Presently, churches all across the nation are splitting and splintering, being pulled quite literally left or right. Both sides are claiming their way to transform the culture and both sides are claiming the name of Christ. While both sides think they share little in common, they are both involved in a power play for positions of influence, assuming that God’s primary call on His people is to transform or better culture.
But God’s call on His people is that they become a peculiar people.
Like many of you, my mind has been spinning this past year trying to make sense of what is happening with Christian congregations. Recently, the Lord has used a book written in the 1990’s to help me see more clearly what is happening in the 2020s. In their joint book Resident Aliens, Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon address trends that were planted back in the days of Constantine and have been growing into full-fledged forests by now.
“That which makes the church ‘radical’ and forever ‘new’ is not that the church tends to lean towards the left on most social issues, but rather that the church knows Jesus whereas the world does not. In the church’s view, the political left is not noticeably more interesting than the political right; both sides tend towards solutions that act as if the world has not ended and begun in Jesus (Resident Aliens, page 28).”
Both sides are equally likely to fall into worldly patterns of thinking that change comes through positions of power and political prowess. Believers in either camp can want the right things but go about trying to get them through means that God has not ordained.
The primary job of God’s people is to be the people of God, not to transform culture. Culture may and likely will be transformed, but such transformation will be a by-product, not a means in and of itself.
“For to us, the world ended. We may have thought that Jesus came to make nice people ever nicer, that Jesus hoped to make a democratic Caesar just a little more democratic, to make the world a bit better place for the poor. The Sermon, however, collides with such accommodationist thinking. It drives us back to a completely new conception of what it means for people to live with one another. That completely new conception is the church (Resident Aliens, page 92).”
If the church is to do the work of Christ, the church cannot seek to accomplish His means through the mechanisms of a dying world. God has given us the church as His means to accomplish His work. Practically speaking, this means that Supreme Court justice appointments or decisions, while important, are not our hope. This means that laws enacted by our government do not sideline us from doing the work of God and being the people of God. We do not to be propped up by the government to be His people. In fact, when the laws of the land go against our beliefs, we have an even greater opportunity to stand out.
My fear is that our churches are missing their moment to show the watching world the compelling and true story of the gospel. A pandemic got the world’s attention, but the church has been so engaged in fighting each other, they look no different than the political ads.
When Paul spoke to the Church that he loved and helped establish in Galatia, his heart was heavy over their interactions with one another. They were using their new-found freedom in Christ to further their own agendas and catching each other in the crosshairs of their disparate aims.
“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another (Galatians 5:13-15).
We have been stuck in a brutal power play when we are called to be spending our time on being God’s peculiar people. We don’t need laws to be His peculiar people. We don’t need a sitting president who affirms our ideals. We have His Word and His Spirit, which is all the early church needed to be set apart.
The Church should be odd. We won’t fit neatly into a political system because God’s word wasn’t concerned with political systems. God’s Word was concerned with announcing an altogether different kingdom. In the words of Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, “We want to claim the church’s ‘oddness’ as essential to its faithfulness.”
Often the faithful seem foolish,
Their trust in Your Word naive.
A world calculated and strategic
Estranges those who believe.
For the story that grabbed them
Has sunk deep into their veins.
The storyteller’s life-giving Word
Continues to guide their reins.
Those who’ve heard such a story
Must see everything in its light.
The One who’s seen through them
Has Initiated them into His sight.
Staking their lives on a Savior
Despised and rejected by men,
They are to reenact His story
Again and again and again.
As they resist prevailing notions,
The world calls the meek weak,
When power takes on the posture
Of gently turning the other cheek.
The odd way they try to trod
Is labeled limiting and narrow,
For they don’t know the One
Whose Spirit is their marrow.
Lord, hold our fumbling feet
Fast to your glorious way.
In your likeness let us live
Until that promised day.