Recent weeks have been difficult for the Church of Jesus Christ in many ways. Willow Creek Church and its leadership collapse, children and parents separated as part of a government crackdown on immigration, the anniversary of the alt-right tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia, and this week, the report of the grand jury in Pennsylvania regarding the thousand or more children abused by priests over the last fifty years, with the apparent cover up of the abuse by church authorities. This follows months of horrific stories of women being sexually harassed or abused by men in positions of leadership in business, entertainment, and politics, resulting in the #Me,Too movement. Only to be followed by women coming forward to reveal the very same kinds of abuse in evangelical churches, resulting the #Church, Too movement.
Every evening newscast brings more stories of young Black men being killed, usually by guns, and while mothers and families weep and cry and communities demonstrate and demand justice, the Church of Jesus Christ seems powerless, and silent.
A scan of public media reveals the rancor and ridicule leveled toward the Church from a wide array of sources. Young adults are leaving the Church, the rise of the “nones” is the fastest growing religious designation of choice, and churches are closing by the thousands.
Some of us are sure it is the government’s fault. Others decry the entertainment industry’s influence on the “collapse of morals” in the culture. Some think the Church has outlived its meaning and purpose, and should simply be seen as a relic of a bygone era.
Maybe it is time we rediscover the Scriptures. Maybe we need to find our way through the morass of this conflicted age, both globally, nationally, and locally by returning to the words of challenge, confrontation, and hope that should have shaped the people of God from the beginning.
What we find in those sacred words is that in the beginning God created them “male and female,” reflective of his own being, and gave them responsibility to tend and steward God’s good creation. We find that in reality there are only two races: Those in fallen Adam, and those in Christ. Every other distinction is invalid! We find that the distortion of God’s purposes due to sin were so restored and completed in Christ that now, as co-regents, men and women are intended to live, in this current situation, whatever it is, the reality of the Kingdom of God that has come in the suffering death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the Christ.
What we find is that the Church was never intended to hide behind its stained glass windows in a holy huddle, but was intended to be out in the brokenness of the world around us bringing hope, restoration, reconciliation, and justice. And this justice, social justice, is not a “left-wing liberal ideology” but is at the very heart of the prophetic voice of Isaiah, Hosea, Jeremiah, and all the other Old Testament prophets. And it is at the heart of the life and ministry of Jesus, most clearly expressed in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).
And we must never appoint ourselves to the committee to determine who is ineligible to hear the gospel. We must never classify which sin is a “bridge too far,” is so unacceptable to us that “those people” are to be excluded, shunned, and condemned.
We have to find our way back to Scripture, not as our weapon to be used to divide, demean, or reject those not like us.We must become people of radical hope, extreme hospitality, and undiminished optimism. We are the demonstration that what Christ has begun is at work, in and through us, and whether it comes quickly, or through suffering love in difficult circumstances, we welcome the stranger, we visit the sick and imprisoned. We clothe the naked and feed the hungry, while we announce the Kingdom and invite all who will to join us. We know the outcome! Caesar is an imposter! Jesus is King!