If the church is to have a ministry to society in general, the first step of this duty is toward its own identity. ‘Let the church be the church,’ was the slogan.
—John Howard Yoder
I’ve attended church all my life, and I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve heard a pastor preach about what it means to be a peacemaker or how Christians should think about violence. In fact, I’m sure I’d have fingers left over. Considering how central this idea was to the way Jesus conducted His ministry and also how defining it was for the identity of the early church, it’s a pity it’s so overlooked now. The more politically active Christians become (which is another issue altogether) and the more Christians we have joining the military, the more we ought to be talking about it. This is not to say that everyone needs to be a pacifist, but that as violent and interconnected as the world is becoming, the church needs to have something to say about it. At the least, the topic should be on our radar.
The Bible is a strange and difficult book. Or rather, library of books. But we don’t talk about that difficulty very often in church. We ignore puzzling passages in favor of the more transparent ones, and church members are rarely given any insight as to how to approach these texts written thousands of years ago. Context is shared in fits and spurts and genre is almost never mentioned. What questions should we be asking when confronted with biblical weirdness? Where can we turn to correct our blind spots? How can we begin to engage these texts critically? For Christians for whom the Bible is the central and ultimate authority on their faith, fostering good reading skills should probably be a major component of church life and teaching.
3. The Kingdom of God
Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God. He talked about it a lot. But it occurred to me a few years back that although I could parrot many of the Bible verses which referenced the kingdom, I had no idea what it actually was. Is it something that happens when Jesus returns? Is it something that is taking place now? Jesus compares the kingdom to a hidden pearl, to wheat growing among tares. It’s here but not yet. But what does it entail? If we’re called to live as citizens of God’s kingdom, what does that mean for how we engage with one another and with people outside? What does it mean for how we vote and how we treat the environment, what we buy and what we give away? In other words, if the church is a herald of the kingdom of God breaking through to earth, shouldn’t we know exactly what it is we are heralding? More and more I’ve come to think that the idea of the kingdom is central to Christian faith, more so than the praying of the sinner’s prayer. Being a Christian isn’t about saying magic words, but about living a life committed to the way of Christ. It’s a long-term and all-encompassing intention to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. It’s supposed to be our new identity, but we don’t talk about it nearly enough. As we bewail the lack of impact the church is having on the world, I think it’s about time that we turned our attention to our own congregations and administered a healthy dose of self-definition.
In other news, B and I took Juliet to the zoo, and we had a blast.
Juju ran, tripped and landed on her face slo-mo style. It was traumatic and sad. And also kind of funny.
No worries, though. She recovered.
Here’s a video because I’m a proud parent. Be warned: screaming is Juliet’s super power.