Friday, September 17, 2010

The ultimate 'outsiders'

Over the last few years many folks uninterested in social justice for the poor have suggested that the church of Jesus Christ should operate primarily as a charity for their benefit. I'm guessing that such people believe that, if the poor would improve themselves morally -- whatever that means -- and the church helped with that, they would no longer be poor.

Aside from the classism inherent in that statement, another issue exists that we need to address: Meeting temporal needs is not the primary purpose of the church. It isn't? No.

"Well, what about the early church -- didn't it feed the hungry, clothe the naked and all that kind of stuff?" Yes, it did, but not for the reasons we think of.

We need to remember that, in those days, much of the church of that day was on the run -- hiding in caves, subject to consistent persecution, nearly friendless. In such an atmosphere, especially with people who had literally abandoned their families -- which said something back then -- to follow a Jesus that most of them had never even met in the flesh, you learn to stick together because your very life might depend on it.

Remember, some members of the Body of Christ, then the ultimate "outsiders," were cut off from family, friends, centers of political and economic power and probably even unable to find work, even though they were following the Ultimate King. Irony? Well, He was full of irony -- "the last will be first" and comments like that.

It should be clear by now just why "followers of the Way" were willing to do those things -- they understood from personal experience just what it was like to be hungry, naked and forsaken. They knew from the outset, because He said so, that belonging to Jesus meant suffering but considered doing so worth the cost. Moreover, like their LORD, they were willing to identify with "the least, the last and the lost."

I worship in a church that belongs to a missionary denomination, and in one country (I don't remember which one and probably wouldn't tell you if I did) becoming a Christian meant that you lost your livelihood almost immediately. At my church you might see someone wearing a sweater with the denomination's logo woven into the fabric. Those sweaters were imported from that country and represented the only source of income that the people had.

Contrast that with modern American Christianity. Millions upon millions of dollars for buildings in comfortable suburbs. Radio and TV programs, books and assorted doo-dads. Preachers, congregations and even denominations lobbying politicians. The "worship wars." I sometimes wonder how a Christian living in one of those countries where the church is outlawed would react if he or she came to this country.

Moreover, folks, mostly frightened "culture warriors," talk without any evidence of a day when Christianity itself will be outlawed in the United States, but even if that were to happen it might actually improve the spiritual commitment of the church because it would be forced to cling to Jesus even more. A couple of months ago a fellow musician wore to big-band rehearsal a Christian-themed T-shirt that said that it would be "banned in 51 countries."

I commented, "Maybe it should be banned in this country."

He looked at me quizzically at first but then responded, "To purify the church?"


The purpose of the church is to herald the coming of the King of Kings, to demonstrate (albeit imperfectly) a preview of the New Jerusalem. Martin Luther King Jr. said that, in order to maintain its integrity, that "it must conform only to the demands of the Gospel" -- the Good News that, because of Him, things will be different and made right. However, we can't do that if we're enamored of earthly power and authority -- after all, if you have that, then why rely on the power of the Holy Spirit? And when you rely on the Holy Spirit -- well, you'll be out of step with the world. Which should be a compliment, because that's the goal.

1 comment:

seekingChrist39 said...

I like the way you think Blue Deacon. You challenge me and that inspires growth. Thank you.