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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

If the Church were Christian...

I am reading a fun book by a Quaker (who grew up a Roman Catholic) called If the Church were Christian: Rediscovering the values of Jesus (Philip Gulley, HarperOne: 2010). I say "fun" because I am always interested in the movements which seek to run counter to prevailing tradition, or "orthodoxy" as he calls it. I mean, the idea that the current state of the "Church" (or states of Congregations as I might call it) does not adequately meet the needs of God's people and the world is not really new. I mean, if Jesus had written a book like this he may well have titled it "If the Temple were Jewish: Rediscovering the values of LORD."

The Church, at least as reformers like Luther and Calvin understood, is always in need of reformation. The reason is not because God goes out of style or becomes irrelevant or something like that, but because people change. And the faster change goes, the slower the "Church" seems, and therefore the more it is in need of "rediscovering" what it is supposed to be about. It is not that a leader like Pr. Gulley does not need to write such a book, but he needs to write it every day if he is to be in the reforming tradition (at least the reforming tradition that raised me where baptism was seen as a daily occurrence because "life" is a daily onslaught.)

And in a roundabout way, this book reminded me of why I can never be a Quaker. (I will, however, become a Quaker if they ever get down to only 1 left because I believe in the tradition so much, even if it is not my first understanding of God's way.) As a Christian, and in this case one who claims a Lutheran heritage, I am less interested in what Jesus valued than what God values. (In that sentence, Jesus and God can be the same subject, but notice the tense of the verb "value.") In other words, what God wants "now," is more important to me than what Jesus wanted "then."

For me, what Jesus wanted was for us to live as humanly as we were created to be by the Lord of all creation. Now, in this way, this is what God values today; however, we are in a different world than Jesus was, and how we live out our created humanity differs from his. For example, what do we do with the knowledge that Japan may well be irreparably destroyed by the recent earthquakes and tsunamis? I can think of no story or teaching of Jesus that related to a world larger than 40 square miles...what does it mean to be a created human when you know about peoples' lives you have never met or never will? Jesus never answered this question; just as he never answered questions about Buddhism, weapons of mass destruction, exhorbitant interest rates, or hedge funds. (Granted he may have hinted around those last two, as he was always talking about money and economics.)*

So for me the important question is what does God prefer these days? Jesus can guide us, model us, free us, save us, redeem us, release us, (oh...you get the picture) but it is God who sets the mission. (I am one of those theologians who believes that God redeems the world in Christ so that creation can continue on.) So I don't need the Church to be Christian at all...I would like it to be Godly, which if Jesus is the Christ and he has anything to do with it, means it will be the most human place around.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

*One of the funniest things about Jesus always talking about money and economics is that the Church is always blasted when it does that, and is then in need of "reform." Really? How do you follow the values of Jesus unless you are talking about money, justice, and economics? People have to pull their heads out of the sand on this one.

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