Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Listening or speaking. . .

Much is made about the importance of a church that listens to its people.  After all, how rude it is for a church to presume to address people without having first heard their hearts, their wounds, their experiences, and their desires.  Often Jesus is portrayed primarily as a listener whose ministry stands in stark contrast to the rigid and arbitrary rules of the religious authorities of His day.  Jesus is out there with the people and asks questions, is interested in them and what they think, and does not answer their situations with law but with compassion, forgiveness, and freedom.  I am not sure where this characterization comes from because it is not reflective of the Jesus of the Gospels -- perhaps it is Gnostic wisdom known to the few which is higher than the wisdom of the page meant for the many.

Much is also made of the importance of a church that identifies with the poor, the oppressed, the wounded, and the broken.  Such a church cannot and must not presume to speak without hearing of their plight and dares not address this plight with an eternal solution to a present problem.  The church must at least advocate for them and should redistribute resources to address their needs before presuming to speak to them of the Kingdom of God.

Yet the reality is that a listening church is not a church of the poor or needy but a church of the middle and upper class, a church of people who are not bothered with basic concerns of food for the day, shelter for the night, a job for basic income, and adequate medical care to relieve their pains and ills.  Such a church listens because people have the luxury to be free from basic needs that must be addressed to explore wants, desires, and pleasures.

Nowhere is this more true than when it comes to marriage, family, gender, and sex.  Some suggest that a real church needs to listen here more than speak, to consider the feelings of people more than the words of God.  But this is not the concern of the so-called Third World or Developing World.  This is solely the domain or the comfortable who seek to be affirmed more than redeemed and who desire to change more than to be changed.

The bourgeois of Western Christianity want a church which listens and in listening, a church which reshapes its message to fit what is heard and desired.  They seek a church affirming of their wants and desires and not one that calls them to repentance, one that renounces the confining constraints of morality and the Law to offer freedom -- a freedom which allows them to pursue their taboos without hindrance of question,, guilt, or shame.   These are not the concerns of the poor who seek hope in the midst of their despair and the comfort of a life radically new and eternal.  These are bourgeois concerns and desires masquerading under the cover of a concern for the poor and oppressed. In such a church, the pursuit of freedom for the transgendered to fulfill the reality of their feelings is equated as an equal and equally urgent concern as food, clean water, shelter, work, and health care.  In such a Gospel, freedom is a greater cause and of greater urgency than the consideration of what is right and what is wrong (morality).  In fact, the poorer the people, the more likely they are to seek refuge in a world in which religion and faith are lived out in a morality consistent with and consonant with the Law and its call to obedience and righteousness.  This Gospel that they seek does not free them from the goal of morality or righteousness but becomes the means to a holiness bestowed, an alien righteousness bestowed, and a heart created anew to love what is good and right and holy even while the comfort of Christ holds up the promise not of a more egalitarian life but an eternal one.

A progressive Christianity more concerned with avoiding offense (especially with reference the GLBTQ community) has little to offer the poor and the oppressed except a clichéd Gospel that does not even mention sin much less forgive it and is reconciled with death more than obsessed with life.  There is no freedom in this Gospel -- only the most cruel bondage of all and slavery to the god of pleasure that can do no more and should do no less than affirm the sinner in their chosen sins.

In contrast to this, orthodox Christianity speaks.  It speaks to call sin forth from the shadows -- not for earthly judgment but for hope in the midst of sin's guilt and shame.  It speaks to call the sufferer to hope -- to hope for more than simply an end to the suffering but for the perfect peace that passes understanding.  It speaks to call the dying to admit that in this body of death there is no hope unless that body be raised in Christ to live with Him in His Kingdom without end.  We don't need a church that listens.  We need a church that will speak the life giving, hope building, eternity offering Word of Life in the Gospel of Christ crucified and risen.  Will we be that CHURCH?  That is the question that should haunt us day in and day out.

1 comment:

Joseph Bragg said...

EXCELLENT! A voice crying in the wilderness.