Thursday, November 10, 2016

Whither now, Church?

The right are giddy and the left in despair because the former now has the upper hand in running the US. Christians of all strips share either the giddiness or the despair. The church, however, while seeking and supporting what public goods it can, has no brief for running the US or any other country either directly or as partisans of a particular political vision. We are those who model a wholly different way, the way of the cross. That is the only "throne" from which we "ru...le." Just like our master Jesus Christ. We are not called to make a difference in this world (though we will if we follow our proper mandate) but rather demonstrate a different world that has broken in to our fallen reality, follow a new king announcing a new creation that is humanity's destiny. Kingdoms and empires come and go. So will America. It, as Tony Campolo cleverly observed, may be the best Babylon the world has ever seen, but it's still a Babylon. America's pretentions include being the biggest, strongest bad-ass in its world or humanity's best, the "light of the world." Now we have turned toward the former pretention and away from the latter. But nothing has changed for the church, at least a church not invested in our nation's pretentions. The shape of our witness ought to be the same as it always should have been described well by Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

"Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christians should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong."
(Dietrich Bonhoeffer from Sermon on II Cor. 12)

You can't run a country, much less an empire, like this either from the right or the left. But from a cross the church can its place and shape in whatever world it inhabits, with however much or few its opportunities to achieve public good are, by being and doing what it is by grace and the Spirit empowered to do. And thus the church should do now in America. Leave the left and right to wrestle for the power to run America. And learn what Jesus, quoting the Old Testament, claims as the heart of biblical faith: "Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have come to not the righteous but sinners." (Mt.9:13).

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