An acquaintance of mine, who is in college hundreds of miles away from where he grew up, once suggested that perhaps one of the most radical things he could would be go home after he graduated–commit himself to the land and the people and his church and stay there, for better or for worse.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be Christian and be radical. We get a mix of the expected and unexpected answers on this blog–to be radical is to work for peace, to work for rights of the oppressed, to stay home instead of traveling abroad. Reading the post on “Covenantal Christians” inspired me to add another layer to this discussion: it is radical to love Christians with whom we disagree without any intent to convert or judge them.
I admire greatly those who participate here at YAR who are feeding the hungry, giving shelter to the homeless and visiting the prisoners. I fail at this much more than I succeed, and I am glad for those who continually inspire me and remind me what it means to follow Christ. That said, it makes me nervous when any Christian starts defining who is or who is not a part of the fold. It seems to me that ultimately, God is the only one who can know the extent of a person’s faith and action–and we’ve already got enough Christians in this world who are quick to determine who is saved and who is damned. And Christians, to borrow the words of Barbara Brown Taylor, never treat each other more badly than when they think they are defending God.
The church, as I understand it–and despite lots of evidence to the contrary, is supposed to be a place where the broken and imperfect gather, where we extend grace amidst great failure. None of who believe in the saving grace of God are yet where we will be, and I would challenge any Christian who thinks he or she is not continually in need of that grace. But to allow James Dobson and George W. Bush to define themselves as Christians–no matter how much I disagree with them–is to offer them the dignity I believe all of God’s creatures should have. What good are acts if we have not love? What good is believing any of this if it doesn’t include the possibility of transformation–a new earth and a new heaven–for all, whether rich or poor, powerful or powerless? Given the polarized state of the church today, selfless love seems to be an entirely radical proposition.
Thanks for your well articulated thoughts and poignant challenge. This morning in Sunday School the “young adult” class watched part of the Bike Movement DVD and discussed making church relevant across cultural & geographical boundaries. The idea of selfless love (welcoming people as family, cultivating community) seemed to be our best estimate of what really matters about church in any context (i.e. not how you dress, what songs you sing, what language you use, etc).
Also, I think your acquaintance is on to something.Â Whether “home” or far away from “home” I think committing oneself to a place and a people is a difficult thing; Our society has highly valued the pursuit of individual goals & careers while relying on our high-speed transportation to get us “home” when we want.
I think it would be a significant challenge to commit myself more completely than I have to the community in which I live here in Baltimore. What if I didn’t leave for holidays? What if we worked to make “church” more relevant to the people in this area? What if more of the people I am close to at church were less like me? Am I willing to sacrifice my comfort to make “church” more relevant to the people this community?
I think you’ve named the constant paradox of the church. We are at once challenging one another to repentance and turning towards God and at the same time recognizing that we come together in our shared brokenness and missing the mark.
We see this pattern over and over in the bible, both in the old testament judges, kings and prophets and in the story of Jesus who called the pharisees a brood of vipers.
Somehow we are called to hold together this tension that crystallizes and polarizes yet also draws us together in Christ’s body.
I think that Tim hit the nail on the head. There IS a paradox– a both/and rather than an either/or. In my church are the drug addicts, pushers, prostitutes and thieves who are traditionally outside the church, but who were welcomed by Jesus, should they be willing to repent.
In the middle class church are the gossips, the greedy and the warmongers. These are equally sinners, equally separated from God. And they too need to know their brokenness and beg God for forgiveness, even as my folks do.
The church is to welcome all of them. All, just as they are. And we are to call all of them to repent, even as Jesus did, right at the heart of their sin, whether known or unknown.
The only ones that I question whether we should separate from are those who look at what Jesus calls a sin and they call it a virtue. Judging, in the end, is left up to the Lord, and He is the one to determine who is in and who is out. But if we do not seriously confront those who call hating their enemies, consumerism and slander a virtue, then are we really doing our job, if we know the truth?
If we know that someone is in a burning building, do we just invite them out, or do we rush in a panic, urging them to escape?
Sorry for disappearing for so long! I got mired in finals and had no energy for anything else…
Steve, it is a paradox and I’m still not totally sure how to do it. We do need to challenge each other as Christians, but I think the way it has to be done is where there is already a relationship in place, and it’s not just built in order to tell me that I’m wrong and I need to change. It makes me nervous when Christians start talking about sharing the truth, partly because I have a semester’s worth of early church history in my head. The church has been trying to figure out who is orthodox and who is a heretic for nearly as long as it is old, determining the Real True Christians (TM), excommunicating the losers and killing off the heretics — and it hasn’t solved anything. It’s just divided the church more deeply.
I would guess that our political and theological leanings aren’t that different, but I don’t think your analogy of a burning building is a fair one. If I disagree with someone, does that always mean that I’m right? What if what appears to you to be a burning building looks to me like an easily extingishable stove fire?
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