Archives For Culture

* On Civic Engagement

The Calling of the Church

“If the new man is eclipsed in present daily life, and the new society is but a future vision, then contemporary alternatives to the Truth will rush in to fill the yawning gap of a plummeting world. Like a street corner observer, the church will be only watching the passing parade instead of leading and directing the rescue.”

- Carl F. H. Henry, “The New Man and the New Society” in God, Revelation, and Authority: God Who Speaks and Shows. vol. IV (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1979), 541.

“The church which bears his name is already called, now, to challenge and contain powers of evil: as the living Body of its living head the church is now to resist the Evil One, not to indict rampant injustices and support the afflicted and oppressed, now to sensitize moral conscience against wrong and for the right, now to exhibit the purpose of God in a new life and a new community while it proclaims the revealed truth and will of God.”

- Carl F. H. Henry, “Good News for the Oppressed” in God, Revelation, and Authority: God Who Speaks and Shows. vol. IV (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1979), 545-46.

“As never before the church needs to exercise her total witness to the world in the context of the truth of revelation and of the reality of redemption.”

- Carl F. H. Henry, A Plea for Evangelical Demonstration (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1971), 123.

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I ended part two of this series talking about how idolatry-centered community seeks an idealized community. Outside of Christ, the relationships we intend to enjoy are contingent upon their satisfying our idolatrous desires. If unchecked or unaddressed, Christians will embark on a form community within the context of a local church that continues down this path. This is where Dietrich Bonhoeffer especially has a word for us.

In his little book, Life Together, Bonhoeffer argues, “The community of Christians springs solely from the biblical and reformation message of the justification of human beings through grace alone. The longing of Christians for one another is based solely on this message” (32). He goes on to say later, “I am a brother or sister to another person through what Jesus Christ has done for me and to me; others have become brothers and sisters to me through what Jesus Christ has done to them and for them” (33-34). In other words, what forms biblical community is the gospel, and what continues to constitute Christian community is the gospel.

But what if instead of the gospel, something else is at the center of community? What if heart idolatry makes a requirement for community that is a substitute for the gospel or a non-negotiable add-on? Bonhoeffer answers,

“Those who want more than what Christ has established between us do not want Christian community. They are looking for some extraordinary experiences of community that were denied them elsewhere. Such people are bringing confused and tainted desires into Christian community. Precisely at this point Christian community is most often threatened from the very outset by the greatest danger, the danger of internal poisoning, the danger of confusing Christian community with some wishful image of pious community, the danger of blending the devout heart’s natural desire for community with the spiritual reality of Christian community” (34).

This “wishful image of pious community” stems from a predisposition (control belief) that enters into the equation before the gospel and continues as an alternative ideal in contrast to the community God is creating by His Word and Spirit in the real world. To state it clearly and bluntly, Bonhoeffer argues,

“Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial” (35).

Why is this? I think the answer goes back to the source of their “dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself.” Those dreams simply don’t surface from thin air. They surface from the heart idolatry desiring a community that is self-serving, comfort-securing, pride-protecting, approval-demanding, and control-promoting. And it is this kind of dream that, if it becomes a reality, will destroy Christian community. To pull from Bonhoeffer again, “The bright day of Christian community dawns wherever the early morning mists of dreamy visions are lifting” (36-37).

For there to be a truly counter-cultural community, I believe we need to come to terms with the truth that Bonhoeffer articulated, namely, “Christian community is not an ideal we have to realize, but rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate” (38).

Before we press into this reality created by God in Christ, I think there is one more version of community that Christians must counter. In my next post, I will talk about legalism-driven community.

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In the first post, I talked about 11 different aspects of society used a filters or barriers to form or foster community. I argued, “In order for a gospel community to be counter-cultural, we first have to assess what we are encountering in the culture. How does culture and society determine how community is formed and fostered? What are some of the guiding principles and motivations behind its formation?” If part one addresses the external schema of society formation, this post addresses the internal driving forces influencing how and where we fall out in our version of societal segregation.

Dick Keyes, in his chapter “The Idol Factory” (in No God but God) takes about the construction of idols in our lives. He makes the distinction between “near” and “far” idols. Near idols are those that are more specific, superficial and concrete, such as career, spouse, possessions, etc. Far idols, on the other hand, are “farther” from the surface of things and go to the root of why we do what we do. They get to the “sin beneath the sin” and are also referred to as “source” or “root” idols.

Continue Reading…

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