As the issue of gay marriage dominated much of the social and political conversation in America over the past few weeks, I was often surprised by how underwhelming the voice of the Church sounded amidst the sea of pundits, bloggers, and commentators. Though surprised isn’t even the right word–I was grieved by it. Historically speaking, we blazed trails and led the way in pioneering, instituting, and crucially contributing to so many fields that have become staples of modern societies. Healthcare, higher education, and countless social reforms grew out of the vision and passion that the Spirit of God breathed into the people of God.
Then a slow, but debilitating shift took place, especially in our America context, that unfortunately left the Church in a reactionary position. No longer looked to for leadership, and forced to either cope with or retreat from societal trends, it seems the Bride of Christ became more concerned with preserving orthodoxy than with loving people in the radical manner that Jesus demonstrated for us. That radical love was the very thing that inspired our spiritual ancestors to throw themselves away to work that God gave them. I believe it is due to our neglect of that very thing that once gave us our voice which has led us to lose our ability and right to speak into the lives of many of the people in our nation. Sure, we still make a lot of noise and attract plenty of attention, but have you noticed that we’re not taken very seriously?
Today, the general public view seems to paint us more as the Bridezilla of Christ, throwing tantrums and making a scene when we don’t get things our way.
I’m not saying that we were ever wrong to treat morality and purity as significant to us, and I’m definitely not trying to start a debate on gay marriage, I’m simply suggesting that our current inability to engage our culture at a common point of reference is symptomatic of a larger misplay in our history. We got very used to being the ones who charted the course in our world, and reacted badly when things began to change. The social conservatism politically enacted by the Christian right failed to stem the tide of cultural forces that felt opposed to the Church, and we now often come across as bitter and lacking in charity of spirit. Of course, the attempts undertaken to influence the civic landscape were mostly born out of good intentions, but we were playing the wrong game and therefore never saw the change we hoped for.
At the Developing Youth Leaders seminar in February, Dr. Andrew Root broke down the failures of ministry that is centered in the pursuit of influence. Not only did we raise up generations of spiritually shallow “believers” as we trained people to think like us rather than to know and submit to Jesus, but we found ourselves on the outside of culture looking in. Our ideologies just don’t go deep enough to keep folks interested, so they left and continue to leave us behind in ways beyond simply their physical presence. The world continually thinks up answers that sound equally as plausible as ours if you’re used to only scratching the surface, and we simply can’t compete with what it has to offer when we play by its twisted, shifting rules. Nor should we try, but that hasn’t stopped us from installing jumbotrons and smoke machines in our megachurches, and emulating the consumerism and self-centeredness around us.
In Hallmarks of The Salvation Army, Salvo essayist Phil Wall posits that, “The real challenge for the Church is no longer to be clever or culturally relevant enough, but to be spiritual enough. Our neighbors are not dead to God or lacking in spiritual appetite. Rather, they are hungry for authentic experience but sadly no longer look to the Church to satisfy this.” The beginning of our Lenten season actually had its root in the Church’s interest in ensuring that new converts really understood what it meant to follow Christ in the days when Christianity first became the state sponsored religion. The required acts of self-sacrifice, service, and almsgiving were meant to experientially teach what it was to die to oneself in order to follow Jesus as Savior and Lord. The current renaissance these ancient practices are enjoying across generational lines expresses the depth of spiritual hunger present in our world.
The truth is we have something to offer that the world can only poorly mimic, and that’s the power of Jesus Christ! Jesus taught throughout his earthly ministry that being a servant is a far greater aspiration than finding influence over others. In fact, according to the economics of the Kingdom he preached, it’s only as we lower ourselves to the place of serving those around us in sacrificial love that we see the power of God work it’s way through our world like yeast in dough (Matt. 13). We’re told to be as insignificant as the tiny mustard seed and to trust in the only One who can make it bloom in ways we cannot even imagine! Are we finally ready to release our trust in man made systems to bring the reform that only God can accomplish?
Our arguments on behalf of God in the political sphere just aren’t needed nor are they entertained by anyone outside of our churches. Rather radical, servant-hearted action undertaken on behalf of the lost, ignored, and disenfranchised is the only way to win back hearts and minds to Christ. That is the only avenue that was available to the first century Church, and they succeeded both in turning the political systems of their day on their heads and altering the entire course of human history. The more we embrace that attitude of sacrificial love, the more we will find the power of God at work in our Corps and see the Kingdom of God advance in our communities.
- How are you seeking to rely entirely on the power of God in your life and ministry?
- Where is that power evidenced in your Corps community?
- How is the Lord leading you towards a life of sacrificial, loving service?
- How can you engage the young people in your Corps with Jesus’ call to serve others?