I’ve been urging our churches to join Paul and Jesus in praying for the church’s sanctification (see 1 Thess. 5:23 and John 17:17-19), praying that the church would be utterly God’s to do with as God pleases, to use however God chooses, and to participate in God’s ongoing mission to reclaim and renew the whole of creation. We’re way beyond church survival and even beyond church growth—we’re after the most comprehensive renovation of the whole of reality. Nothing short of all God plans will do, if we have anything to say about it.
Here’s the problem, however. Much of the church has been hijacked by the culture. This is not a new phenomenon nor is it a stroke of genius to observe it. It is a recurring problem. Predictably the cultures of this world have deconstructed the gospel, the good news of Jesus and His kingdom, and then put the gospel back to together again in ways that fit or even enhance the culture. For example, in our country people have harbored hopes of an American Dream—a vision of a kind of life that enjoys prosperity and peace. For many generations this dream has exercised enormous influence. So much so, that the gospel is often seen as a means to realizing this dream. To put it way too simply, the dream has deconstructed the good news and put it together again so that accepting Jesus represents a fast track to realizing the dream. Come to Jesus, join the church, be a good boy or girl, and God will bless you and the blessing will look like this dream-come-true.
When the culture stalls and the dream shatters, however, the gospel that was tweaked to accommodate this dream no longer seems adequate. Followers of Jesus, on their way to the dream-come-true, suddenly realize that it’s not happening for them and nervously wonder about where Jesus is taking them. There’s a lot of this going on just now. Huge institutions once thought invulnerable now seem on shaky ground. The economy no longer seems a safe harbor. Many are wondering how life can continue or ever be good again, if things keep going on as they are. Hand wringing is common, sometimes even in the church.
But when God owns us as church, when the church is utterly at his disposal, when there is nothing to lose because it’s all been surrendered for his use, when the good news of Jesus once again asserts itself against the bad news of our world, the good news deconstructs the culture, and helps us shape a life free of that culture’s illusions and idolatries so life goes on but in ways fully compatible with the kingdom Jesus declared and demonstrated. If God were to foreclose on all our false hopes and assume sole proprietorship of the church, the good news would show us how to live even in a world that is passing away.
This is how it was when the church first came to be. Followers of Jesus showed their world that life did not require the gods venerated by their contemporaries. “The way it has always been” was shown to be a lie. In fact, it hadn’t always been that way, and it could be another way that was better. And followers of Jesus were often in the lead showing that better way.
Not long ago in the country of Peru mountain farmers stood up against the drug lords that owned most of the land around them. They had convinced everyone that the land could only grow coca plants, from which cocaine was made. It had always been that way, and it had to be that way for the people to survive. Of course this was a lie, but everyone believed the lie. Everyone, that is, until a Christ-follower refused to use his land in that way and started to plant other crops. Now, everyone knows that the land will produce many crops, most of which can be eaten and directly benefit the village. Christ-followers exposed the lies that had kept people from possible blessing, and led them to a different and better life.
If the Christ-followers who are church courageously follow Christ in these days, dare we believe that once again lies about “the only way life can be good” will be exposed? Dare we trust that if Christ has us wholly at his disposal, we may become agents of blessing and recreation to a world that thinks it’s falling apart? Dare we still hope?