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Archive for February, 2012

John Calvin's pulpit in Geneva

John Calvin's pulpit in Geneva

Today is Saturday, and all of us identified with Jesus Christ are anticipating corporate worship tomorrow. Corporate worship is an old-fashioned way of talking about “going to church on Sunday with other believers.” Corporate worship exhibits a fortifying bond, a palpable unity, a unique collaboration.

But do these blessed realities exist only in church? Only on Sunday? Only during worship?

In his blog posted today, Dr. Michael Horton recommends the “faithful presence” (James Hunter) in the world, in society, and in the public square, of Christians-as-individuals. We simply must be deeply encouraged by his pastoral impulse to warn preachers not to burden God’s people with calls to radical, heroic, world-changing Christianity. Rather, says Dr. Horton, those sitting before us preachers tomorrow should be encouraged “to live out their identity in Christ where they are in all sorts of ordinary ways that sometimes turn out to present extraordinary opportunities for extraordinary service.”

Amen! Times seven.

But there’s more to be said.

Dr. Horton closes by asking us preachers, we who are entrusted with the very Word of God: What will you say?

Given the proper Scripture text . . . as part of a distinctively Christian response to the gospel of grace . . . here’s what I’d say.

To the nurse who dragged herself out of bed to attend church after having worked a fifteen-hour shift, I would encourage her to ally herself with co-believers in her profession so together they might lift a united Christian witness that (1) opposes the contemporary secularizing and amoralizing of the healthcare industry, and (2) advocates the Christian view of human beings as divine image-bearers as essential to the practice of healthcare.

To the banker who extended a low-interest loan to that young family for their first home, I would encourage him to join with co-believing bankers to establish together a Christian foundation that, as part of its united Christian witness, (1) assists low-income, responsible, first-time home buyers in under-resourced neighborhoods, and (2) cultivates healthy nuclear families as the God-ordained foundation of a well-ordered society.

To the Sunday school teacher, the high schooler, the struggling artist, the pro-bono lawyer—I would encourage all of them to find, or to create, associations and relationships in which they could live out, concretely demonstrate, and publicly articulate, beyond the church and between Sundays, together, corporately, their shared Christian faith-commitment in their vocational fields.

Let us not be misled: today’s generation of churchgoers is no more tired, no more struggling, no more bedraggled and frazzled, than the generations of our faithful parents and grandparents. Who responded to faithful gospel preaching by together building Christian schools, together establishing Christian hospitals, together forming Christian labor associations and benevolence societies. As part of their corporate public Christian identity that fortified faith, demonstrated unity, and exemplified collaboration. Theirs was a communio sanctorum extra ecclesiam (exercising the communion of the saints beyond the church).

It may be true that nowadays we need not recommend as heroes for our boys and girls William Wilberforce or Rosa Parks. Not only are such “transformationalists” (Dr. Horton’s word) rare, but theirs might not be the calling given to most of us ordinary believers.

But if it’s heroes we’re looking for, we could do far worse than to encourage our children to follow, in their generation, the corporate and collaborative Christian heroism of their own parents and grandparents.

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Herewith some assorted thoughts regarding the current firestorm about the federal government’s mandated employer coverage of contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization as part of required employee health insurance.

I.

In the title of this blog post you see the trajectory of actions and consequences that will likely occur if at this point citizens do not vigorously protest this government-sponsored attack against freedom of conscience.

There are two progressions in this title, each of them very easy to grasp.

One is the progression of verb-nounssilence becomes consent which yields surrender. That trajectory is not difficult to understand. Nazi Germany showed the world how that happens. (More on that in a moment.)

This series is also marked by a progression of punctuation. Fearful doubt is sown among religious people about the propriety of invoking religion and using religious arguments in the public square. Though their brow-beaten silence may be laced with questions, it nonetheless remains . . . silence. But the question mark becomes a period when power brokers assume that silence means consent, as lawyers and lawmakers usually do. These brokers become emboldened. Today, freedom of conscience. Tomorrow, freedom of speech. But it’s the exclamation mark that becomes the most defining of all punctuation. For, unlike the question mark of silence and the period of consent, the exclamation mark of surrender comes not from the outside, but from the inside of a person. The most common posture at that point is staring down at your shoes. Having refused for so long to lift your eyes (and hands, and voice), you discover now that you cannot lift them.

II.

What if, in a thoroughly secularized, post-modern society, the church is the only institution, and religious people are the only people, who have an informed, functioning conscience?

To those who continue to insist that the church as an institution has no business addressing matters of public morality, my simple question is this: If not now, then when?

This Sunday, at masses scheduled throughout all of Chicago, a letter will be read from Francis Cardinal George to Roman Catholic worshippers. After raising the specter of civil disobedience, he will ask them, first, to pray and fast on behalf of wisdom and justice, and second, to write Congress in support of legislation that would reverse the Administration’s mandate.

Alarmism, you say? If not now, then when?

Confusion of kingdoms, you say? If not now, then when?

III.

In the dedication of his 1954 book, They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-45, Milton Mayer cites these words from the Christian Bible: “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank Thee, that I am not as other men are.'” His broader implication was that we Americans need to be very cautious in our evaluation of German National Socialism, and recognize that full truth is neither right nor left.

Silence? Consent. Surrender!

Here’s one example from Mayer’s book:

Pastor Niemöller spoke for the thousands and thousands of men like me when he spoke (too modestly of himself) and said that, when the Nazis attacked the Communists, he was a little uneasy, but, after all, he was not a Communist, and so he did nothing; and then they attacked the Socialists, and he was a little uneasier, but, still, he was not a Socialist, and he did nothing; and then the schools, the press, the Jews, and so on, and he was always uneasier, but still he did nothing. And then they attacked the Church, and he was a Churchman, and he did something—but then it was too late.

The book’s message was cemented for me as I interrupted my reading to listen to the speech of Eric Mataxas at the 2012 National Prayer Breakfast. If you haven’t yet listened to it, you owe yourself.

IV.

Last thought. In 1936 the synod of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands officially condemned membership in the Dutch organization sympathetic to German Nazism (Nationaal-Socialistische Beweging in Nederland). The synodical decision appealed both to Scripture and to the Reformed Confessions (creeds whose teachings govern the life and beliefs of members).

Someday I’d like to write more about this ecclesiastical heroism. It’s powerfully relevant!

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