Friday, February 17, 2023

Signs of progress. . .

Of all the things we struggle with most of all, the Christian longs to see some sign of progress.  Part of that is the progress we yearn to see in us as individuals, a growth in holiness we expected.  Part of that is the progress we would see in the Church, a growth in numbers and influence.  Of course, part of that is also progress in building a better world and a better life -- something we share in common with the secular culture and its own desire to see the world improve.  But none of those are things we see.  There are no signs of progress but the conflict between our hopes and dreams and state of things inside us and around us.  So grows the despair and doubts of a people who thought they would see something with their eyes of the promise they hold onto by faith.

Our growth in holiness and righteous as a Christian is not something we are meant to see in ourselves.  We might be able to see it in others but not in the mirror.  Though we hope that such progress takes place, and it is by the Spirit's promise and power, that progress would be our undoing if we saw it with our own eyes.  It is ever so easy to turn away from the merits of Christ and the mediation of His own blood for our cleansing and to believe in the false promise of our own self-sustaining righteousness.  Could it be that for our own good God deprives us of any visible evidence of our improvement so that we depend solely upon the merits of Christ and nothing of our own?

The progress of the Church has always been illusive.  When Christian structures mirrored more the shape of the imperial model instead of the home and family, there was a trade off.  The goals changed and became more of a conquering force than an evangelical witness and suddenly Christ was a general and his disciples soldiers. Then statistics became the gauge of success and faithfulness gave way to expediency.  This was surely the disappointment of Luther, along with the corruption.  For ten years into Luther's adulthood 'The Warrior Pope' was one of the most powerful rulers of his age.  It would take until almost World War II before the trappings of earthly power were surrendered and even then the dream of influence and power remains.  The mega church is the Protestant version of the worship of progress and its metric of attendance and income.

Of all the images of progress that we yearn to see, the most difficult is a better world and a better life.  It is the instinctive goal of any parent for their children -- a present sacrifice for a future blessing.  Though the Scriptures are replete with warnings of the deterioration and decay that is to come, even Christians are loathe to admit that this is the shape of the future.  What was chosen in Eden was the undoing of any plan or vision of improvement and instead brought upon all of God's creation the hope of decline to which God must offer a real promise and a real hope.  Nearly every modern government aspires to repair what lies broken in the world.  From capitalism to communism the cause of improvement has been the promise of an economic system and political structure, offering up a substitute to the religious hope that delivers an eternal future to a people who would have been content for an improved present.  The love of neighbor is often misunderstood as an attempt to make things better when it is not about improving the world but simply showing to those around us what God has shown to us -- love, compassion, and mercy.  

The Christian has the promise and lives by faith and not by sight.  But with that promise and faith the ever present question that haunts us is if it is enough. 

1 comment:

Janis Williams said...

Perhaps as the times grow worse, it will teach us to look where true progress takes us; to the presence of Jesus Christ.