I came across this tweet from NT Wright Says a few weeks back and it’s been on the back of my mind for a while. Right now the church is in what is called Holy Week. It started with Palm Sunday this last Sunday and it ends with Easter Sunday. In between you have Maundy Thursday (tonight) and Good Friday. Maundy Thursday is when Jesus has the last supper and institutes the Lord’s supper (also known as communion). On that night Jesus was betrayed by Judas. Jesus was falsely accused, put on a sham trial, and then later pronounced innocent yet was put to death. On Easter, he rose from the dead. He defeated sin and death. He is victorious.
So where does the church come in? Where is this community? After Jesus rose from the grave, he spent 40 days with his followers. He taught them, instructed them, and told them what to do next. And then Jesus ascended into heaven. There is now a piece of earth in heaven. 10 days later, the Holy Spirit was given to his followers. The breathe of heaven is now on earth. And Jesus’ followers grew that day. And the church, the community of believers, solidified. They ate together, they shared what they had with one another, and they worshiped Jesus together. It was a brilliant showing of what the community is to be like
The church today is post-Easter, post-Pentecost. The church is supposed to be the body of Christ here on earth, moved by the Holy Spirit. This is where the tweet from NT Wright Says is so important. The church is supposed to reflect what things are going to be like when Christ comes again. We, as the church, are to live, as humans are called to live. We are to exemplify Christ, who is the perfect human, in all that we do.
The problem is, is that over the last two millennia (give or take a couple of years), the church hasn’t always done that. Things became corrupt. And people spoke up. In 1517, people spoke up about it. People spoke up about corruption. And the church changed. The problem is, is that people fell back into old habits. And things became a problem. Not in the same way as in the 1500’s, but still major issues.
And today, we as the church are facing issues. How do we live as Christ in an ever changing world? In the 4th century, the Roman emperor Constantine I legalized Christianity, making it a legal religion not allowed to be persecuted. This gave freedom to Christians being able to worship openly. Soon it became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Many Christians hail this as a great thing. Others say it’s the worse thing to happen to Christianity. ( I tend to agree, but that’s another blog post). In many ways, some scholars state that Christianity went from being a fringe persecuted religion to becoming a state religion. And that’s when the battles began between church and state. To be honest, those same battles are going on today.
Many scholars also say that we’re now living in a post-Christian society. That the church is no longer the center of culture, the church is no longer the main power. To tell the truth, we live in a pluralistic society where Christianity is but one of many religions and philosophies available to people to pick and choose from like a existential spiritual smorgasbord.
This is where the church, the community of believers, need to live out in reality what humanity is to do in theory. If we truly state that we truly have the absolute truth, then we need to live it. If we claim that Jesus truly is the way, the truth, and the life, we need to live it and show it as the church.
But do we?
Sadly, sometimes I think the church does more to shoot itself in the foot rather than live in reality what humanity is to be in theory. And this is on both sides of the spectrum. You have some on one side that are so clinging to the past on how things are nostalgically seen and how they should be that they have retreated from the rest of the world and are out of touch with the pluralistic world around them. The other side of the spectrum is so abusing the scandal of grace that they soon become more like the world rather than reflecting the coming kingdom of Christ.
On one end of the spectrum when people retreat, the church is seen as bigoted, discriminatory, and out of touch with world around them. On the other end of the spectrum, the church is accepted but at the cost of losing the Gospel message and its distinctiveness.
How are we to live then in a society that is ever changing? How can we as the church live in such a way to be known not as discriminatory hate-filled bigots but people who are different and filled with grace and love? How can we live in such a way that people can say that though we disagree with them, they can see Jesus in us?
I wish I could answer these questions. But I can’t. As we live as the community of believers, as we live as the body of Christ, we need to struggle with God’s word and Christ’s call to be in the world but not of it, proclaiming the Gospel message, and calling people to a life lived for Christ. As the church, we are to live in reality what humanity is in theory to live. A tough call indeed.