Tuesday, October 18, 2005

What the World Needs Now?

Dan Edelan over at Cerulean Sanctum just posted a very well-written and wholly biblical view of what the church of today really needs.

Read it here.

There are a lot of folks calling for a renewed focus on the church serving the "least of these". A call that is long overdue, but certainly not new. This is a repetition of a social cycle that has played out once already even in my lifetime. Mainstream Protestant denominations began a social justice movement some 40-50 years ago decrying the same disregard the rest of the church had for those in poverty. And certainly much good was done.

Because of having seen this cycle play out over and over again - even in my own relatively short lifetime - I'm always a bit nervous when we pick a "cause" to champion rather than focusing on becoming like the Christ - because I believe the former has always resulted in the exultation of self and our accomplishments whereas the latter will result in the right causes being addressed while exalting God and humbling us.

Obviously some have used this as an excuse for inaction - inaction that the church should not long tolerate. But that is the risk God took. And it is his risk to take - not ours. Our care of the widows, the orphans, the poor, our neighbor are by-products of a life invaded by God's presence and transformed into a Kingdom-kind-of-life. Reversing the order always results in idolatry.

The church has too often and too long tolerated lack of real discipleship. But in our fervor to *do* something, we have often substituted the idolatry of action over the transformation of the self in the presence of God. The upshot being that causes fade, enthusiasm wanes and celebrity-driven efforts are forgotten. But the converted disciple continues to serve.

Having said all that, it is clear that much of the American church has fallen asleep to the call of discipleship - to personal transformation that rejects materialism, rejects the world's value system and becomes an outpost of God's Kingdom. The church needs real teaching on what it means to be a disciple - and on the dangers of syncretism, accomodation and assimilation.


scott said...

You make a great point. You are right, it is not a new call to serve the least of these. Jesus set the precedent for that.
But there is a groundswell going on that says we cannot be like Christ if we are not actively meeting the needs of others.
I believe that part of true discipleship means being a voice for those who are without.
We run a great risk of reducing this to an issue or "cause" rather than an outspilling of who we are called to be.
But action must take place. It must take place even while we are training and teaching people what it means to be disciples. Not for our own aggrandizement but for the least, for the invisible poor.
I've missed your insight and the mental challenges you offer. Thanks for the stretching.

CJR said...

I think you're on point, Scott.

I would even go so far as to say that the practice of serving the poor is itself a kind of training for discipleship.

Among the lessons most of us in evangelical churches need to learn then humility, simplicity and service would all have to be in the top five.

But the critical, yet subtle, concern is to learn this lesson in a way that isn't attached to - or, at least, dependent on - personality, culture trends or other external props, but is, instead, an outflowing of the grace we receive. The difference, while ostensibly negligible to the casual observer, will be told in the sustainability of the focus on "the least of these" and in the degree of personal transformation for those who serve.

scott said...

the question that emerges then is "is my discipleship contingent upon external forces (i.e. issues, causes, whatever is on the rubber bracelet this week, etc) or borne out of a desire to be like Christ?"
that to me is a difficult question to answer. It will not even be completely answerable while in the midst of the ministry but may become apparent only when the next need presents itself. The constancy of ministry in a diversity of environments.
Yet, that can convey a misperception that our discipleship is issue-driven. Hence, the social justice cycle you mentioned in your original post.

Dan Edelen said...


Thanks for the link to my post at Cerulean Sanctum and for the additional insights.

Blessings on your blogging.