Can we stand for something?

In a recent editorial piece in the New York Times, titled “Can Liberal Christianity be Saved?” Ross Douthat wrote of the demise of both centers of Christianity – liberal and conservative in the form of the Episcopal and Catholic churches.  He pointedly remarked, “The most successful Christian bodies have often been politically conservative but theologically shallow, preaching a gospel of health and wealth rather than the full New Testament message.”  The article clearly calls for a revisiting of sorts, for a reappraisal as Christianity attempts to find its legs again.

There are those in the “reappraisal” business, a line of work hopefully this congregation has joined.  Look at these words by Greg Boyd of Woodland Hills Church in Minnesota, a pastor aware of NewChurch LIVE.

“We want to do all we can do to help mobilize and spread this rising movement of kingdom people who are rethinking what it means to be a “Christian,” what it means to have “faith,” and what it means to be a follower of Jesus. We want to join others in imaginatively exploring the shape that post-Christendom discipleship and the post-Christendom Church might take. And we want to join others in boldly rethinking everything Christians have always assumed they already knew. To recover the self-sacrificial revelation of God in Christ, and to advance the servant kingdom he inaugurated, it is time for us all to take a fresh look at everything.” 

I love the concept of “boldly rethinking” because it closely ties in with the concept of repentance.  That journey however is difficult.  As noted by Dounthat we all yearn at a superficial level for the “health and wealth” messages that abound.   They feel good.  They call us to claim what we “deserve.”  They are entertaining.  Such messages are frankly easier to preach, easier to sell.  In their froth, they avail us of little.

So can we stand for something?  The answer obviously is yes.  And unfortunately, in my humble opinion, we take stands on cultural issues that we then hold as issues at the core of Christianity – a General George Custer like mistake of planting our flag in territory of questionable value.  Taking a stand is not about worship forms, keeping women out of ministry or taking a stand about limiting the rights of homosexuals.   If the litmus test is “Did Christ speak on these issues in the four Gospels?”, one is left with the conclusion, that in these issues remaining unaddressed by Christ, they cannot be the core issues of Christianity.   Human suffering is.  New Church theology reflects that same New Testament perspective. Of course we are called to think clearly and make informed decisions for ourselves but that is different than holding these issues as core markers for adherence to the Christian life.

So where we do we take a stand?

  1. God’s Word: That there is a revelation higher than ourselves that we must look to guidance.  We are blessed in the New Church to have a revelation that calls us to see revelation far more broadly than many formal theologies but that is not “anything goes” but instead a “go and search.”  For me the hierarchy flows from the Bible, to New Church Theology, to everything else, (including Douthat’s article).  The imperative is to keep first-things-first.
  2. Piercing the Illusion: Ouch!  … but yes I have to say it.  We have to piece our illusions/ self delusions of what we hold as right and wrong – the core work of repentance.  Our ego gets it wrong all the time.  Please read my previous blog on the Penn State football scandal for an example of why those illusions are so badly in need of puncturing.
  3. Establishing a Church that is an Authentic Alternative: We can use cultural allusions but I think the stand is to be in some areas counter-cultural.  Christ’s call is both be different and to be difference maker, humbly and with the most grace we can muster.
  4. Reaching Out: It is about loving service looking outward – the self-sacrificial love that forms the very core of Christianity.   One immense fear for this church as for all churches is that we forget this core principle, and slide slowly towards a concern about ourselves as the relationship between God – Pastor – Congregation becomes divided along “Producer” and “Consumer” lines.   One immense hope is that we create the opposite!
What I have found is that if I don’t take a personal stand on the above four, I become spiritually “sloppy”, more concerned with entertainment than transformation.  Shane Claiborne’s words ring in my ear.  ”If we loose this generation, it won’t be because we did not entertain them.  It will be because we did not challenge them.”    So here is to the challenge, here is to taking the right kind of stand.


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