The issue for Jesus was both individual sinfulness as well as the people’s allegiance to a cultural dynamic of power, corruption, and piety. Especially serious was his charge that the religious leaders rather than calling the people to repentance were undergirding this way of life with religious rituals which abstracted the love of God. The Pharisees identified godliness with keeping themselves clean from the world around them. Jesus profoundly disagreed with this. The issue between Jesus and them was a hermeneutical one: how to interpret what God was doing. When Jesus said to them: ‘Woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God!’ (Luke 11:42a), he was not criticising their religion, he was criticising its abstraction. To be God’s people required incarnate compassion. You simply cannot be God’s and lack love for justice. Compassion is of the essence of God – witness the Prodigal Son story – hence if you are centred in God it defines your essence as well – witness the Good Samaritan story. Prophetic faithfulness, as Jesus interprets it, demands the unity of piety and politics. Continue reading Jesus and the church’s call to embodied holiness
Conservatives, including many evangelicals, tend to think of the church as a group of like-minded individuals gathered to re-enforce their individual piety (spirituality). Liberals…have, on the basis of maximising individual freedom, managed to associate religion so tightly with feelings that they have effectively reduced the church to an ethical society in which people are encouraged to make each other, and even those outside their walls, feel good. – Echoes of the Word, 230
Traditionally Protestant Christians have understood themselves as a priesthood of believers. We need to be careful how we understand this notion. It does not mean that we are priests unto ourselves and therefore do not need each other; or that therefore our pastor cannot be our authority. This is a modern perversion, emanating from the quest for autonomous self-understanding characteristic of our age. Rather it means that we are all priests in relation to each other we are all called to sacrifice ourselves for each other. This does not release us from or boundedness to God and each other; it binds us to both in our quest to learn what it means to be God’s children. – Echoes of the Word, 238
The same central point is made: the justice of the biblical prophetic imagination is grounded in compassion. And nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the story of the cross and resurrection. The cross is the very embrace of the dialectical tension between justice and compassion.
Compassion is a radical critique of the imperial imagination because it announces that the hurt of the people, even of one’s enemies, will not be disregarded but will be taken seriously. To do otherwise is to make pain normative, injustice permissible, and evil god. Empires live in callous disregard to the human pain which they require to sustain themselves. God and God’s people live in compassionate empathy with the broken ones. God and God’s people offer hope to the hopeless. Continue reading Compassion and presence: the church’s calling
This excerpt is the first few paragraphs from the essay “On Being Stuck with Our Parents: Learning to Die in Christ.”
The title’s suggestion that we are stuck with our parents may offend some readers. We do not like to think of ourselves as being stuck with each other, not even those we love. Why? Perhaps because our culture teaches us that the only things worth having are those we freely choose; we are taught to believe that our will and our freedom are basic to our being. But our parents and our children are precisely the people we do not first of all choose. Continue reading “On Being Stuck with Our Parents”
We need to remind ourselves that what we as Christians may legitimately hope for is not first of all a transformed super-human existence, but a way of living with our flawed existence. That is why being a disciple is not only living in the resurrection; it is first of all taking up the cross. – Echoes of the Word, 154 Continue reading The cross and Christian hope for peace and justice
Eariler I suggested that we today are ill at ease with church discipline. I now want to claim that this is as it should be. However, we ought to make sure that our discomfort is for the right reasons. It is not sufficient to object to church discipline on the grounds that we do not like others telling us what to do and think. Being told how to live is something Christians should be used to – after all, we are precisely the kind of people who are trying to think and do what another (Jesus) has already thought and done. And herein lies what ought to be the real source of our discomfort with church discipline: Jesus. I suspect that if Jesus were living his radical life in our churches today he may well be excommunicated. At least he would be asked to tone it down, We may well send two or three people to talk to him about his extremism. ‘Sell what you have and give it to the poor.’ ‘Love your enemy.’ ‘Be servants of one another.’ ‘You hypocrites,’ said to religious leaders. Our response would be, ‘Come on, Jesus, give us a break! You are far too critical. Lighten up and be positive. This is no way to foster church growth.’ Continue reading On Church Discipline
The Christian call to be transformed by the renewal of minds is a call to re-narrate all aspects of human existence from the standpoint of Christian sense-making. Our challenge is to answer the question, ‘What does it mean for us to understand the world from the standpoint of God actively redeeming humanity through Christ?’ When we state it this way, the issue is not whether this act or that act is permitted for Christians, as if God, the divine taskmaster, cannot tolerate the bungling and compromising efforts of human finitude. (I suspect God is accustomed to this.) That is, the issue is not whether we can participate with government troops in the liberation of a starving people, or even whether we can always be puritanically nonviolent as we work in complex war-torn parts of the world or in business in our home town. There is no question that the space which the church occupies in this world is ‘complex space.’ Nor is it a matter of living in such an extremely bureaucratised world that responsibility rather than faithfulness is a more adequate paradigm of moral self-understanding. Instead the issue is how we can challenge the sense-making of life apart from God in Jesus Christ. The issue is how we can ‘sign’ that ‘the Lamb that was slain’ is the victor through whom all of history has received its intelligibility. The issue is one of re-reading, re-perceiving the world. The basic practical question for us is, ‘What are the opportunities to say that it is the bombs and the tanks that are out of step with what really drives the affairs of this world?’ The move beyond secular reason is not a move that ignores non-theological sense-making; it is rather on that refuses to regard such sense-making as either normative or adequate unless it can be translated into theological sense-making. It is a move that points out the entrapments, the oppression, the seductions, the temptations to which we are all subject. And since ‘all’ includes those who confess Christ as lord, the first moral act for us is an act of confession and repentance. In other words, the first act of sense-making (reason) is an act of faithfulness (ethics). – Echoes of the Word, 98-99
When we confess our redemption through Jesus Christ we commit ourselves to a concrete social embodiment of the gospel. Nonconformity is therefore the hallmark of the Christian faith – although nonconformity must be carefully distinguished from non-participation. Nonconformity implies difference but not distance; exclusion yet embrace. I emphasise this matter because I se a discrepancy between what we confess and how we live. For example, we confess belief in non-resistance – although I think ‘peace-making’ would be a better word (Mennonite Brethren Confession, Article 13). Yet a growing number of Mennonites do not believe in peacemaking (let alone non-resistance) in any way that is different from other contemporary enlightened North Americans, who manage to make this conviction consistent with going to war when their nation calls them to do so. Unless our statements of faith help us with what it means practically to be peacemakers as Jesus’ disciples, this cannot be a credible confession.
We confess that our allegiance is to Christ’s kingdom and not to the state (Article 12), but it is primarily our state and not the church that is taking care of our medical needs, our education needs, and our security needs. Again, unless we can answer concretely what we mean when we say our security is not with the state, when in fact it is, we are not confessing properly. Continue reading The problem of knowing what to do with our confessions