There is much talk about the chaos of this political season. Regardless of who you support and why, this season is definitely “off-script.” Many people are laying the blame at the feet of the continued dying of the middle class. Most of the articles contending this are too partisan for linking here in Switzerland, but if you read this blog chances are good you have read them somewhere. Indeed, the separation between people and the classes has grown, but I don’t think it is purely about socioeconomics. That’s too easy to fix, we’ve done it before.
The problem is, I think, that in our media saturated world it is too easy to exist in a self-gratified micro-environment regardless of what socioeconomic class you are in. Not only do the privileged fail to see the plight of the less so, but the underprivileged never see, seriously anyway, what else is out there – they have no vision of anything to aspire to. Whether self-gratified by the privilege or self-gratified in grumbling about underprivilege, the problem is not socioeconomics, but self-gratification.
If you spend anytime wandering around churches, you are going to hear about the dangers of pornography. Heck, it is being declared a public health hazard and was recently featured on the cover of Time. (Didn’t know that? Insert your own wisecrack about the demise of the newsweekly here.) This is a massive issue, but it is not just about sex. The Internet enables us to self-gratify in so many aspects of life. Such self-gratification is a soul sickness – not a political issue.
So of course that argues, as I so often do, that the problems are not going to be fixed by governance, but by the church. And then the cries of theocracy rise. But that is not what I am talking about. It takes so little yeast to raise a loaf of bread. The church does not need to be in control, it just needs to be yeast in the loaf of the nation. Yes, the church is in decline, but there is still enough of it left to raise the loaf if the church is being yeast. Clearly the church is not being yeast.
That says that the issue for the church right now is not evangelism, but renewal. Of course, those things are not mutually exclusive, this is a priority thing. We need to adjust our priorities in a fashion that we are less focused on making new Christians than we are on making better Christians of the ones we already have. Yeast is an organism, it’s alive. When the bread does not rise, the yeast is dead. Oh sure, there are still little particles to be poured out of the package, but they are dead and do not function. Right now it looks to me like the church is on life-support very near death. Adding little particles is just inviting them to sit by our bedside and watch us die. We cannot teach them how to be mature Christians from our death bed. We need renewal – we need to rediscover how to live ourselves.
What is so ironic is that when I survey the church today self-gratification is what plagues it as well. When we go to church, we make it about us instead of about God. When we evangelize we tell people what they will get from joining church rather than tell them about God. When we do missions we pat ourselves on the back about how we have reached out to the lost and the least, but have we reflected Christ in their midst or just made ourselves feel good? When we pray, do we pray for what we want or do we pray for what God wants?
There is nothing wrong with asking God for what we want or with doing missions. There is nothing wrong with motivating people to Christ by enumerating the benefits thereof, but in the end if we are in the church for our own sake, it is a form of death. The lesson of scripture is that real life, the life we were created for, is life in and for God not ourselves.
The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism is, “What is the chief end of man?” The answer:
Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
We were created not to enjoy ourselves, but to enjoy God. That’s the difference between living yeast and dead yeast.