If you did not listen to the show on Friday, you missed one of the more interesting ones ever. Hugh was at Westminster Theological Seminary’s “Faith in the Public Square: A Dialogue on Public Theology” event and interviewed many of the leading public Christian thinkers working today. (It’s on the podcast until Monday morning and the Hughniverse forever, give it a listen.) Hugh asked one question of most of his guests – was the event, due to its ecumenical nature, a wedding, or was it a wake for the Christian voice in the public square. Most of those interviewed expressed hope in the power of Jesus, but were moribund about the direction of the nation.
When they started to talk about how to react to the current state of affairs is where one could begin to see the cracks between the various expressions of Christianity appear. But all of them talked about things-to-do, from reworking seminaries to communication strategies, they were clearly developing a list of action items. And to me it felt like a distraction.
It is a given of Christianity that the world is a nasty, vulgar, unhappy place – we call that sin. It should come as a surprise to no one. Sin always wants to do away with Christianity – it is the nature of the thing. If the nation is shoving us into a corner, particularly given the success Christianity has enjoyed in recent centuries, it is not because anything out there has changed – it is because we have. Somewhere along the line we have lost touch with the power that has enabled us to overcome what was out there for the last two thousand years plus.
To be clear, I am in no position to pass judgement of the Christian devotion of anyone that attended that conference, but I do think the starting point for dealing with the state of affairs today is not with strategies and institutions, but with deepening our personal devotion, and inviting others to join us. If one reads the book of Acts with an eye to how the early church accomplished what it did one notes the minimal organization and maximal passion of Jesus’ followers. Yes, the world has changed massively since then, but people have not – we remain creatures of the same desires and passions that we were 2000 years ago. The greatest upheaval in church history (The Reformation) was nothing new, but a rediscovery and restatement of what was old. Calvin is just Augustine restated. As much a revolution as the printing press was it did not result in anything new – at least as far as the church is concerned. To move from wake to wedding, we do not need anything new, we need to rediscover the basics of our faith and reclaim the power of the Holy Spirit.
Social media strategies, legal battles, and government regulation are all distractions when the church lacks the passion and commitment that brought us to the heights from which we plummet. The early church was marked by miracles. The revival that awaits the church will be marked by miracles too. They may not be healings, they may be things like doing away with the slave trade – but they will be miracles, for only a miracle can overcome the vile leanings of a sinful world.
The church, the body of Christ, has many parts some of which are supposed to concentrate on how to engage with the public square. But I cannot help but think that the heart is sick. Heart patients know that sometimes they have to rest the entire body to let the heart heal.
And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. (I Cor 2:1-5)
I am likely to be derided as everything from “simplistic” to “impractical” to “pentecostal” with these words. I emphasize that I have no intention to demean anyone. Perhaps I am all those things, but I am convinced with the deepest conviction I know, that our problems reflect on the soul of the church, not the nation. – the nation is just being true to its sinful nature. If we want to fix our voice in the public square we have to fix ourselves. Or rather, we have to allow the Holy Spirit to fix us.
ADDENDUM: Never in American history should the light of Christ shine more brightly than right now. The current election gives us a stark choice between an unethical, criminal, corrupt nightmare of a woman and a vulgar, repugnant, vile man. Both of them are self-absorbed almost beyond belief. Given such choices the nation should be looking to the church as a bastion of sanity, goodness and selflessness. That the nation is not looking towards the church in such a manner has to be the church’s problem
So many churches no longer have the liturgical corporate prayer of confession – but the church I attend this morning will. After I have confessed my own sins, I will confess for the church as a whole, after all it is a corporate prayer. That is where the process of restoration will start. Please join me.