Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Where do you belong?

This question cuts to the heart of the divided nature of the Western Church. The culture that some would like to believe "embraced" Christianity actually did much to strangle it. Faith became an elaborate call sign to distinguish friend from foe-- a set of ornate clothes to wear for an hour to broadcast to all who could see, "I am a citizen in good standing."

But our culture demonstrates the mutual incompatabilty of human creations with the Kingdom of God. While our culture created and the church blessed incredible instruments which discipline the human mind and channel human creativity in ways that have literally re-created the world in our own image, they do not discipline the human spirit, or point people in the direction of the God of Abraham, Moses, and David Who came to earth in Jesus Christ.

Culture is interested in using Christ to reach its own ends. We can mark time from His birth at year zero; we can mark our money "In God We Trust," but that does not mean that the money is more spiritual or that Christ rules our time. Christ wants us to follow Abram's lead, and "leave your home... for the land that I will show you." We can't take our culture with us.

Christians found what seemed to be a good compromise half-way through the first millenium after Christ: to belong to a culture which publicly declared that it belonged to Christ. But that belonging is at least one remove away from Biblical faith-- we are either strangers and aliens on this earth, or this earth is our home. We are either passionately in love with Jesus Christ Who has saved us, or we truly do not know Him. There are no apron strings to draw us into Christ's embrace. Our primary comfort and allegiance cannot be to the nest we have been born into if we were created to fly.

This dilemma is not new-- it is as old as the apostles, and it has never changed. Not even in 1950's suburban America.

Do you belong to Christ? Do you belong in heaven-- or do you belong in your house, in your city, in your church, in your family? All the other belongings fade away. Only Christ stands the test of time. And if Christ is your primary allegiance, pride, place, class, race no longer matter. This culture is waiting to encounter that Church.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Saying Goodbye to Christendom

How much time does it take to accept what our senses tell us? I am continually amazed at the anguish that rises from Phyllis Tickle or the last prophet proclaiming what anyone who has eyes to see and ears to hear and a mind to think can easily perceive: this culture has made its peace with separating from its Christian roots.

This process has taken well over a century. We are not talking some sudden movement! But the final fall is still a traumatic experience. For those who lead the Church in this time, though, we should not be surprised. We need to be able to embrace the opportunities that open up even in this funereal time.

Becoming a Minority means we are no longer responsible for anyone or anything other than ourselves. The Christendom Church felt like the "moral policeman" of the culture it inhabited. Law was the way Christians thought they could lead the culture; if some sin was made illegal, we had somehow accomplished our evangelistic purpose. Christian faith became a kind of cultural self-improvement project-- not only YOUR best life yet, but OUR best life yet. But didn't anybody notice that it didn't work out the way we intended? Jesus always preached saying "those who have ears to hear, let them hear," meaning that some would not hear. AND HE WAS OK WITH THAT. We cannot save this culture. Law cannot change the human heart, or teach it to love. Say goodbye to lawmaking and coercive power. Good riddance.

Becoming a Minority means that we must know where the Church stops, and Culture starts. Wilbert Shenk said that "the Christendom model of church may be characterized as church without mission." Church was just another social instititution responsible to comfort and edify "our" culture. Witnessing makes people uncomfortable; the Gospel might make somebody angry; self-emptying servanthood is dimetrically opposed to "our" culture of self-fulfillment. So we stopped these offensive activities, and fell back into what William Sloan Coffin coined as our mission: "assuaging the conscience of the law-abiding prosperous." And as we did this, the Church disappeared, even as huge stone barns to store people for an hour a week rose across the country.
This is not my culture. This world is not my home. Who I want to be is not determined by the commercials I see, or the appearance or possesions of those around me. I want Jesus. I want to decrease, so that He can increase. I want the same mind in me that was in Christ Jesus, and anything and everything is loss in comparison. Say goodbye to the conforming "church." Good riddance.

Being a Minority means that we must accept irrelevance. The Christendom Church had to be listened to because the people who populated it held the cultural power to force a hearing. But there is no power or glory for Christ in our 15 minutes of fame. Pope John Paul II in his days in Communist Poland led one service of prayer as the loudspeakers began to blare a speech by Stalin over the public address system. Though no one in the room could hear him any longer, John Paul refused to stop praying. In the end, whose words were louder?
We must keep praying and speaking, lovingly, not frustrated at the decibel level of what is shouted against us. Our words have a power beyond what CNN or FOX news can even imagine. Say goodbye to the publicity-chasing "relevant" church. Good riddance.

I believe we are blessed to be alive and called to lead the Church of Jesus Christ in this time, for we are blazing a new trail whose end we shall not see. May those who arrive look back, and find us faithful in these challenging times when things fall apart.