Monday, December 19, 2011

There Can be no Steppe Wolves in the Church

Our pastor’s sermon this week concerned the importance of body life: there can be no permanent steppe wolves in Christianity. I would perhaps state it more precisely that to be a Christian by definition means to be a kingdom dweller—a member of the covenant family of God. And the kingdom of God is a unified community of unique individuals bearing the image of God, without losing the distinction of each individual. Therefore, not only do we need each other to successfully live under the kingship of Christ—my pastor’s thesis—it’s ridiculous to conceive Christianity any other way.

The problem is we do tend to see Christianity as something less than a kingdom. My pastor confessed of how it breaks his heart to learn of people who have left our church because they could never fit in. Sometimes this is the fault of the person in question because of his unrealistic expectations. But to my pastor’s point, the lion-share of those disconnections is more likely due to a form of elitism that has built up within the congregation. Many people cannot fit in because they remain marginalized. This contradicts the very foundation of Christianity, for it is contrary to God’s purpose in creation; God created us to be a kingdom in which He dwells with us. And this holy kingdom is necessarily united in love.

In my book I spoke at length on what this love must look like. I pointed out, as did C.S. Lewis before me, we can easily supplant this essential and complete love with one of its subsidiary loves, and come to believe that what we end up practicing is the love God expresses. What my pastor grieves can be traced to this kind of misappropriation of love.

A very real and spiritual natural love is friendship, what we share with one or more persons in purpose. This love begins not just in common tasks but common visions and perceptions of the meanings behind those tasks. A deep and close camaraderie results in this love of friendship. It’s a beautiful thing until it turns bad by becoming exclusionary.

This is what can easily happen. We align ourselves with our friends because they see things the way we do, they support us when we need support, they stand with us when we’ve been wronged, and rejoice with us when we are right. They are like mobile fortresses. So when we join them in church or other places, we often give only half-hearted consideration of others who might approach our circle from the outside, instead of stopping and giving them our full attention.

Full attention to others means a lot of things; let me offer three that come to mind.

First, incorporating the person into the conversation, and allowing it to evolve in any direction, even if not specifically of one’s high-interest areas—those defining your intimate friendships—or the original topic. Take advantage of the situation to learn more about the person by truly caring about them and what they have to say. Do this by listening to their perspectives with an open heart and mind. Seek out to know and understand their interests, and then genuinely celebrate them. Perhaps the person will never be a bosom buddy, but they are and always will be your brother or sister in Christ. And that is the only circle that matters.

Second, don’t pick and choose whom you will associate, even if only casually on Sunday mornings, in terms of what you think you might gain through the association. Such prejudice is frankly an abomination to God. Poor or rich, educated or not, healthy or sickly, each of us are kingdom members, which means we were each created for a given purpose and meaning in the kingdom, and therefore vital and equally valued and loved.

Finally, forgive each other. Forgive out of the supreme humility of knowing God has forgiven you. Be merciful to each other with the sacrifice of mercy that necessarily forgets, retains no hidden debts or agendas, and seeks not its own justice.

Remember, if we are true Christ followers, we are dwellers in the kingdom of God that stands today, not some far off heavenly place where all our troubles and responsibilities will be behind us, and where we will play harps and eat grapes. The kingdom has come, and Christ is our king if we call ourselves Christians. It is and shall forever be a place of peace and contentment because God dwells with us and we are completely who He has named us to be, even if for a time the kingdom co-exists with a very fallen and dark world. Rightly so: this is why Christ came in the middle of history, that His kingdom might be a beacon of light shining in the darkness leading the way of as many who are willing to follow it back in to fellowship with their Creator.

Therefore if God’s purpose has always been an expanding holy community of beings bearing His image bound together with Him in love, then clearly there can be no steppe wolves, nor, for that matter, wolf packs in His kingdom. God’s love is giving and receiving, and receiving to give again. And God’s love does not want to be contained.