It has been said that people get the politicians they deserve. Perhaps the recent replacement of Tony Abbott by Malcolm Turnbull, as Prime Minister of Australia, is an example of this. Surely his conservatism was reviled far more than any other shortcomings were real. In a way, the people didn’t get to choose, but polls did seem to provide the ammunition for change. Interestingly, the people got their way in the appointing of Saul as first king of Israel, too. Similarly, churches and their leaders reflect (or are asked to reflect) the wishes of the people. This is about culture. Culture can and does change, but it needs to be read and understood in order to lead the people who embrace it.
I’d like to think that a church’s culture is reflective of biblical values, that it is about nurturing people, making disciples, inspiring missional fervency. But is this primarily outwardly or inwardly focused? That really is the question. As I heard quoted recently, every army has a hospital, but not every hospital has an army. We are an army of love, but it’s radical love, engaging love, compelling love.
We can and should be optimistic and celebratory about the Church (which Jesus said Hell could never prevail against), but there are no second and third tiers of Christian commitment and no justifiable long-term absences from the front lines. Churches clearly need to promote an all-or-nothing surrender to Jesus that averts desensitisation to sin with daily surrender to the will of God in prayer and Bible reading. This is enhanced, and not substituted, by worship and friendship as we respond to the call to be missionaries in whatever our vocation might be.
The once popular call to sacrifice and holiness is still as necessary as ever, not to secure faith which was won at the Cross, but to revel in it. Our faith is the substance of our hope and is the sure foundation of a radical love which is actually appealing because of its stark contrast to the world and not its similarity to it. Does this resemble the culture of your church, more than just resembling its mission statement?!
People won’t come to know Jesus because of my abstinence from worldly vices, but because my own radical love sees me live as compellingly different in every area of life. A love for God and a love for people doesn’t celebrate a freedom to push the boundaries of permissibility but, rather, the freedom to live as far from them as possible. Grace doesn’t impose or harangue, either, but compels with winsome appeal.
How much greater would our Christian witness be if our culture that was ‘felt’ more than just ‘telt’ was less about overbusy independence or self-absorption and more about sacrificial and loving interdependence? Politics could learn well from the best examples of churches who display a strongly biblical culture. Nevertheless one might sometimes wonder, with each new revelation of church dissension or abuse, just how many good examples are on display to the world around us!
The solution, of course, is not to answer with finger-pointing or discouragement, but to celebrate the vast majority of what is working and to commit our best efforts to being a joint force of radical love to the best of our own ability. Being aligned to, serving, and radically loving the church Christ died for, no matter how much we might sometimes be frustrated by it, is our only recourse when the world around us so needs the best that we have to offer. I want to talk up the good that is happening and celebrate the fact that Jesus is still building His church and that, whatever is not working, it is subject to change because prayer still achieves the impossible.