The church as a trouble-maker? … but, you may protest: Isn’t the church supposed to be a peace-maker? How about both? Given our current cultural climate in this nation, especially obvious since the Charlottesville incident, one wonders where Christ’s people should be in all of this. Christ’s Sermon on the Mount might be a good place to start. Right up front it says that the peacemakers are blessed, but then it tells us that those who are persecuted and reviled and spoken evil of for righteousness’ sake (for being righteous troublemakers) are, likewise blessed.

Or, maybe Paul’s contrast of the Christian’s life, before and after his/her embrace of Christ (Romans 6:12 ff.), which is that they were formerly servants of unrighteousness but now are to be instruments of righteousness. What’s that all about? It means that as God’s people, we are always in what might be called a missionary confrontation with the world. We are aliens, and instruments of light, in a culture of unrighteousness and spiritual darkness. Troublemakers.

I learned this through the backdoor of my experience. When I was in my ecclesiastical-pastoral puberty-stage in the city of Durham, North Carolina decades ago, Durham was still a grimy textile-tobacco town and seething with racism, all of which was new to me. Not much that I had learned in theological school equipped me for anything I was beginning to experience. Two influences that had equipped me were, first of all, that I had been taught that Christ’s Great Commission was that we were to make disciples, and that involved in teaching disciples to obey all that Christ had taught. So, I made disciple-making a basic principle in whatever pastoral ministry was to be. Then another mentor had been most persuasive in insisting that the consecutive exposition of the Biblical scriptures was the purpose and focus of our preaching in our reformed-Presbyterian heritage.

With those two operational principles theoretically in place I launched my role as a disciple-making pastor and teacher in a small industrial church with a very insecure history. I was to be begin trying to figure out my new role. Two factors became obvious very soon. There were those in its membership who were hungry to be taught from scriptures, and responsive to my Biblical preaching, . . . but certainly not all of them. There were also those who only agreed with scriptures when scriptures were in agreement with their view.

Then the light began to dawn on me as to our Christian calling to be troublemakers. That was the period just after the U. S. Supreme Court had required the de-segregation of public schools, which deliverance did not go down well in such a city as ours. And it was in my innocence that I was seeking to be faithful in teaching scripture, and was preaching my way through the Epistle to the Romans. It was in that teaching that I got to Romans 12, and its teaching that we were not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so as to prove what was the will of God. Ka-ching! The lights went on. There was a world that was not in conformity with the will of God, and we were to be so equipped in our thinking that we were not dominated by it.

It happened to be the Sunday in which we celebrated the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper, and I innocently made the application of the scripture that it applied to racial justice, and that I was not there talking about the Durham city schools, but to that particular Christian community, and that at the Lord’s table before them there was no place for racial exclusion. It was to be open to all. For those who had ears to hear it only made sense.

But for those captive to the darkness I was an unwanted voice and a trouble-maker. It was there also that I learned that I had to be exegeting the culture, and so equipping God’s people to operate in that culture with transformed minds and lives, to demonstrate what the will of God looks like in real flesh and blood disciples, as both peacemakers and troublemakers. Stay tuned.

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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