a lot of detail that was left out of the Monitor piece, and I think you find it very informative: