Pastor’s Perspective – June 2020
“Listen! I am standing at the door and knocking! If anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come into his home and share a meal with him, and he with me.”
~ Jesus to the Church in Laodicea; Revelation 3: 20
Something precious is under attack in America today.
The Church is being held hostage and hijacked by two competing political assumptions, each of which seeks to use the Church to twist the soul of our nation into an unrecognizable shell of itself.
It is imperative to state that the Church and this nation have never achieved that to which we have aspired. This is not due to the unique failure of any denomination, people, nor the nation itself, but (theologically speaking) due to the intransigence of the human heart and the prevalence of human sin. We are a proud and stubborn people who desire our own way over God’s. We easily transform our own virtues into vice by our continual assertions that our ministry intentions and dynamics are the only way and manner in which God acts within the culture. We demean and attack those who hold to differing visions of the Kingdom of God and we pervasively assert our righteousness over God’s will. In short, we are sinners in the hands of an angry God. Yet our preeminent virtue is that when pressed and when called upon we can become a people of deep love, sincere repentance, and mutual grace. These are our greater angels and can only be present when the power of the Holy Spirit lights upon the Church. This is our prayer for this moment and for all peoples.
Over the past several days we have been bombarded with images and words that have taken the birth rite of the Church in both liberal and conservative contexts and bastardized them before our eyes. The historic virtues of both wings (the left and the right) of the Church have been carnalized and assaulted in broad daylight, with little to no unified response from the Church.
On one side we find the social gospel coalition of the American progressive era. The Church of Finney and Rauschenbusch. The Church that sparked the fire over women’s suffrage and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The coalition that caused white northern clergymen to walk with black southerners to bring gospel transformation to this land. The work and words of men like the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr brought hope and change to a generation of African-Americans, even while many within the Church clung to the cultural values that led them to ignore the biblical virtues of equality and Christian brotherhood.
The other wing of the Church is represented by the conservative Church movement. The crowd that lifts high the word of God and seeks the salvation of individual people and entire communities. This wing spent the years of women’s suffrage and Civil rights in silence and separation. They were the silent majority, faithful to God, but reluctant to move beyond the boundaries of ‘gospel ministry.’ To this wing, gospel ministry meant the revivalist stylings of Billy Sunday and Billy Graham. This wing valued the exercise of faith in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and often placed personal salvation over any movements or political causes.
Many of us raised in the aftermath of these two movements saw the value of both. The social gospel leaders did the heavy lifting in the public square and made sure that justice rained down on all people equally. The fundamentalists made sure that biblical truths were not bastardized for expedience and that the Kingdom of God was not overshadowed by the impulse to create our own kingdoms in the name of ourselves. Both found their purpose in the words of scripture and the calling of the Church. Both believed that they were doing the work of God in speaking truth to power and resisting the Lords of the world. And, before our eyes, both fell into the thrall of the political parties that they once spiritually guided.
Today both are under attack. Not silently but boldly and from within our own ranks. Both wings of the Church have been co-opted by those who seek the shelter of our legacy but are strangers to our faith.
The liberal Church that has flown rainbow flags and has rightly preached acceptance and open doors should be offended by those who would throw bricks and Molotov cocktails at their neighbors. This is literally anathema to the impulse and intentions of most progressive Congregations and leaders. When the advocates of violent protests seek to use the image and words of Dr. King as a rationale for rioting and arson, then they need to be called out as liars and co-opters of a man of sacred standing in the progressive Church. Dr. King would not be pleased and neither should those who have inherited his legacy.
On the other side we see the Conservative Church being hijacked by those who often lift law and order as a replacement to the Biblical calls for justice and agape love. When the President of the United States displays the Bible as a totem to be wielded like a cross before a vampire, then evangelicals must speak against this type of behavior. Our inability to defend the purpose of scripture has turned our statements of faith into hashtag talking points. God does not reside in a book like a genie in a lamp. Holding the text is no more valuable than clutching a cross. It is an image that without faithfulness and understanding is simply another book of spells and relic of power. Those who value God’s word know that it is powerful only when it resides in our hearts and rules in our lives. We are not simply people who own a book, we are people who follow the Incarnate Word of God in Jesus Christ and discover God’s nature and instruction in the words of scripture.
The Church is in this position however, because we have too frequently used the authority that has been granted to us to ingratiate ourselves to partisan goals and political parties. We have made the social issues the sacred issues and have bitten deep into the fruit offered to us by the world. Believing that the favor of our political leaders would expand our reach, we submitted to the lower instincts of partisanship. Supporting the bad behaviors and policies of allies instead of correcting and leading those who have strayed from the path of scripture and biblical morality. It is not worth the price of our sacred honor and eternal legacy to gain the favor of the world. The gospel, both of its precious wings, is intended to convert and transform the world into God’s image not to corrupt the Church into a facsimile of ancient Rome or the barbarian hordes who conquered the ancient city. Instead our mandate is to bring the gospel to both.
Yet here we are. Trapped in our need to defend our fellow travelers and painfully aware that we will lose their favor (and protection) if we stray from our fidelity to them. Our desire to be heard has robbed us of the meaning of our words. We no longer have anything worthy of saying if we are unwilling to challenge our allies when they approach holy ground without reverence or fear.
Jesus has called us to leave behind our allegiances to King, country and even family for the sake of the gospel. God is not, and never has been, willing to be our backup plan. The American Church is at a crossroads. We must either relinquish our partisan idols or be toppled with them on the Great Day of The Lord.
Difficult days are ahead. Now is the time to repent and return to the Lord.