There is no doubt that we live in a world that is not as it should be…a world searching for solutions to the pain caused by events of the sort we have seen in the past few weeks. Yet, to what extent is the church providing a deeply, theological paradigm that points to a different way of being in the world? Does the church demonstrate to the world that the world is indeed the world and not the church? We speak of justice, but to what extent do we embody it? We speak of forgiveness, but to what extent do we practice it? We speak of confession of sin, accountability, and hospitality, but to what extent are we truly committed to such actions? As I noted in Thinking Christian, “There is only so much that our affirmation of theology and doctrine can convey. Intellectual assent does not constitute fully-formed Christian witness. The body of Christ cannot go on opposing the philosophies of the world in principle while living them out in practice.”
It is not that I believe there are no instances in which the body of Christ is not offering faithful testimony. I have been and am now part of a church that practices hospitality, prayer, accountability, forgiveness, and a host of other virtues. Rather, my concern is that the Christian machinary has a tendency to return to the status quo after a crisis. We will weather the recent events (as we have similar events in the past) and then go back to listening to the same voices, asking the same questions, and holding on to our same old ways of being in the world. In part, I think we are confortable returning to the status quo because we don’t really believe we are part of the problem. Yet, it seems foolish to think that our conception of God is not, in some ways, blinding us to who God really is.
I have a passion to see the church learn to please God together. As such, I don’t believe we can simply return to ‘business as usual’ contenting ourselves with well written theological statements or even with participating in protests, forming Facebook groups, or signing petitions. Something actually has to change within our Christian communities at a more fundamental, theological level. We have to engage in the process of slow, deliberate, Spirit-led change.
As I consider, then, who God’s people need to be in this moment, it seems to me that we need to be a community that demonstrates the difference Christ makes to the way we live and move in the world. In simplest terms, we need to be a community dedicated to following the Spirit and allowing Him to turn…
…our outrage into the sort of patience that understands the virtue of waiting on the Lord to act (Ps 37:7-8)
…our dispair into lament that breaks through to trust in and praise of the God who has and will act in His time and His way
…our fear into the sort of resolve that refuses to bend to the ways of the world no matter the cost
…our sense of detachment from the body of Christ into one of integral belonging brought about by the joining together of God’s people.
…our desire to act and help into a desire to be led by the Spirit, to proclaim the gospel, and to participate with God as He makes all things new.
We are not a community that does not recognize the seriousness of the situation we are in, nor one that does not care because we are “citizens of heaven.” We are a community that knows Christ defeated sin and death. We are a community prepared to follow Christ in the midst of storms. We are a community that has already dedicated all we are and have to Him. It is time for us to learn how to feel the tensions and pain present amongst the members of the body and to do more than sympathize…we must all feel the pain together. Until we feel the pain, live in the discomfort, and begin to allow the tensions to alert us to the moving of God’s Spirit, it seems likely that we will be hindered from offering a comprehensive Christian testimony in word and deed to a world that needs to hear it.
Lord, may your people show the world what it means to be led by the Holy Spirit. Give your body the wisdom and conviction to offer faithful testimony to You in our mourning of pain and injustice, in our confrontation of sinful people and structures, in our commitment to pursue a different, redeemed way of life with tenacity, and in our joining together with one another to “encourage one another and build one another up.” Please protect those in physical danger at this moment. Grant us your peace and the patience to be still and wait on You to demonstrate your power and glory in the midst of a world that does not know You. Father, do not allow your church to fall back into comfort, but embed within us a desire to be ever more closely conformed to the image of Your Son. In your name we pray. Amen