Wednesday, July 27, 2016
There is another way to understand and participate in the life and work of the church... and we might think of this way as proceeding along a set of train tracks.
One rail is loving and worshiping God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind. The other rail, of course, is loving and serving your neighbor as you yourself would want to be loved and served (Luke 10.27).
These separate but united rails (or tracks) of the church's life are witnessed every Lord's Day morning, in the opening and closing rituals of worship.
In the Call to Worship, the church is called out of the world, that it might worship God together, as one body. Word, sacrament, song, confession, prayer, giving, communion, sermon, repentance, the assurance of the gospel, fellowship, etc... We answer this sacred call and come together in one assembly, loving and worshiping God.
But in the Benediction, the church is sent back out into the world, bearing God's blessing and God's Name, that we might lay down our lives as the salt and light of this world, in witness and service.
In the one image we see the holiness of the church—we are the ones who have been "called out" from the world, to belong to God and worship him.
In the other image we see the apostolic nature of the church—we are the ones who have also been "sent out" on God's mission in this world.
Putting both images together, we might speak of what some have called the "holy worldliness" of Christ's church.
We are called to be morally distinct and spiritually separate from the world: holy.
But we are simultaneously called to be absolutely immersed in the life of the world: worldly.
As some would say, "in the world, but not of the world." As others would say, "faithful presence."
If you want to meditate on the meaning of all this by contemplating a strong and clear and beautiful picture of holy worldliness... (of being in the world, but not of the world—of faithful presence)... God has certainly given us one.
Any guesses as to whom it might be?
We'll start with him next time...
Tuesday, July 19, 2016
"Not for yourself, O church, do you exist,
any more than Christ existed for himself."
"As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you."
Jesus, to his church
Identity and vocation. Who (or what) is the church? And what are we called to do? Those are the questions we raised in Part I of this series of reflections.
But before attempting a faithful answer, let's erase a couple of bad answers from the board.
BAD ANSWER #1... The church is a club for religiously-minded people who like to get together and do religiousy things. Some people join a chess club because they like chess. Others join golf clubs or bridge clubs or sewing clubs or motorcycle clubs or reading clubs, etc.
One common denominator in these sorts of clubs is that the club exists to serve you, the one joining it. You get to enjoy a reservoir of people very much like you! You all have a common interest, and you all pay your dues, and now you are all entitled to reap the benefits of being in the club.
In the "religious club" church, the common interest is mere religion. And your focus is on the status your membership in the club affords you, personally. You are one of the religious ones, and you should feel quite good about that. The very club itself exists to congratulate you on your accomplishment.
It has been attributed to many, but I think this quote belongs first to William Temple (1881-1944): “The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members."
That's perhaps an overstatement, but overstatements can make a strong point. We don't need more religious-club churches, turning in on themselves and retreating into self-righteous self-absorption.
Let's erase that answer from the board.
BAD ANSWER #2... The church is merely an organization for serving social causes of various sorts. The church does not need to be so centered on theology or worship or the gospel... or even Jesus, for that matter. These things mostly just divide us or restrain us or make us annoyingly offensive to the world.
Church should be more about us getting out there and helping people. Different kinds of people may express their spirituality differently; let's just celebrate that and get on with the big-picture mission of... being on a mission... after all, that's what it means to be Christian... it means that you're on a mission to help people. And you should feel quite good about that.
Let's erase that answer from the board as well. Because while the church is most definitely on a mission, the mere fact that you are on some mission does not mean that you're worshipping God. Nor does it necessarily mean that you're loving God (or people) in the way that God commands.
True worship and true mission inform one another and flow into one another richly... but they are not interchangeable.
We do not have the right to reinterpret worship as mission. Christian mission is both a result of worship and the joyful hope of more worship. But let's stop confusing and conflating these categories.
There is another way.
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
When someone doesn't know who they really are, what do we call that person? What diagnosis do we give them?
I'm not sure exactly what term the medical community would use, but it would be some form of mental illness.
What about when someone doesn't know what they are supposed to be doing?
We may not leap towards diagnosing mental illness in that situation, but that's not good either. Essential to a healthy, fruitful life is having a strong idea of what you are doing here.
So... identity and vocation. Who you are and what you're called to do.
These are matters of foundational importance for you, personally. If you get these woefully wrong, it won't really matter that much how neat and organized your daily calendar is. It will be a nicely arranged and systematized monument to a misspent life.
If this is true for you, how much more is it true for the church.
Identity. Who and what is the church? Have we grasped who we really are?
Vocation. What is the church called to do? Why are we here?
A false self-image in either of these categories would be disastrous for the church. If we get these foundational matters wrong, it won't really matter that much how neat and organized our programs are. They will all amount to a nicely arranged and systematized monument to exactly nothing, eternally speaking.
Good answers begin with good theology. Good theology begets faithful ministry and healthy churches.
Back to the blackboard soon...