Saturday, March 10, 2007

I Don't Know, But God Does

In Brian McLaren's book, The Secret Message of Jesus, in an appendix rather presumptuously entitled, "Why Didn't We Get It Sooner?" McLaren attempts to explain why, after 2,000 years, the church is suddenly discovering the real meaning of what Jesus taught (described in McLaren's book). There is a quote, there, from Soren Kierkegaard with which I resonated:

"The Bible is easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obligated to act accordingly. Take any words in th New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that, my whole life will be ruined. How would I get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scolarship. Christian scholarship is the church's prodigious attempt to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament."

The big issue today is, what is worship? How is it properly done? What is its focus?

Unfortunately, I have difficulty believing that the new, postmodern examinations of things (of which McLaren's is just a sample) will improve things much. The Emergent fascination with things "catholic" is an understandable reaction to the pace of change and innovation and the individualism that have infused our culture and our church institutions under the sway of modernity. But shall we retreat into liturgical formalism — essentially a more ancient, much more institutionalized, less entrepreneurial swindle — just because our current swindle no longer pleases?

I wonder if the church has always been, and will continue to be, hidden from those who analyze, theorize, philosophize, rationalize, criiticize and ultimately obliterate the Gospel's endless creative power. Maybe the church has always been those whose hearts and eyes lift heavenward and see the face of Christ and then, individually and collectively (as the Temple in which the Father and Son, by the Holy Spirit, are please to dwell), simply go out to serve others out of love for Him. They're there, in "free" churches, liturgical churches, pentecostal churches, quietly, humbly, obediently loving, serving, giving — passed over in all the current tumult, ignored because they don't toot their own horns, unheard because they don't write books or get invited to talk shows, ignored because they're not out in the marketplace making their marks, but instead frequent the hospice and the homeless shelter, take meals to the Muslim family next door down with the flu, provide a home for their neglected niece or nephew, help an elderly neighbor repair his porch and spend most of their time listening to how it used to be, and a thousand, thousand other acts of true spiritual worship.

I suspect these folks won't be leaving their current church institutions any time soon, nor will they abandon the forms of worship handed down to them. For one thing, they don't have the time for much critical reflection. They're too busy worshipping in thought, word and deed. In Spirit and in Truth. I think they know, in their heart of hearts, that the mere human forms aren't "it." They sense, but often cannot articulate, that these will always come and go like the tides.

I imagine millions of them, all over the earth — maybe many not "Christian" by many institional definitons — who nevertheless imbibe from the True Vine, not just once a week (with wine, bells and smells) or once a month (with grape juice) at a Sunday service, but continually, inauspiciously, gratefully as they live out His command to love your enemy, do good to those who despitefully use you, comfort the comfortless, relieve the oppressed, feed the hungry.

I don't know that this is true. These folks, after all, are hidden. They aren't "getting on in the world." They walk right by opportunities to make a Splash, do something Big, get Noticed and have Influence. Only God knows. But I hope they're there. In fact, I have faith that they are out there. And I love them for their perserverance in the face of the impediments that we thinkers and insitutionalizers set in their way. They know and live the truth of I Cor. 13. They are the secret message of Jesus. They are His Body. They are the True Worshipers. Their faith, hope and love abide.

What they do in secret, God will surely reward openly on The Day. And there may indeed be gnashing of teeth among those of us who are now so sure we've discovered the One Right Way.