Saturday, November 20, 2004

"Manifesto" PART II

We yearn for a community of faith that knows each other well enough to have authentic relationships. We don’t want church to be somewhere we go or something we do, but something we are. While we see personal devotions and even personal retreats as essential to spiritual growth, we believe they have been extolled at the expense of finding meaning in a religious community. This is not a private, but a public faith. Who we become together is always more important than who we were alone—our range of creative expression is in direct proportion to our ability to unite.

Community is a safe place where we can grow in truth, wholeness and holiness. The only way to propagate the message is to live it. Our mission must be to show the world what it looks like when a community of believers lives under the reign of God.

Realizing that we are all just sooty ragamuffins rescued by unmerited grace, we know we have no right to expect others, outside our community, to act in accordance with God’s laws. Nor do we have any right to look down upon that place where we so recently squatted. We must extend mercy and grace because God so unsparingly lavished it upon us. Laying aside the axe of condemnation we instead enfold the sinner realizing we’ve been down that road before too. We do not categorize or prioritize sin. Sin is sin and it all grieves the heart of God. He makes no distinction between the pastor who nurtures pride in his heart and the man who finds comfort in the arms of a homosexual lover.

We shun pithy Church colloquialisms and trite (and quite honestly offensive) religious slogans. The way we behave to each other is a far greater indication of our true faith. How we treat others on a day to day basis, especially those we don’t like or who intend to do us harm is a far greater indicator of our spiritual walk than a condescending bumper sticker.

We do not consider the Church to be a place where one enters sparkling and clean. The church is a rescue mission, a trauma ward. It is the Church where one goes to get clean, to get healed. The messy transformation from vile sinner to redeemed saint happens not without, but within the wall of the church. We understand that holiness is not only a choice but also a process. Change happens not with a magic prayer, but a lifetime of spiritual toil and hard work. Many of us came to real devotion in God not through a serene process, but through a dramatic crux in our lives where we wrestled with God for our faith; where we questioned the touchstones of our upbringings and came out on the other side, limping perhaps like Jacob, with our own faith and not just the faith of our parents.

We desire to share Jesus with others in our sphere of influence in natural, non-religious ways. We balk at the “If you were to die tonight, where would you go” method of frightening people into salvation. We are just as comfortable talking about Christ in the church as we are in a smoky bar.

Socially, we are more permissive. We recognize that all too often those things which we were raised to view as forbidden are little more than the pet peccadilloes of cultural bias. Still, we simultaneously recognize that if my glass of wine or my friend’s cigarette offend a brother or might cause him to stumble, our liberty does not come at the expense of his beliefs or temptations. We are not scared of living, nor of confronting those who live too well. We do not think that ignoring or chastising sinners will cause them to suddenly want to be a part of our community. Like Christ, we must reach out to them, where they are. The prostitutes, homosexuals and drug addicts must be more than our mission field—they must also be our friends.

Additionally, we strive, like Brennan Manning to, “maintain the open-mindedness of children, to challenge fixed ideas and established structures, including our own. We listen to people in other denominations and religions. We don’t find demons in those with whom we disagree. We don’t cozy up to people who mouth our jargon. We rarely ever say, ‘God told me…’ If we are open, we rarely resort to either-or: either creation or evolution, liberty or law, sacred or secular, Beethoven or Madonna. We focus on both-and, fully aware that God’s truth cannot be imprisoned in a small definition. Of course the open mind does not except everything indiscriminently—Marxism and capitalism, Christianity and atheism, love and lust, Moet Chandon and vinegar. It does not accept all propositions equally like a sponge; nor is it as soft. But the open mind realizes that reality, truth, and Jesus Christ are incredibly open-ended.”

We desire to bring the arts back into the folds of the Church. Shunned for a century as the bastion of depravity, the church used to be the biggest advocate and supporter of artists and the incalculable power of the medium on the human soul. Bach, Michelangelo, Dostoyevsky, Elliot, O’Conner—artists that used their creative talents in God’s service. The time has come to revive that dynamism. It is time for us to stop producing mediocrity and calling it inspired. Music, film, painting, fiction, poetry, dance—all done to the glory of God for the advancement of His kingdom.

We are far more moderate than our parent’s generations, especially when it comes to social action, standing up for the downtrodden and giving voice to those who have no one to speak for them. This is not to say that we throw aside God’s law for man’s fads. Right is still right and wrong is still wrong. But we do not assume that a political party has the monopoly on Christianity. Furthermore, we realize that more often than not, Christianity, by its very nature flies in the face of what would be considered modern conservatism. We understand that the United States of America is not the church, nor do we want it to be. The government's job is not to be identified as God’s people, but to promote the welfare of the citizenry by restraining evil. The Church, on the other hand, is called to be a witness. It does not have a mission, it IS the mission. While we are good citizens, rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, we realize we are first and foremost citizens of God’s kingdom. When our heavenly citizenship clashes with our earthly citizenship, we are not afraid to speak out against our government, even if it brings about scorn and ridicule from others in Christendom. We realize too that the body of Christ transcends borders and lines on a map. Jingoistic and xenophobic policies only cause further injury and mistrust. We are not interested in changing the world through power politics. That was never a Christian’s job. Hung up on making the world a theocracy, too often the church does not admit the free moral agency God Himself would not overthrow in an individual.

Change, we believe, happens through humble serventhood. Transformation is achieved through meeting the needs of the least of us. We are spurred on to show our love for God in works. We know works do not earn our salvation—they are both a natural outgrowth of our thankfulness and appreciation to God as well as a allegiance to his commends. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus Christ instructed his followers to love their God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength and secondly to love our neighbors as themselves. Jesus never said the Church would be known for its numbers, the size of its cathedrals, the variety of its cell groups, the veracity of its preaching or the caliber of its praise and worship. Simply, Jesus said his followers would be known by their love. That’s all. That’s it. The two greatest commandments are proactive. If necessary, we’ll use words.

We are committed to the plight of the poor, the downtrodden and the unlovable using medieval Catholic orders as our models. We must be God’s hands while on this earth. Servants like Mother Teresa light our way. We are much more interested in serving in a soup kitchen that picketing an abortion clinic. The social gospel may not save the soul, but it realizes the soul is hardly in a receptive state when it cannot hear above the growling of its belly. It is time for the church to reclaim this area of its responsibility, abdicated to the government long ago.

But most importantly of all, we realize all too well that those ideals we strive for and extol slip from our fingers daily. Our knees are bruised and bloodied from falling to them so often in repentance. We recognize that the biggest sinner of all lies within us. We/I realize that I fall woefully short of so much that I have scrawled here. My failure is not my hypocrisy—it is my inspiration, my objective.

In proclaiming these things, “younger evangelicals” (we really must get a new name) are not changing what we know, but how we know it. This, we believe is where the Church must head if it has any hope of impacting our post-modern culture. It has been documented recently that just as many unsaved are flocking to the Church as a refuge from a sin-battered world, there are also many Christians leaving the Church, disgusted by her lack of authenticity and clear vision. They do not desire a life without Christ—just the opposite—they simply feel they can discover Him easier outside the walls of an established religion that is more interested in church growth than salvation growth. We cannot allow this to happen. The Church must become viable again, not by conforming to opinion polls or reciting endless books on growth strategies and leadership how-to manuals, but by reestablishing itself as an immovable rock in the midst of the gale, grounded in historical orthodoxy and an Acts Two mentality of contagious community.

Please forgive me if I have rambled or come across too zealously. I of all people know that the values I exposed here are not yet within my grasp. But I rise to meet them every morning with a sense of wonder and humility and excitement that I have never felt before.

How many of you, I wonder, are on the same road?



“As yet we have done nothing. Let us begin again.” – St. Francis, at the end of his life


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