As the Church moves forward in the new millennium, what is the biggest problem facing the body of Christ?
I think the biggest problem of the church in America is that we’ve lost our way. We’ve gotten comfortable carrying on a version of Christianity that has drifted farther and farther from what God intends. We have various versions of Christianity that are dangerously at ease with racism (as long as it’s not too overt), with a kind of idolatrous nationalism, with political partisanship that trumps our identity in Christ, with complacency about injustice and with consumerism that makes life consist in the abundance of possessions one acquires.
To overcome this problem, we need to first admit how far we’ve fallen, to stop defending ourselves as if we’ve got it together. Second, in that spirit of repentance and humility, we need to go back to the Scriptures. This will require us to unlearn a lot of things we already know, questioning a lot of our assumptions, questioning the questions we’ve been asking and dig down to a deeper level.
Third, in this spirit of humility, we need to start listening to one another in unprecedented ways. We need to break out of the American echo chamber. Wouldn’t it make sense, sooner or later, for God to say, “Enough!” when it comes to our sectarian attitudes and our denominational elitism and religious supremacy? Wouldn’t it make sense for God to say, “I’m not interested in helping some of you prosper to the exclusion of the others. I want you to move forward in a new spirit of unity, humility and collaboration. I want to bless and renew you together.”
I think [the biggest problem] might be self-righteousness. What to do about it? Repent, publicly and often!
One of the most dangerous things in the Church today is the prosperity gospel that God has come to bless you and to give you health and wealth. The Christian experience becomes just about what you can get. But Jesus is saying, “If you want to find your life, you better give it away.” Give it to the poor, give it to the suffering and give it for others. Greater love has no one than this, that he give it away for others (John 15:13). The greatest thing to do with the blessings of God is to give them away, not to hoard them for ourselves. And that may not sell as many books, but that is what we cannot compromise.
The other thing I would name too is the shortsightedness of nationalism. Our love within the church doesn’t stop at any border, so how can we care for people who are immigrants? How can we care for folks who are Iraqis, as people who are created in the image of God? I think in the United States it is very difficult to know what is America and what is Christian. Our money says “In God We Trust” but our economy just reeks of lust and greed, so we should be wary of that.
Cindy Jacobs:[We need] to get back to a biblical worldview. The big questions are why haven’t we attacked the big problems in the world such as systemic poverty, violence, and abortion? We need to learn to love God with our minds and not just our hearts and souls.
I think it has to do with relearning the issue of how to think. The 18 century stressed Reason with a capital R. Reason to many is discounted; people don’t really do that stuff very much. Some academics still try to, and they are often swept aside. If you try to mount a sustained argument, looking at evidence and thinking it through, people don’t want it. They want sound bytes, slogans and so on. The Church ought to be at the forefront of helping one another and helping the wider world think wisely, so reason is hugely important. But along with reason goes a wise reading of Scripture.
The Bible still waits there as this wonderful, huge, enormously energizing, complex book, which actually has the robustness and the suppleness to carry us forward into the new places we should be.
We don’t believe God. We don’t believe the vision of God. We don’t believe who He is. We don’t believe that He’s good. We’re not captivated by that vision. Because if we were captivated by the vision of the goodness of God, I have to think over time other things would fall into place.
God is at His core, good. Everything you and I experience in our lives over the course of a day, or over our entire lives, that brings us joy, is a thin thread to the nature of God. Of course there’s suffering in the world. Of course there are difficult things, but there’s also another power in this world. The power of God is one that brings unspeakable joy into our lives. If our churches could really help people understand the true nature of God, people would want to respond to that, which starts with the vision.
We have substituted therapy for Truth. We hear a feel-good message, and we’ve lost our understanding of the basic truths of Christianity. The world is defining us by the attacks of aggressive secularists, best-selling authors who admit to being anti-theists. They will continue to define us unless we learn how to define ourselves—and not only define ourselves, but live out our faith in such a way that people can see the invisible Kingdom made visible in our midst.
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