Does Church Have A Future? (4)
Tozer has said that truth is relational and ‘no one can know the truth except those who obey truth.’ I wholeheartedly agree, and I would further say that you can obey a person without understanding the reasons for the instruction that they give to you. You may not understand the full implications of the instruction either, but your obedience rests in the integrity of the person giving the instruction, rather than in your understanding of the issues. The saving of lives can hinge on the immediate carrying out of an instruction, the reasons for which are not apparent until afterwards. The key here lies in the character of the one who gives the instruction.
Therefore, while I agree that it is important to comprehend the message of the Scriptures, I believe that it is much more important to follow the Lord Jesus Christ and obey everything that he commands us. Jesus’ instruction was to ‘teach them to obey’, not merely to teach them. Life was itself the most important examination ever undertaken by Jesus’ disciples.
Faith seeks understanding, but faith does not begin with understanding. The holistic nature of the Christian faith is seen in the fact that we need to follow and obey Jesus Christ because of his revelation to us of who he is, and we need to understand the truth of God whether it is spoken or written; for obedience and understanding belong together.
Let faith seek understanding by all means, but do not let understanding try to reduce faith to understanding. Those who would truly know God will know him in their intellect as well as they do so in their experience. For that is how we were created, as whole people who are to wholly know God through a whole faith engaged by the whole person.
In the church we need to have people who model Christ to others, and who are both an example and a resource to those who are younger in the faith. Therefore, while it may be true that the minister is one theological resource for the church, it does not necessarily follow that the minister is the only theological resource available to the church.
People can be encouraged to read and thereby widen their understanding through, for example, church libraries and discussion groups; but more than anything there needs to be a systematic approach to teaching the Scriptures so that a real foundation is built into people’s lives; one or two sermons on a Sunday simply will not do. The example and lifestyle of mature Christians is so important in church if those who are younger in the faith are to grow up into Christ, and these mature people need to be valued and used.
For example, I believe that the older people in our churches have a great deal to offer in respect of discipleship, and every church ought to seriously examine how their older people can best be used in ‘parenting’ and ‘grand-parenting’ the spiritually young and needy in our congregations. Just because someone has ‘retired’ does not mean that they cannot contribute to church life.
Indeed, foolish is the church that turns its back on the wealth of knowledge and experience that the older generation possess, and poorer is the church that does so. The diversity of the people in the church is a great part of the church’s strength as Petersen said, for ‘diversity allows God’s people to cut a broader swath through the world with the gospel.’ Thus, God’s love for the world will be seen and known in and through the lives of those people who love God with their whole being.
I am convinced that God wants us to love him with a passion, to have a love for him that is willing to pay a real cost in order to develop that holistic love relationship with him; a love that treasures the unlovely and will do whatever is required to know the one who is altogether lovely.
A holistic love for God has a beating heart of love that courses with God’s presence, and this heart should be seen in the midst of God’s community of faith and should be flowing out to the wider community around. As Jesus said, ‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
What saddens me is that, whatever accusations may rightfully be hurled at the church in our day (and doubtless there are many that we deserve), we really cannot be accused of loving God with everything that we are and have and do. Neither can we be said to be loving one another as Jesus loves us, and the world does not see that we are Christ’s disciples because of the manifest love that we have for one another.
As a consequence, theology and doctrine have been divorced from daily life and have become the property of the scholar; revelation and vision has become the property of the lunatic fringe and the cult; and passion has become the property of our favourite pop idol or a football team. If we want to be taken seriously and plausibly, we need to relate and be relevant.
The issue here is not one of truth and the holding or otherwise of that truth. The issue here is that the Christians of today are simply not plausible to people who see a church that does not care for them or about them. The world sees a church that cares far more about its ‘pure doctrine’ and ‘precious theology’ than it does about the people of the world among whom it lives. The world sees a church that constantly raises money to fix its roof but which will not cross the street to give a cup of cold water to a thirsty person. The world sees a church that is manifestly detached from the issues of real life, and is therefore manifestly detached from the people of real life.
We need to rediscover the holistic nature of our love for Jesus Christ, and, in doing so, we will rediscover the wholeness that is ours as the people of God. We need to love Jesus Christ with all that we are, all that we have and all that we do, so that our love for him will be a whole love that is seen by all those around no matter in which sphere of life that they relate to us.
This love will make the people of God one in such a way that the world will notice and wonder. Then what the church does will be driven and motivated by a holistic love for Jesus Christ and the participation in his holistic love for his world in which we live. Then we will be the church in the world and do the things that show us to be church; then we will know our purpose and fulfil our purpose in being.
The issue of the church’s identity is intimately linked to its purpose and function under God, so that deeds and actions flow from its identity. A church that knows what it is and what it is for, will discover (or rediscover) its purpose without which it will either die, or become a sacred social club.
The church needs to be holistic in the sense that it has a wholeness and an integration that is greater than the collection of individuals that it may appear to be. If the church is to have a future, then one of the most important keys to that future is its leadership, and it is to the subject of leadership that I now turn.