Thursday, August 12, 2004

Faith and Life

One of the main themes of this blog will be the intersection of the life of faith and life in the world. As a Christian, I don't find that the Gospel makes life easy. In fact, I envy those who find in the "faith" a kind of security blanket or cup of warm cocoa. For me it's not that way. For me, it's constant turmoil, trouble, questioning, guessing -- and yes, repenting, receiving forgiveness, communing.

What has become crystal clear to me -- and we can talk about the influences on me during my walk along the path of life -- is that the Church is in radical need of reform. By "Church," I mean my congregation, the Lutheran tradition, and all the other traditions who claim the name of Christ. The nature of the Church needs to be made clear to us (again -- if ever we knew it) so that we as believers can begin to live into that nature -- adopt it into our own lives and begin to manifest that reality, as the Spirit gives us strength so to do.

I think the Church (and, ironically, I think this critique, while directed mainly to the tradition I know -- viz., the Lutheran Church on the North American continent -- applies with equal force to all traditions, with the possible exception of the those emerging churches in Africa, about which I know nothing) has fallen prey to an almost Babylonian captivity to culture -- i.e., to the mores and assumptions, the images and values, of the milieu within which it finds itself planted. In my own tradition, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the predominant model for life and structure is that of the corporation. The ELCA -- and its member congregations -- are absolutely trapped by models borrowed from corporate governance: We understand our mission as being to "grow" -- not in faith, but in numbers and budgets; not in care for one aother, but in staff. Decline is represented, not by a failure to follow in the steps of Christ, but in declining membership or decreasing numbers of "programs." I could go on, but books have been written about this -- and I hope to say more about the reading list in the future.

Couple that corporate mentality with the complete cooptation of the American mind by the individualism of the Enlightenment (the great Problem interposed on Church life by the advance of learning -- how ironic!), and you have a situation in which people see the church as a provider of life-enhancing programs -- feel-good sermons, reimaging conferences where I design a God that meets my personal specifications, long-term memory loss, and the like.

It is time for a reformation -- for a reimaging of the Church, if you will. We must recover a sense of the Church as the "literal" Body of Christ. We need to get on board with Stanley Hauerwas and others (often evangelicals) who call for the Church to re-establish itself as its own culture -- with its own values, its own heroes, its own styles of doing "business," its own meanings.

The Ekklesia Project begins to make some sense of what I'm trying to say. The Project is one of those endeavors pretty much made possible by the Internet (and for this Luddite to commend the Internet is a feat!). It is, in the words of its "declaration," "a network of mutual support for the life of Christian discipleship ... . We believe that we can help one another to narrow the gaps between what we Christians profess and how we live. We call this The Ekklesia Project, in recognition of the fact that we are 'called out' of the world into a differnt mode of life."

I hope to learn from the Project as I support its work and participate in its activities however that is possible. Perhaps we can talk a little about some of the resources it offers and the issues that it raises.

Check out The Ekklesia Project at (here's a surprising address) http://www.ekklesia

Until next time,


Anonymous said...

Dwight -- It could be that we all expect everything from our church building and its contents, and that's an unrealizable expectation. I'm a cradle Episcopalian, you know, the "Chosen Frozen"? My expectation is that there will be a really good worship service on Sunday, with great music, and an excellent sermon that shouldn't make me feel good, and a chance to meet and exchange the peace with other parishioners in our church family. Sometimes we have midweek events like studies and the Education for Ministry course that we conduct at our parish. Sometimes we just meet one another for fellowship.

Our parish family supports a child at a special school in Guatemala, and provides substantial assistance to a food pantry in our neighborhood.

Our priest is available, or an alternate from the Lutheran parish nearby, 24/7. We conduct lay eucharist services frequently and provide a lay eucharistic ministry with preaching to a nearby nursing home with attached assisted-care facility.

But that is just what goes on in our parish family, as a parish. Our individual outreach activities are like the stars -- too many to count. We're all very saved sinners, but each of us has a ministry that is either public or very private.

So I can't get upset about the Church or the church where I live. After all, it's what my friends and I make of it!

In Him,


PS wish you'd set your comments up so they were inline!

Dwight P. said...

I do not mean to deny that a lot of work is being done in God's name by Christians in and from congregations. But my question is "to what point?" I may be projecting too much from my own experience, but I sense a radical absense of meaning in much that the Church does. Oh, it's "relgious" and it makes us aware of heaven (and maybe even hell -- although I think suggestions of a populated hell are way down); it feeds our sense that we ought to spend Sunday morning with friends and family in an activity that seems bigger than ourselves.

But my experience is that we treat our religious life as a "time out" from our real lives. We regard our "ministries" as volunteer work. Many of us focus on our church life as a kind of eternal fire insurance -- and even if we feel secure, we have to get blanket coverage for others around us. We run our congregations like corporations (grow! grow! -- but no thought given to "grow in what dimension?") Many congregations worship with little sense of the gravity of the world's problems, preferring a happy-clappy, updated "Jesus Loves Me!" to "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" or "Christ is Risen! Alleluia!"

We in the Church generally lack a sense of the cosmic dimension of faith. We don't really "get" that we are a Resurrection people who are to be about the business of living as though God's Kingdom had indeed come among us. In other words, we trivialize the Gospel.

I think my frustration can be summed up this way: I read Orthodox theologians (my friend John Chryssavgis is a good example) and I get a sense of the breadth of the meaning of salvation. The whole of creation is involved; the salvation of "my soul" is but a small part of the grand picture. I read a lot of Protestant and Roman Catholic theologians and get a sense of individual implications of Jesus' work. There is so much suggestion that salvation has not yet been effected, that we must continue to act as though we'll only be saved later. And the former picture is so much more a reflection of what I see in Scripture. My post on Judaism and Christianity (forthcoming) may help to tie some of this together.