This week’s posting is NOT about the sermon – either the one last week, or the one upcoming. This Sunday, I’m off pulpit duty – and hats off to Leigh Stuckey, who will be preaching on the text in which Thomas (“The Doubter”) comes to faith by asking to touch the wounds of Jesus before he believes the outrageous claims of the disciples. (John 20:19-31)
No – this week I want to talk about the church. My beef with the church. Or…at least one of them.
Here’s the thing I hate about the church these days: we seem to have made a dichotomy between justice and evangelism.
So, what do you mean, preacher? Here goes: In the church, there are seemingly two very different crowds of people, with very different theologies, who are seemingly involved in two very opposite and incompatible activities. In the first camp, there are the kind of people who “get” Christianity. They are totally down with the Sermon on the Mount and Matthew 25 (look it up if that doesn’t ring a bell!). They groove on the message of the prophets. Micah 6:8 is their call to arms: “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God?” They are the ones out there protesting the war in Iraq. They are working to end the death penalty. They are visiting asylum seekers and illegal immigrants, detained by the ICE.
Most such people have grown up in the church and possess a traditional faith; they tend to be very liberal in their reading of scripture. They may or may not have had a powerful religious conversion – but for them, faith is mainly action. They are OK identifying themselves with the label “mainline”. They are thoughtful and reflective about their faith, but not doctrinaire about it.
Now some other type of Christians, looking on at such folks, may critique them for not taking their faith seriously enough. They may even accuse them of using faith to justify their “libreral ideas.” These folk may think of themselves as”two kingdoms” type people. In other words, they believe that Jesus had little to say about the politics of his day, so we should keep him out of ours; he was after people’s souls, not to start a social revolution. Their clarion call is John 3:16, and to the point just made, they might also be found quoting John 18:36: “My Kingdom is not of this world.” Sure, Jesus was for the poor, but mostly because they were the ones who understood his spiritual message most easily. Jesus primary aim was to transform the world spiritually. Faith is therefore about personal salvation, and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
And nary the twain shall meet, to quote the cliche.
I hate that.
But do you want to know what inspires me? When these two kinds of folk get together. And when people blow those stereotypes out of the water.
Because I do believe that is happening right now in Christendom. I believe that a whole new kind of Christian faith is emerging right now – much of it among young Christians, who are sick and tired of fighting the culture war their parents have been battered and bruised by. They are not as concerned about whether homosexuality is sin. But they care deeply about Jesus; about the experience of faith, not just talking about it; not just using it to justify their agenda.
But they are also deeply committed to the kind of justice Jesus preached, and embodied. They are shocked by their parents’ indifference to the poor. They are wary of ideology of any kind – liberal, conservative. They are trying to live the Beatitudes, and the Sermon on the Mount.
They see no dichotomy, no split, between justice and evangelism. The work of justice, our thirsting for it, enacting it, signifying it – is part and parcel of believing in the truth claims of the gospel itself. To believe, to make good on one’s conversion, is to devote one’s life to the neighbor. And our works are empty, unless they are filled with the passion that gave rise to our impulse to engage: to love Jesus.
This is what fires my jets right now. A Christian faith that is full, serious, centered on Christ; and out in the world, marching, insisting on justice and righteousness for the poor, the immigrant, the incarcerated, the sick, the lonely. It’s a Christianity unafraid to rattle the cage of our dominant culture, and unafraid to talk Jesus-ey, and to make a decision to follow Christ 24/7.
Among my heroes? A guy named Shane Claiborne. He embodies what I’ve spoken of before. Want to know more about what he’s doing? Here’s his website.
And finally – something of an appeal to you. Because of this passion of mine, I’ve joined with a bunch of other like-minded Christians from Princeton/Trenton/Philly and our region to do something new: to bring together mainliners and evangelicals; whites and African Americans; Latinos and feminist Christians – and to come together seeking the transforming life of the spirit – in fact, coming together for a REVIVAL.
The name of the project? It’s called Revive! It’s an event that will be happening in Trenton the weekend of June 11-13, at the Trinity Cathedral. The program will feature amazing and exciting speakers and preachers – Shane Claiborne will be one of them. We’ll also have Cornel West, Bart Campolo, Brenda Salter-McNeil and Luke Powery (both of them amazing gospel preachers), James Logan…also, a bunch of leaders from InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and a lot more. Revive! is a…revival – aimed at creating, enhancing, enlivening faith. But it’s also a call to arms – to equip people to walk out into the world to proclaim the justice of Jesus.
I hope you might join us for the weekend. I know that the spirit will show.