Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Of specks and planks

I am surveying the church landscape littered as it were with tragic castaways - decent human beings who are Christian, sensitive, thoughtful, and hurt. The perpetrator is usually seen to be today’s modernist Church and her stick-in-the-mud members. Born in the social upheaval of 16th century Germany, she is apparently as archaic as she is parochial. This time the Church is unwittingly embroiled in another cultural upheaval called postmodernism, and she doesn’t even know it. So I’m thinking aloud to myself, how did we get here? Why does it matter? And where is Luther when you need him?

I became a Christian shortly after my 12th birthday and threw myself with the enthusiasm of a zealot into the Baptist church I was born and raised in. There was so much to do, and you were only young once. Back then, we had those monthly ‘Business Meetings’, where everything and everyone was fair game. Which often accounted for embarrassing conflicts, public squabbles between church board and pastor, emotional clashes between adults and hormonally-charged teens (some kids dug up a monkey climb because they thought it unfair to lose their hockey pitch to it), and other little cold wars whose fires were never put out to this day.

"If you love me, you will obey what I command.”

There were good things too, of course, for which I and many of my peers will be eternally grateful. We grew through an early grounding in the Word, discovery and acknowledgement of our gifts, and found wonderful opportunities to serve and learn. Ours was a camaraderie born of shared ideals. All played a part in shaping a worldview that was firmly rooted in the sovereignty of God. Even now, many of us remain actively engaged in our churches in ministry and outreach, some in fulltime service.

I think I know something about scars, wounds, and rejections, coming as I did from that Baptist church in a small town. As they say, Christians shoot their own. In fact negative vibes were so overwhelming, youth fellowships and Sunday School were completely decimated for a couple of years. Now as a lay leader in another church in another city, I have no illusions about people being hurt. Here too, we have the walking wounded - decent people who are sensitive, thoughtful...and hurt. As glib as it may sound, that’s life.

Yet I believe God is sovereign: Jesus is alive, his word is true, and the Holy Spirit has come to make a home within God’s own. Contradictions between word and deed are inevitable among exiles from the Garden, but in spite of these failures, and because we live “in view of the heavens opened” (Dallas Willard), the Christian life must offer something qualitatively different. The question is, how?

“Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.”

Meanwhile, comfortably ensconced in the upper rungs of Maslow’s hierarchical premise, the lines separating what we need and what we want get desperately blur. Propositions like love and obedience are up for grabs, like chaff in the wind. So we’re caught up with issues of individual space, personal rights, and vague notions about grace and tolerance. Fingers quickly point to sources of discomfort and antagonism. Hey, I’m talking about my legitimate need here! We are but victims of the self-righteous who value programmes more than people, conformity above creativity, structures over souls. Why can’t they understand? Achievement oriented churches suck.

So many people step on our toes, too many in authority fail us. Hypocrites crowd the institutional Church and if you can believe it, there’s not a shred of genuine Christian love in there. All you happy smiley people be damned.

There is a point to all this soul-searching for sure, until I hear a still, small voice: Do you honestly desire reformation or vindication? Is it about finding new ways of doing church, or shouldn’t we talk about going back to basics, of being God’s authentic people? The day of accounting will come soon enough, every speck of sawdust and misshapen plank in every eye weighed and measured; don’t suppose any help will be needed to pick them out . So I think I should be careful with finger pointing, for the measure of true righteousness lies not in my actions, but in my reactions as well.

If we love Jesus, we should not hesitate to die to self, to obey him - doggedly -in the midst of rejections, hypocrisies, prejudices, and bitterness. Work for reformation, certainly; pray for transformation, surely; and forgive others their trespasses daily, as much as we desire our trespasses to be forgiven.

"If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.”

Frederica Mathewes-Green concluded the story of her spiritual pilgrimage out of feminism with these words:
“…the only path to salvation, to transformation in Christ, is by humility and repentance. Pray for the grace to see your own sins; pray that you may not fall into the trap of judging others. Consider yourself the chief of sinners, not the chief of the sinned against. Stop scrutinizing your experience, looking for examples of offenses; love keeps no account of wrongs.”
Jesus washed the feet of his disciples in the upper room. Including Judas’.


Sivin Kit said...

as one of Luther's descendants(?) - heritage wise - I'm touched by the appeal to emulate his spirit, as he sought to engage his context with the fresh insights from Romans which "opened to him a door to paradise" personally it also "opened a can of worms" historically, thus after my recent trip to Germany I came back with a greater appreciation of his struggle and much to learn .

As a student of "German Lutheran Pietism" as aligned with Philip Jakob Spener, I realized that after the 30years war Lutheranism in "reaction" to the counter-reformation got sucked into institutionalised scholasticism and thus the "Pietist" became the breath of fresh air needed at that time ... it was quite "a new way of being church" (on the surface - the use of small groups? more lay participation, emphasis on personal conversion, etc) but on a "deeper" level it was about becoming more like Christ, being faithful to the Gospel (as it was intended), to complete what the reformation started, and to return to the "basics". Like the new tools of communication on the internet like blogging, it's actually about conversations and relationships (at its best).

Thus, indeed the work for "reformation" is going to be messy (but I suppose we can try our best to be generous and courteous rather than polemic), and the emphasis on "transformation" is of paramount importance (hope I used that correctly *grin*), the transformation of the "reformer" as well as the context where "reformation" needs to happen. Somehow, it just can't get disconnected.

David BC Tan said...

Hi Sivin, I can't agree more with your last para to avoid polemics, and that "...the transformation of the "reformer" as well as the context where "reformation" needs to happen...can't get disconnected." Ultimately God is more concerned with what goes on inside of us than what we try to do for him,don't you think?

Sivin Kit said...

nice to engage in some conversation here ...on theological and spiritual priority I think I'm on the same page with you as far as "inner transformation ..." is concerned. And yet, in reality I sense the three dots means that inner transformation surely leads to something outward (that's the pietist in me kicking. So who we are or becoming is more important that what we do, but it's impossible to do nothing! Gordon Cosby & those connected with the Church of our Saviour knocked good sense into me about the INWARD and OUTWARD Journey. Turned me upside down inside out ... until I sang "Lord make me a better man!" and mean it a little more :-)

David BC Tan said...

No prob there, Sivin. I think what I was trying to say is that there is a tendency among us to be caught up in a fervour of ‘doing’ as if we were indispensable to God’s Kingdom. Unconsciously, perhaps, we feel compelled to pay back the favour God has bestowed upon us as if to score points. The restlessness of doing (legitimate as it may be) can well be mere guilt offering. I understand a person can’t BE - and not DO. But I also have in mind God’s word to the Israelites through Jeremiah:

"For when I brought your forefathers out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices, but I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in all the ways I command you, that it may go well with you." (Jer 7:22,23)

Prophetic words about empty ritual and performance, while tying up nicely the inward and outward imperatives. But as Mike Yaconelli said, sometimes the best we can do at walking in Jesus’ footsteps is “a stumbling, bumbling, clumsy kind of following.”

And thanks for the lead to Gordon Cosby.

Sivin Kit said...

totally with you on the "be" & "do" part .. :-) we're human "beings" not human "doings" that what I tell my church members.