What with all of the news of government’s crackdown on illegal immigrants, and the even more distressing news of some groups identifying themselves as Christian who also express their prejudice against those of other cultures, … all requires that this be confronted and dealt with by those who have been reconciled to God by Jesus Christ, and then called to be ministers of reconciliation. Yesterday at the coffee shop in a nearby community I was in line with two young ladies in their hijabs, and wondered what it must feel like to have immigration officials looking for those in this country, perhaps illegally. The coffee shop is in a neighborhood with a major university that has declared itself a sanctuary campus, but even so, it must be un-nerving to have a sense of not being wanted, or being criminalized and deported. And, to get to that coffee shop from my home I must drive through Clarkston, Georgia, which is reputedly the most international city in North America.

Prejudice is not a new invention. It is as old as humankind. In my own life, I have had to encounter it in different chapters of my different ways. I grew up in a conservative Christian context in which our Southern racism was accepted as normal. We were also anti-Jewish, and anti-Roman Catholic, and on an us-and-them relationship with those neighbors from Cuba and the islands.

I can look back now, and almost laugh at how God made me confront these prejudices. I was ordained as a campus pastor in 1954, just after the supreme court’s Brown-vs-the Board of Education ruling, and the early days of the civil rights movement. I had never had an adult conversation with an adult African-American until that period, and being involved with university ministry and university students, I had to engage the issue and to put it together with my Christian identity as one who was to “love justice, do mercy, and walk humbly with my God.”  The more I had to be a faithful teacher in the church, the more clearly I was delivered from all of the errors of racial prejudice, and to become an advocate of racial equality (which lost me a lot of ostensibly ‘Christian’ friends).  That was deliverance #1.

Then moving to New Orleans, which is a city dominated by the Roman Catholic Church, and discovering that the liveliest Christian witness in that colorful and morally loose city … was the Catholic Charismatic Movement, which was engaging thousands of nominal Catholics with an encounter with scriptures and with new life in Christ. And, to add to God’s sense of humor, when I was facing a crisis with some fairly-destructive ‘charismatic’ members in my own congregation, my counselor and encourager turned out to be the Jesuit priest who led the Catholic movement, and then later I even became a resource to the archbishop. Deliverance #2.

In my later move to Hendersonville, North Carolina, and my seeking to understand the dynamics of that formerly remote mountain town, by then turning into a major retirement community, I came across a wonderful Jewish gentleman and local merchant, who was the president of the local synagogue and the de-facto rabbi since the synagogue was too small to afford a full-time rabbi. But Morris was also the object of a cruel anti-Semitism, even though he was a first citizen of the town. He and I became very good friends, and supportive of each other. He bore no bitterness and found ways to be a fruitful citizen that was most exemplary. I loved him. Deliverance #3.

God so loved the world—all of it: Gentiles, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, pagans of all stripes, all of it. And he has commanded us to engage all of it with love and good works, and to walk as the children of the Light, and to be vigorous proponent of justice—to be a blessing to the nations, and to be witnesses of the love of God in Christ.

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On a Fourth of July when a troubled nation seeks to remember its more noble roots (and maybe forget its more ignoble history of racism, prejudice, anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, anti-immigrants from many places, etc.), … let me shift gears and look at the Christian church’s response, or lack of response, to the rapidly changing culture, in which it is an alien, or unknown, factor, and how the emerging generation is able to totally ignore it.

The Pew Research Center has revealed (and I’m quoting from How to Escape the Apocalypse by Wilkinson and Joustra) that the emerging generation is “more un-moored and distrustful of institutions than their parents … they don’t like political parties (though they tend to vote liberal) and tend not to identify with religious institutions, but they think the social future is relatively bright” (p. 164). One can add to that appraisal the realities of a nomadic culture in which persons and families are more nomadic, moving frequently, changing jobs, living overseas, and which one’s residence may be temporary, and in which one seldom knows one’s neighbors because they are ‘cocooners’ who come home, pull down the garage door and disappear. Or there is the iPhone culture where folk don’t engage in fruitful conversation eyeball to eyeball easily, and are confined to the world they find on their devices. Then there is the absence of any traditional and formative cultural framework of thinking, and whatever it may be, it is more likely to be some form of self-satisfied humanism than anything like the accepted Judeo-Christian thought patterns of former generations.

The culture has drastically changed. In many ways, the cultural traditions of our parents’ generation are like a rug that has been pulled out from under us, along with its institutions. But has the church as church, … the church as the community of God’s New Creation people ceased to exist? Or has it just failed to notice that it no longer that things are not as they once were, and all the cultural landscape has shifted under our feet. I often think of our Christian family in nations where the church has been declared illegal by radical governments, and its venerable sanctuaries destroyed. Does that mean that the church ceases to exist in those places, or only that it has had a rude awakening to its true calling? Maybe gone underground?

Oliver Goldsmith wrote his poem about The Deserted Village in the 18th century. It is about the cultural transition that took place when the industrial revolution moved the textile industry from being a cottage industry in small villages, to the massive industries in the large cities, so that the villages sat nearly empty, and one of the victims was the churches which had been a significant part of the life of the village, and where the pastor was a key human encourager. Now that was all changed, and the church hardly knew how to incarnate itself in the large, impersonal, poverty-stricken culture. The culture changed but the church didn’t know how to respond.

If the church of the 21st century is to be the incarnation of God’s New Humanity in Christ, then it must continually be engaged in, and equipping every believer in what can only be described as a ‘cultural exegesis’ and able to recognize the components of that culture, and be creative, mobile, flexible, and versatile in it communal expressions. The emerging generation is still that humanity that God loves with infinite love in Jesus Christ, but they are not into church institutions, but rather are into meaningful relationships. … And that has thrilling prospect if one is willing to live dangerously! Otherwise the church joins in the deserted village syndrome, alas!

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Yes, there is no safe Christian world—only this broken, enigmatic world populated with all kinds of puzzling personalities, … from the artificially pious to the truly ef-ed up who defy description. Yet there is that set of folks who look for more church activities to attend, who are always looking for the perfect church as some sort of escape from this brokenness. The late John Stott designated such folk as ‘rabbit-hole Christians’ who only jump out of their churchy hole to do necessary chores and hasten back to their hole so that they do not have to deal with real sinners.

No, this very real, often distressing, world full of good people and awful people, respectable neighbors and pathologically wicked people, is the world that God so loved. It is into such a world that Jesus came as the incarnation of the love of God, came to seek and to save such often confused, lost, bewildered, often nasty and arrogant and obscene persons. He also came to those others whose behavior is quite positive, but who are themselves lost in the cosmos (to plagiarize Walker Percy’s description). Yes, there are those “decent godless men” who are also part of this very real world, but whose lives have no framework, who are self-satisfied humanists, and make our daily world to be an exercise in our aliens and exiles calling as God’s people.

Yet it was into this very real world of very real sinners that Jesus calls us to be his disciples. The mission that the Father gave to him is the same mission that he gives to us. Not to seek escape, but, quite the contrary, to move toward the darkness and its victims, and to do it as joyous children of the light. It is possible that the most sinful thing that one could do is to seek for more church activities, or to join one more Bible study. Does that sound heretical? It’s not!

An incestuous church, absorbed only with its own inner-life, ceases to be the church which is the body of Christ, or the glory of God, or the dwelling-place of God by the Holy Spirit. It ceases to be the community of faith in the One who came to seek and to save the lost. The gospel hymn states it well: “Jesus, what a friend for sinners!”

Jesus calls us to be his followers fully engaged in a world that is not safe, i.e., some imaginative world that is safe, explainable, devoid of all the moral and ethical lepers and boring and vacuous personalities. No, rather Jesus calls to be his presence in a very real world with these who are themselves part of that darkness—and when those who designate themselves as: ‘Christian’, seek to escape that calling, that unsafe world, … then it is they themselves who are also part of that darkness.

And too many ostensible church institutions totally miss that message.

Paul’s commission from the Ascended Lord is ours: “I am sending you to open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and place of those who are made whole by faith that is me” (Acts 26:18). He had to engage the unsafe world of destructive political powers, arrogant religionist, pitiful and helpless persons, screwed-up and artificial individuals, and all the rest—and to take the  consequences. He had to move into the real world with all of its unknowns, … not hide-out in church meetings.

And I give high praise for those everywhere in all the world who are doing just that. They are the true salt of the earth and the effective light of the world. I also want to be one of them, and I commend this word to my readers.

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Given the political, cultural, and social climate of these United States, one would wonder why we so assiduously avoid the teachings of Jesus about the perils of wealth. In Luke’s rendition of Jesus’ sermon (designated as his sermon on the plain) Jesus said: “blessed are you who are poor for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. … But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation” (Luke 6: 20 ff).

The interpretive question has often been raised about why Matthew, in his Sermon on the Mount, has Jesus saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of God” (Matthew 5:3). The most satisfying explanation I have come across has to do with target audiences. Luke, this interpreter says, is writing for those who are actually poor or actually rich. Matthew, on the other hand, writing in the context of his leadership of a church (probably in Syria) that is not poor, and so to them he says something like: “Blessed are those who identify with the poor for such demonstrate kingdom integrity.” I am not enough of an erudite New Testament scholar to know whether this passes the test for good New Testament exegesis, but it has served me well, because I have barely experienced hopeless poverty in my lifetime.

The question comes, then: What constitutes true poverty, helpless poverty? And (for most of us) what constitutes being ‘rich’? This is not an idle question. Most of my readers, like myself, are among the richest people in the world. We’ve never experienced homelessness, or life without electricity or clean water or access to medical care. We are accustomed to the daily newspaper filled with special sections on entertainment, delightful places to eat, expensive sporting events, and endless inserts of advertisement from all kinds of merchants and services.

It’s not too much to say that the major religion of our country is probably consumerism, mixed with hedonism, and maybe a dash of narcissism. I am not trying to heap guilt on us, not at all. There is nothing wrong with having an adequate home, and enjoying good entertainment, and good food. But where does out Christian conscience kick-in and remind us of our responsibility for the stewardship of our modest wealth, or the stewardship of our modest influence on the political scene, or as agents of peace and order and justice? What did we do to deserve our privileged status in the world?

It’s interesting that those who seem to be the most compassionate toward the helpless poor are those who are slightly less poor, and who know what it is like to have nothing. Growing up, as I did, in the teeth of the Great Depression, I remember that everybody had taken a huge financial hit, and in their experience of being deprived of so much, became generous sharers with each other.

When we have met our basic needs of a modest home, and paid our necessary bills, then what is our responsibility to support those agencies that are seeking to meet the basic needs of those who suffer the deprivations daily that we take for granted. I have some of the best medical care in the world, but I also have medical coverage so that I am not deprived or bankrupted by the care I receive. But to sit in an emergency room as one so privileged, and see those who wait interminable hours for some basic care which they cannot pay for … gives one pause. Am I an advocate for universal health care even if it raises my taxes? Or what is my responsibility for the humanitarian agencies locally and to those globally who seek to meet those needs in the bleakest segments of the human community?

“Woe to you who are rich.” As the classical prayer of confession states it: “Lord, have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.” Or: “Break our hearts for the things that break the heart of God.” Stay tuned (and feed me your response).

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Since the beginning of the modern missionary era in the, what? 18th century? missionary-minded churches have had a vision of taking the gospel of Jesus Christ to all the nations (ethne, or people-groups) of the world. Missionaries of all kinds, Protestant and Roman Catholic went with the colonial empires engaging in translating the Bible into many languages, doing humanitarian works, engaging in medical ministries, and producing remarkable stories of physical endurance, and also the hostility of the cultures being entered.

The church seemed to have no qualms about evaluating the existing cultures and religions inferior and erroneous to that of the West and of Christianity. There is so much to be applauded for many strides made (along with embarrassing contradictions). It was the first time many languages had been reduced to writing. Schools for youth produced a new generation of educated leadership. Hospitals were a new phenomenon where formerly illness and death were endured, often without any hope.

Many of us grew up singing: “We’ve a story to tell to the nations, that shall turn their hearts to the right, …” and attending missionary conferences where a calling to missionary service was considered to be one of the most significant ways to serve God.

But in recent generations a remarkable change has occurred as the world has become smaller and smaller. Maybe World War II is the first bellwether of this shift. Businesses began to open more and more branches in potential markets in many nations. Travel became more efficient. Colleges and universities encouraged a year of study abroad, and recruited nationals from across the globe. The world also became more dangerous. Tyrannical nations and religious extremists drove many out of their homes and they sought refuge in the West.

Today there are more than sixty-three million refugees in the world from those very nations to whom we sent missionaries in the past. Truth be told, many of those refugees are actually Christians, who have been driven out of their homes by unfriendly regimes. Jesus’ Great Commission was to: “Go and make disciples of every nation/ethne, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” His word was: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). … But look what has happened: the whole scene has shifted. Now the whole world has come to us. New Yorker Magazine has the lengthy account of a Pakistani community of tens of thousands on Coney Island, replete with mosques and imams. In nearly every city and small town there are colonies of Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Confucionists, and a myriad of other religious groups, along with those with no discernable religious affiliation.

And yet there are those in influential places, in politics and public, voicing the opposition to and disdain for these very immigrants whom world chaos has brought to us. Christ’s commands us to love everybody,” to engage in good works and humanitarian ministries to the strangers within our gates (even enemies!) includes our ministries of support and hospitality and legal aid for these victims of our world’s turmoil. Christ’s Great Commission has entered a new chapter: the nations have now come to us, and it is to these very persons that anyone who claims to be Christ’s follower, must now consider himself/herself to be Christ’s messenger of his love and good news to these in with our hospitality, and good works. But … that means engaging them, learning their stories, understanding their religions, … and demonstrating to them the grace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ, and praying for them, and becoming the fulfillment of Christ’s Great Commission to them. … and for those who refuse this ministry, there are sobering words in Matthew 25:41-46. We’ve still a story to tell to the nations.

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Philosopher Charles Taylor and his disciples make a good and helpful case for the fact that the quest for significance and authenticity are un-mistakably present in today’s culture. Pondering their writings, though, I have a further question: So, if one can actually attain to some satisfactory sense of significance, or authenticity, … then, what do you do with it? How does that achievement fit into the larger scheme of the meaning of my mortality, the larger metaphysical perspective of reality? This is not a new question. Some of these writings of Taylor’s disciples (Joustra and Wilkinson) quote T. S. Eliot’s classic poem: “We are the hollow men …’ to underscore this long-time awareness of how easily life devolves into daily survival.

On another, but somewhat parallel tract, I am always fascinated by the insistence by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Christians at Colossae of the larger meaning of Christ in the cosmic scheme of things: He portrays Jesus this way: “… the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known to everyone how great are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” … i.e., ultimate significance and authenticity.

Is that too much of a stretch for you? Let me tell you a true story. One of my great contemporary heroes, and, also, a personal friend, is John Perkins, the civil rights advocate and renowned Christian community developer. John grew up in Mississippi where he suffered all of the horrendous abuse that black folk endured there. He was a share-cropper’s son, and a third-grade dropout. When his older brother, and army veteran, was shot and killed by the local law-enforcement officials for no reason, John escaped to California to begin a new life. There he encountered Christ, was discipled well, and ultimately was moved by the Spirit to go back to his own people in Mississippi as an evangelist and to engage in community development, but was also engaged in civil rights efforts such as voter registration, for which he himself was jailed and beaten. … Long story short: John’s work was ultimately so inescapable and fruitful that the state of Mississippi declared a John M. Perkins Day in his honor. His efforts have multiplied. He has received numerous honorary doctorates; his writings have been widely acclaimed.

I was staying with John, some years back, and noted on the walls of his modest study not only his honorary degrees, but a picture of John in the Oval Office of the White House. Later while having supper together, I asked him: “John, how do you maintain your humility with all of these honors and accolades?” John is very modest, and he pondered that for a few moments, then replied: “Bob, I just have to remember that whether I am chopping cotton in Mississippi, or a guest in the Oval Office, that I am the glory of God.” Wow! Speak of a sense of significance, of one’s identity in the larger scheme of God’s design, …

Jesus didn’t focus on the strong, the wealthy, the nobly-born, the ‘somebodies’—but rather on the ‘nobodies’ and it was their inheritance in the mystery of it all to become the glory of God, … i.e., the radiant display of the divine nature in human lives, to find ultimate significance wherever and in whatever circumstances they might find themselves: “I am the glory of God.”

Charles Taylor is a brilliant philosopher, whom I appreciate, but John Perkins is an encouraging incarnation of true Christian significance.

[You might appreciate reading more in John’s book: Let Justice Roll Down.]

To be continued …

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Even a cursory glance at Jesus’ teachings leave no doubt that obedience to his teachings and commands were at the threshold of true discipleship. As a matter of fact, he likened those who heard his commands, and then didn’t do them to a foolish person who tried to build his house without any solid foundation. Seeking to identify oneself with the community of Christ’s followers, and as his disciple, for whatever reason, i.e. personal advantage, need for some kind of personal fulfillment, or because: “I want to go to heaven when I die …” misses the whole point.

In the Letter to the Hebrews, the anonymous author rebukes those who fall into this category: “About this (i.e., the interpretation of the strange account of the Old Testament figure Melchizadek) we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become hard of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. …” (Hebrews 5:11ff.). Or something similar from Paul to Timothy: “… always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. (II Timothy 3:7).

The New Testament scriptures, as a matter of fact, never even propose that one should “join the church.” Jesus’ invitation was much more demanding. Yes, he invited all who were “weary and heavy laden” to come to him, in order to find rest. He did promise freedom and abundant life as one embraced him, … But he also required that he, and obedience to his teachings, become the criteria of true discipleship. He would tell those who were proposing to become his followers, that unless a person is willing to forsake all that he has he could not be a true disciple – forsake all all other lords and loyalties.

And yet ever so many ostensible church communities advertise to those who are uncommitted all the wonderful activities and personal benefits would be theirs by identifying with such an institution as theirs. How different is such an invitation to self-fulfillment and personal benefit to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s stark comment that: “When Jesus calls a man, he bids him come and die!” Still there all those who evaluate their ‘discipleship’ by how many church meetings they attend, or Bible studies they participate in, or their tenure in such church communities … somehow never getting the message, somehow never grasping that to invite Jesus into one’s life is to give consent to have his very life and mission, the the genome of his incarnation, to become the determining factor in their lives. They seem always to be avoiding those others still walking in darkness, even though Jesus was always seeking, not the religious/righteous, … but real sinners: the profane, the promiscuous, the shady business men, the ethnics who were despised, and those occupying military forces, along with ordinary folk.

That very large company who seek to hang-out in church meetings for the spiritual comfort and to leave the costly obedience to others, to church professionals, priests, etc. … are a huge contradiction. The Christian church often takes quantum leaps when some traveling messenger of the gospel communicates it to another and introduces that person into Christ’s new life, and then that new believer takes the message and “runs with it” in obedience, and learns discipleship in the process. Christ’s true followers are always contagious, and find ways to express that fervor and contagiousness in creative ways (in love and good works). But true disciples are never passive. To be continued …


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There is no problem getting confused when trying to make sense of all the news coming across the media these days, … claims and counter-claims, significant national figures accusing each other of lying, persons calling themselves ‘evangelicals’ espousing hateful and prejudicial behavior, …  it certainly can become bewildering and discouraging. Who are you going to believe?

That is why I love the scriptures, those Biblical documents, which are the Christian’s final authority, and in which the ultimate purpose is to make plain the word of Christ in our human lives. You know that nothing is in there just to be ‘filler’ because all those documents were painfully recorded by inspired authors, by hand and by primitive writing instruments, and on expensive paper or parchments. And, hey! It’s also easy to trivialize its teachings by overfamiliarity, or to render them unimportant by reading them mindlessly.

Let me, then, call up Hebrews 10:24 as a rich and provocative word: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, …” That could sound ‘platitudinous’ (is that a word?) enough, until you unpack it. For starts, it is not platitudinous at all. There are two things that Jesus taught his follows that would give them ‘street cred’ and those were:

  • “A new commandment I give to you that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
  • “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) And: “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles (the non-believers) honorable, so that when they speak against you as evil-doers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” (I Peter 2:12)

Visible New Creation behavior and lifestyle: ‘Street cred,’ the unimpeachable evidence of the new life of Christ inhabiting God’s sons and daughters. That’s not ditty-bop do-goodism. That’s costly. Loving others as Christ loved us requires that we love our enemies, because when we were still enemies, Christ died for us. Feeding the hungry, welcoming strangers and offering hospitality, healing the sick, clothing the naked, … has a price-tag attached to it. But it’s visible to those watching, and is precisely what makes Christ’s followers to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth.

When persons profess to be followers of Christ and reject human need, and espouse racism, and prejudice against other religions, or reject those not of their social class, … then they are walking contradictions. And such contradictions are not countered by argument, but by the street cred of love and good works. So be stirring one another up to love and good works. Such love and good works are also what constitute “the breastplate of righteousness” which is an essential part of the Christian’s whole armor.

“Walk as children of the light” … and we will become believable. Peace!

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This past week has been troubling beyond belief, and shattered our naïveté about human leadership. To watch a former FBI leader designate the president of the United States as a ‘liar’ before a senate committee would be unthinkable … until now. History records other periods when one’s trust in government undergoes cataclysmic disillusionment. One of my own denomination’s confessional documents is the Westminster Confession of Faith, which contains a chapter on: Of Civil Magistrate, in which it lays out for the church’s faithful an understanding of where civil governments fit into God’s design, and what our responsibility to such authorities would be. It concludes with the exhortation: “It is the duty of the people to pray for magistrates, to honor their persons, and to be subject to their authority, for conscience. …”

The irony here is that this confession was written after the British revolution during which the Puritans under Oliver Cromwell captured and beheaded the king of England. But the confession was the attempt by the revolutionary government to provide a guide for all the populace (1649).

But just here, I find a more contemporary guide for faith and worship produced by the Christian Reformed Church to be much more helpful, and at the end of this troubling week I share it with you, since we do need to give serious thought to how we respond to so much that is distressing in those in whose hand is our common welfare (from stanzas 52 and 53):

We obey God first;

we respect the authorities that rule,

for they are established by God:

we pray for our rulers,

and we work to influence governments—

resisting them only when Christ and conscience demand.

We are thankful for the freedoms

Enjoyed by citizens of many lands;

We grieve with those who live under oppression,

And we seek for them the liberty to live without fear.

We call on governments to do public justice

and to protect the rights and freedoms

of individuals, groups, and institutions

so that each may do their tasks.

We urge governments and pledge ourselves

to safeguard children and the elderly

from abuse and exploitation,

to bring justice to the poor and oppressed,

and to promote the freedom

to speak, work, worship, and associate.

Followers of the Prince of Peace

are called to be peacemakers … (and much more that is helpful to us.)

[From: Our World Belongs to God: A Contemporary Testimony. 2008.]

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The ‘village church’ sounds so quaint. It harks back to the time when the church house was a community gathering place, and buzzed with activity on Sundays, and was considered by many to be the house of God. That all began to change a long time ago. Think, for-instance, of poet Oliver Goldsmith’s The Deserted Village lament over that period in British history when the industrial revolution moved the textile industry from cottage industries in small villages to the large impersonal industries in large cities. He grieved over that past when the pastor was a gentle figure giving some caring presence to the villagers, and the quaint church-house was the center of the village—now standing empty, as does most of the village.

It has been difficult for our present remaining devotees of neighborhood church institutions to accept that the cultural shift of our present is as dramatic with us. That first generation after World War II had a field-day planting their denominational church franchises in the new neighborhoods and on the growing edge of cities. Architects had a field day. Handsome church sanctuaries rose everywhere, and church institutions flourished for a period.

Ah! but hardly a week goes by now without the report in the local newspaper of another old cherished church house being closed and sold because the congregation has aged, or moved away. It has been difficult for many to accept the fact that we live in a nomad culture in which the populace is constantly on the move. People move frequently, and even in pleasant subdivisions one hardly knows one’s neighbors, nor often do not even want to know them. They are ‘cocooners’ who go to work, come home, pull down the garage door and hide.

Where is one’s neighborhood? Where does one have any kind of significant contact with others? The popular TV comedy Cheers of yesterday located the neighborhood in the local pub where the viewers began to know the foibles and idiosyncrasies of all of the actors, and yet the same viewers are often at a loss to have significant contact with others, except perhaps at work, or in a running or biking club. It’s a different world. People change jobs frequently, and accept employment half-way across the country. And, … the church is less and less a factor.

So, neighborhood church houses become something of an expensive anachronism. Those who are followers of Christ often meet over coffee, BEER, or over meals, and there share their pilgrim journies, but not in church institutions or church houses. They realize that a church building is one thing, … but that the church is a community of mutual discipleship, love, encouragement, out-of-hiding honesty with each other, and that requires significant time spent together wherever.

That also means that the church is compelled to accept its Biblical definition as a community of pilgrims and strangers. It must ever be versatile, flexible, mobile, and vulnerable. The building must never define the church. Think of those tragic scenes in the middle east where historic old church buildings are destroyed by ISIS. Does that mean that the church there no longer exists? Not at all. Or the church in China during the ‘cultural revolution’ where the Communist government expropriated all church property. Did the church cease to exist? No, it went ‘underground’ and grew exponentially, even when being discovered to be a Christian was a crime, and communities of faith grew up in concentration camps.

What to do with empty church buildings in this present post-Christian culture is a real ‘head-scratcher’. Pews, pipe organs, stained glass windows, and classic church architecture are not in high demand on the market. But the spiritual hunger of a culture that is the product of a sort of self-satisfied humanism lurks out there. And the followers of Christ are called to be children of light in that darkness, and they need each other in their incarnation as God’s people. What is remarkable are all the creative ways and places they have found to find each other. Stay tuned.

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