RECTOR’S ARTICLE – THE ANCHOR JANUARY 2018
I don’t know who said this first, but I know I heard my granddad say it: “There are puritans who cannot sleep at night because they know that someone, somewhere, is having fun.”
When you consider the mess that is ‘worldwide Christianity’, it’s hardly surprising that increasing numbers of people are turned off by it. It doesn’t speak with one voice; many Christians view other Christians with suspicion – if not with downright hostility; some Christians are so similar to the rest of society that outsiders wonder why you’d need to be a member, meanwhile other Christians are so against the world they seem like aliens; for some, Christians are too political while, for others, they are not political enough.
Meanwhile, in the west – and specifically in the US – the voice of the Church is predominantly controlled by but a few. This is the Christianity of the Vox Populi – a market-driven version of Christianity which is more a ‘lifestyle option’ than a life of dedication to Christ, the way, and the pursuit of truth.
Within this group there seem to be two types of pastor. One sees the world as very black and white: all is evil; everyone needs to repent and withdraw from the world; we need to get back to … to whatever that particular pastor deems the most ‘Christian’. We see lots of this type: condemnatory; claiming to ‘love the sinner but not the sin’ but often conveniently ignoring those sins they deem ‘not important’; driven by a particular political viewpoint as almost being ordained by God.
The other type of pastor is very similar to the first but, instead of wishing to withdraw from the world, this pastor-type encourages full emersion – to the point that the Bible is used as a tool to promote consumerism, because God wishes to ‘bless’ His followers with all material goods. The ‘fruits’ of one’s faith are measured by what one possesses – ‘success’ is a numbers game: bums on seats, and the bottom line.
There is a third type of pastor, though. You won’t hear much about this type, as what they do and are is neither easy to sell, nor is it popular. This type of pastor tends to holds out their hand and shares his or her brokenness. They tend see the world in many shades of gray, see their own part in it, and sees the sin in their lives and others.
But they also see the beauty within it, and they understand – as many others do not – that God’s glory is revealed within this beauty, despite man’s best efforts to destroy what God has given him. They see all politics – no matter what system or party – as attempts to impose man-made values, all of them being doomed to failure because all of them deny man’s fallenness. They see God as calling all of us, through Christ, to something beyond ourselves, our parties, our countries, our petty self-interests, our insecurities, and our false beliefs, to huddle together around a common altar where the Lamb of God is glorified. All are welcome; none are turned away. They leave it to God, alone, to judge.
Which, out of these various Christian types, do you think is: 1. More popular? 2. Easier?
One might think that the first type would be the more difficult. But, being that type of Christian is actually easier – and it is certainly more popular. To shout out, point the finger, and condemn has a very long history, and is still the default position for many. Yet you really don’t find much of it in the life of Jesus.
The ‘success in life’ type is also easy – because if a person fails … well … they obviously don’t have enough faith; and it is their fault.
And this is why holding out a hand is the less chosen, less popular path.
Because our society despises anything that may be interpreted as ‘weakness’ we prefer a far more ‘robust’ approach, thus you will readily hear claims that anyone who holds out their hand without expecting something of the other is soft on judgment, is leading people astray, is a part of the ‘problem’. As such, some will claim, those who merely hold out their hand are not doing God’s work or will at all.
Except … this is exactly how Jesus calls us. In sharing ourselves we see not guilt and judgment, but fragments of redemption; glimpses of hope in otherwise broken lives. Shepherds become people worthy of the Good News; adulteresses are sent away alive; lepers are healed; a convict on the cross is offered Paradise; and foreigners who travelled far got to worship the object of their journey.
We needn’t fear that someone, somewhere, is having fun – because we will all be known as a people of joy.