Monday, June 22, 2009

An open letter to the American Church

I write to you with humility due to a keen awareness of how fickle and fallible my past opinions have been. Yet now that I've exceeded the half-way mark of my life expectancy, I can speak with limited experience gleaned through decades of feeble attempts to chase after Jesus. I write to you with hopeful expectation that this generation of 20 somethings is not the church of the future, but the guiding light of today. I write with sadness, shame, assurance and exaltation at the current state of the Bride of Jesus, the single source of salvation in this world.

To you I would say the church is God's Kingdom. The pale rituals of church services, the vituperative debates of theologians, and the scandalous failures of leaders mask the divine glory at our fingertips. Nevertheless, it is still there for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. Those submitted to the patronage of Jesus will understand the quest of the master for global domination, not through power and violence but through weakness and an unmitigated commitment to love and truth. Through the cross of Jesus we not only experience the cleansing of our sin, but the eradication of the "self" which so drives us to degradation, violence, and self-loathing. Through the cross we see the brokenness of the human condition without losing sight of the imago dei embedded in each of His children. I call you to remember that you are not a member of a church but a citizen in a kingdom, the very child of divine royalty. Remember that while your church owns property, the kingdom claims dominion. While the church multiplies rules, the kingdom enforces laws. Yes, we are political in the deepest sense of the word—we create a recognizable community with our own set of laws, citizens, and social structures. Perhaps our ineffectiveness as a church is because we have denied being political all the while playing by the political rules of a secular society.

To you I would say claim your national spiritual heritage. A brief glance at church history will convince you that the Holy Spirit is always on the make but never equilaterally. In other words, he does different things with different people in different places at different times. Our nation has some unique blessings that can only be explained through the gift of the sovereign God. Paramount, perhaps, is our economic abundance, unparalleled in the history of humanity. Subconsciously we feel we have somehow earned this. What a ridiculous notion! This has led us to believe that our wealth is reward for us to enjoy. Rather, our wealth is a responsibility and like all other spiritual gifts it is to be expended for the benefit of the body. If the Christians of our nation take seriously this overabundant gift and stop our godless accumulation we could put a real dent in global poverty and make Jesus famous in the far-flung places of our world. The Jesus I read about in the gospels came to preach good news to the poor. So too today: if the Gospel is not good news to the poor it is not the good news of Jesus Christ.

To you I would say learn of the Holy Spirit. From Abraham to Jesus, it was the age of the Father. From Jesus to the 20th century, it seemed to be the age of the son (at least the historical councils from Chalcedon on give him a lion's share of the attention). Now in the 21st century, it appears to be the age of the Spirit. He is speaking loudly and in more diverse ways than ever. He is not the personal possession of the clergy. He is breaking out everywhere in creative ministries and works of power through ordinary people. If you are not hearing him speak to you today it is not because he is silent (for he never is), it is because you are not listening. It may be that you have too much noise in your life to hear anyone whisper or it may be that you have never trained your spiritual ear to hear his voice. Either way, hearing the Holy Spirit is not merely the birthright of every believer, it is one of the most crucial aspects of discipleship. You will never implement the potential of your created purpose until you learn to be led by the Spirit of God.

Finally, I would suggest that the church must eradicate biblical illiteracy. Our own ignorance is killing us. When Paul described the spiritual armament of the Christian, the only offensive weapon he depicted was the sword of the word of God. This was what Jesus used himself in the onslaught of the Evil one in the desert. If you do not know the Scriptures, you are severely limiting the ability of the Holy Spirit to teach you, train you, prompt you, or convict you. The Bible is not optional for the Christian; it is the heart of God inscribed on parchment where we can get at it. I know of no Christian leader I have any respect for that does not have an admirable grasp of the counsel of God in the Bible. You twenty-somethings all have opinions about how the church should be run and what we who have gone before you have done so terribly wrong. So now back up your smack with wisdom from God's word. Until you have something to say that comes from the mouth of God, perhaps you should keep yours shut. I say this without an ounce of anger or bitterness; rather I say it with sadness. I desperately want to hear what you have to say—I need what you have to say—but I haven't the time, energy, or patience for another uninformed outburst that lacks God's authority.

Well, thank you for your patience at these ramblings that bordered on ranting. I can tell you that if I had one last letter to write with the modicum of wisdom forged through decades, this would be it.

9 Comments:

Blogger Dave said...

A hearty "Amen" from a fellow middle-aged follower of Jesus.

The balance of God's Word MUST be included here, for revolutionaries with no compass will be leading dead men in circles in the wilderness.

Thanks, Mark.

June 22, 2009 5:22 PM  
Blogger Karl said...

As one of those 20 somethings, thank you for your exhortation.

June 23, 2009 12:44 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Well said Mark, I have been looked at as a bit of a reptile once or twice for being so calloused as to share those thoughts on christian illiteracy. I too do not mean them in anger but in hope, hope to see a better versed young believer.
If some younger folks want a good challenge, make it your goal to share nothing in a scriptural conversation with believers or non-believers that comes from you as a person. As people, when we begin to come up with our own explanations we have arrived at the door of really screwing someone up ;-)

June 23, 2009 2:54 PM  
Blogger Caleb Kaltenbach said...

Mark,

Thank you for your words and wisdom. Even though you may be at your half way place in your life, you still move and act like a 20 something... minus the grey hair..... and wrinkles....... and slobbler.....oh, nevermind

June 23, 2009 8:29 PM  
Blogger OzarkMom said...

Mark,

My 20-something son sent me to your blog - EXCELLENT! I'll be sharing it around, too.

June 24, 2009 10:45 AM  
Blogger gjohnston said...

This post has been removed by the author.

June 24, 2009 12:39 PM  
Blogger gjohnston said...

"Either way, hearing the Holy Spirit is not merely the birthright of every believer, it is one of the most crucial aspects of discipleship. You will never implement the potential of your created purpose until you learn to be led by the Spirit of God."

I concur with the others on the subject of Bible literacy, and likewise on our spiritual heritage. But I'd like to see this thought fleshed out and unpacked a bit. Exegetes (including Fee and Wright) go on and on about the importance of the Spirit, but never really get to the nuts and bolts of how an ordinary believer "taps into" or connects with the power and guidance of the Spirit. That exegetical task is left to us. The problem is, Paul himself never really connects the dots. I agree that it is crucial. According to Paul, it's the difference between life and death. But bottom line, what does it mean to "walk according to the Spirit," or "be filled with the Spirit," or "by the Spirit put to death the deeds of the flesh"? I've reached my own conclusions, but would like a second opinion.

June 24, 2009 12:43 PM  
Blogger school_of_tyrannus said...

So good to hear.
So thankful to be a part of the Invisible Kingdom.
-Ellie

July 29, 2009 9:56 PM  
Blogger Priscilla said...

So much emphasis is placed by the church on guiding teenagers that they forget the 20-something's. I am one of the 20-something, thank you for being candid. Kindly address us more.

September 2, 2009 3:32 AM  

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