Sunday, April 14, 2013

Becoming a Humble Church

The Church is the Body of Christ. This is one of the most widely acknowledged claims in the Christian world. Yet how often to we take the time really to think through the implications of this claim? To be the Body of Christ, when we think about it, is a pretty tall order. If the Church is the Body of Christ, then our life together should be informed by the life and ministry of Christ, which is no small matter. Christ is not an easy person to emulate. He lived a life that was and is deeply countercultural, so much so that he was put to death. There are of course many virtues of Christ that we can identify, but perhaps one of the most difficult of these to emulate is the virtue of humility. 

In 1906, the Christian writer G. K. Chesterton, who penned a very fine work you may have read called Orthodoxy, penned the following words as a hymn:

O God of earth and altar,
bow down and hear our cry,
our earthly rulers falter,
our people drift and die;
the walls of gold entomb us,
the swords of scorn divide,
take not thy thunder from us,
but take away our pride.

From all that terror teaches,
from lies of tongue and pen,
from all the easy speeches
that comfort cruel men,
from sale and profanation
of honor, and the sword,
from sleep and from damnation,
deliver us, good Lord!

Tie in a living tether
the prince and priest and thrall,
bind all our lives together,
smite us and save us all;
in ire and exultation
aflame with faith, and free,
lift up a living nation,
a single sword to thee.

These are beautiful words, though I’d have a better chance of being elected Pope than of hearing this hymn in a North American church today. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, the language sounds archaic, which makes it pretty much of a non-starter in most churches. The second, reason, however, is much more significant: the ideas are archaic. It is a hymn of humility before a holy, judging, and saving God.

I’m reminded in reading these words of Paul’s work in Corinth. The cultural context of Corinth was dominated by the desire for honor, or public affirmation by one’s peer group. Paul had to deal with self-exaltation within the church. And the image that he draws upon to do this? The cross, of course. “God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor 1:17). The cross shows us something of the character of God incarnate in Jesus Christ. If this is the character of God, what does it say about the character that God would want to see in us?

For the most part, people do not normally boast in church. To do so is impolitic. Yet pride and humility have to do with much more than boasting. They have to do with the ways in which we carry ourselves, and the way we regard other people, including people of others faiths. They have to do with how we pray. Do we pray simply for what we want, or do we pray that God will change us into the people we are meant to be? They have to do with the ways in which we conduct ourselves in disagreement. Do we really listen? Do we acknowledge the limits of our understanding? Do we place being right above being compassionate? Are the lost, the least, the outsider, and the outcast our highest priorities? Do we, like Paul, view the faith through the lens of the crucified Christ?

This is all easier said than done, I know. Believe me…. I know. Still, we cannot be faithful unless we are humble. Christ showed us this. Paul certainly learned this. Chesterton conveyed it quite eloquently, but it's still a hard pill to swallow. Take not thy thunder from us, O God, but take away our pride. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

We believe in the Holy Spirit...

The Lord and giver of life.

This is how the third article of the Nicene Creed begins. We confess belief in the Holy Spirit, who is not only our Lord, but the one who gives life to all creation, including the Church.

This claim, of course, stands in stark contrast to much of the rhetoric we hear today about the decline of the Church. Why are so many resigned to failure? After all, we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life. If this is so, then the decline of the Church is not inevitable. By contrast, it is unthinkable.

I’m not denying the numeric downturn in mainline Protestantism over the last forty years or so. Those numbers tell a particular story, and there are reasons that the story has played out in the way that it has. But the language of failure, fear, and decline is not God’s language. That is not the language of people who confess that we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life.

Then again, the Nicene Creed doesn't get much play in many mainline and evangelical churches today. That, in fact, could be part of the problem. What if, each week, we confessed this creed, with the bold proclamation of its third article? Would an awareness of and belief in the Holy Spirit as the Lord and giver of life make a difference for our churches? I, for one, would like to find out. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Mike Slaughter on Socioeconomic Healing

Divine healing is not just about the healing of physical ailments. It's also about healing a broken and sinful world. In this video, Mike Slaughter talks about the work of the Holy Spirit in socioeconomic healing--the Spirit's work in bringing an end to issues of poverty and all forms of economic injustice.