Yesterday I lifted the first part of this article from Ian Farr. Today the second part with a focus on the body of Christ.
Is the end of the world drawing near: part 2
In the midst of all this is the church of Jesus Christ. The amazing thing is that there, generally the situation is “business as usual”. People attend meetings week after week where the “bigger picture” is seldom referred to, or if it is, usually with a bit of “tut-tutting” or “let’s pray about it.”
But the church as we know it is very much a product of that world that is passing away. In the words of theologian Walter Brueggemann, “the church is so fully enmeshed in our dominant culture that freedom for action is difficult.” Strong dominating and controlling “top-down” leadership; a striving for bigger and better buildings; wanting to be the best “show in town” are often the things that characterise the church today. Repeated exhortations for bigger and better “offerings” and more diligent tithing have become commonplace. Oh, I am sorry if I sound a bit scathing, but this is the situation I often see around me here in South Africa. It seems that the church has become so much “of the world” and little “in the world” rather than the other way around as Jesus would have us to be. And that world, of which it has become so much a part, is passing away.
Again, I owe to Brueggemann the metaphor of 587 BCE, when the world of the people of Judah was coming to an end, the temple was about to be burnt, the city destroyed, the land lost. But this was the will of God for the people! Most of them could not, or would not, believe it could happen. How could they, the chosen people of God, be dealt with in such a way by their God? We read that the prophets of Judah were saying, “Peace, peace – all is well. The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.” Jeremiah alone seemed to see the reality. There is no peace, because of the great injustice and unrighteousness with which the people have been comfortably living. The temple is finished! “The order is rapidly fading.”
Be it far from me to claim to be the Jeremiah of my generation, or to claim any likeness to that great man. However, I am bewildered and troubled by so much that I am hearing (and so much that I am not hearing) coming out from the church. The message so often seems to be, “All is well, come and get blessed, get rich, be healed and made prosperous. In the church is the answer, the church of the Lord, the church of the Lord.”
But all is not well. “The order is rapidly fading.” In Europe and to a lesser extent in USA and many other parts of the world there is a huge drop-out rate of Jesus followers from the institution of church. Many, especially “church leaders”, bemoan this fact, and use words like “rebellion”, “insubmissive” or “backsliding”. Yet as I have met and talked with many of these people, I have frequently found a deeper love for Jesus, and desire to follow him, than I have met among many who are still in the institutions. People are often finding each other in deep and meaningful “relationships for purpose”, rather than simply being in a room together once a week in an impersonal way. To some, this will seem “out of order”. It is – it is out of that old order that is rapidly fading, and, I believe, it is of God. The world as we know it is being shaken, and that shaking is under the hand of God. While I grieve the passing of something I have been part of all my life, which has nurtured me, and provided me with so much over the years, at the same time I rejoice with a great sense of expectancy and hope for the future. Out of all this, I believe the true church will arise. Not as another institution, or the latest fad, or following the latest “Christian super hero”, but as true salt and light in the world in a way that effectively “enlightens” as it spreads out into the world with powerful love and subversive living and speaking.
Can I believe that the church can be the real enlightenment as disciples of Jesus together live out the ways and values of God’s kingdom?
Difficult as it may be, but, Yes, I believe I can.