Friday, October 28, 2016

It Takes A Church

Working through Bonhoeffer’s Life Together over the past few months I have found myself renewed, on the one hand, with a passion for the community of believers; and discouraged on the other hand, wondering whether the fulfillment of our Lord’s prayer (John Chapter 17) that we all be perfected into one is possible. That does seem heretical, to question whether the prayer of Jesus Christ will be answered; I don’t doubt that it will be answered in fulfillment, but in the natural one (at least I) wonders how it can be.

As a young man with the “Jesus People” in California my heart was captured by Ephesians 4:7 – 16 with its image of the Body of Christ fully functioning and growing up “in all things into Him who is the head – Christ.” As a young adult in the Charismatic Movement, the image of the Body of Christ in 1 Corinthians Chapter 12 likewise captured my imagination. Bonhoeffer’s image of the church in The Cost of Discipleship and Watchman Nee’s The Normal Christian Church Life were influences in my teenage years. How well I recall shortly after Vickie and I moved to Virginia in 1989 that we not only were led by the Holy Spirit to a home fellowship that meant much to us, but that we were also introduced to brothers and sisters throughout the Commonwealth who were seeking life together.

I could write a book about the dynamics of church life that I’ve seen throughout the years, and maybe I will; if I do it will be both descriptive and Biblically prescriptive; for on the descriptive side life together can have myriad appearances, while on the prescriptive side there is Biblical command and guidance applicable to all times and places and gatherings of God’s people.

A recent editorial in Touchstone Magazine titled, School’s Out,, reminded me of our fragmented approach to the Christian life. I gently disagree with the article on two fronts, though by and large I have no immediate problem with the piece. As far as an editorial piece goes it’s ok – but it only gets a “C”.

In the first place, to think that the next president or next Supreme Court can reverse the downward plunge of the United States is na├»ve. We didn’t get here overnight and we aren’t likely to see anything reversed that will have a long-term effect – we are the products of generations of self-delusion, deconstruction, and moral, ethical, and spiritual sabotage. This society is only living out what it has been taught, that we are the products of time plus matter plus chance. Sadly the “church” has played a part in this – and I think this is true across the theological spectrum. I am certain that I have played my own part – so I am guilty as well.

My second point of departure with the editorial is the idea that the current presidential administration’s ruling on bathroom use and the like was the tipping point in public education  - something like this could have only happened if were we already well beyond the tipping point. We have been far beyond the tipping point for years. The curricula of many public schools have been attacking the image of God for years.

I agree with the editorial that the whole “salt and light” idea of sending Christian children to public schools needs to be revisited. Aren’t we offering our children to the fires of Molech? And isn’t the reason we often do so economic? It strikes me that many Christian parents who say they want their children to be “salt and light” in public schools are asking their children to do something which they, the parents, don’t do – and that is to witness for Jesus Christ. I think I know a pretty good cross section of working Christians and most of them admit that they don’t witness. I have a friend leading a Sunday school class of retired men and, according to my friend, none of them have ever shared their faith. Do we see the hypocrisy of asking children to do something that adults don’t do?

But here is my main point-of-departure with the editorial, as well-meaning as the author is – there is no call for the church to respond as the church, as the people of God. While this may have been in the author’s mind when he wrote, he does not explicitly state it. Are children and families important enough to the church for the church to step forward with clear statements of truth and clear alternatives to public education? Are local congregations and regional and national associations of Bible-believing churches prepared to support the education of children in alternative settings? If we ask a family to sacrifice financially to provide their children with healthy education are we as a people prepared to sacrifice alongside them? What about those families who already live at or below the poverty level? Are we prepared to sacrificially come alongside them?

And this brings me back to the beginning of this piece, where is the unity that Jesus Christ prayed for? Where is the sense of identity that we are His body and members one of another? We each seek our own, not the things which are Christ’s.

Bonhoeffer thought that if Christians did not know how to live life together that they would not survive the Nazis – and he wasn’t primarily thinking about physical survival. 

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