Irrelevent Social Club?

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"If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century."


These are the words of a man who loved the local church. These are the words of a man who realized that the job of the local church as not be a thermometer but rather a thermostat for society and justice. That man is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today, well, yesterday--as I type this--was Easter. A great day when we celebrated the resurrection of our savior. It was the day that millions of folks around the world gathered within churches to sing the songs of the redeemed. It was a fine hour of the church.

However, forty-two years ago, yesterday, Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. He was assassinated by those who wanted to silence his voice for freedom. He was assassinated by those who wanted to perpetuate war. He was assassinated because he heralded, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." He was assassinated because he refused to allow the local church which he loved to "be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century."

My Lord, I pray that I will continue to serve a church and walk alongside a people who, too, refuse to allow the local church to become irrelevant.

Let us stand with the opposed, oppressed and outcasts!


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5 comments :

Concordia said...

This position is well stated, but seems to inaccurately contain a verbal equating of Activist with Extremist. Due to the inexact nature of a specific word to convey meaning, it can be understood why these words may be considered similar. In casual conversation perhaps such can be effectively used as synonyms.

With the exception of the final example regarding the “extremists” that Jesus was crucified with, many of the examples given above are fine pictures of people who are fully passionate and driven with perhaps a God-energized and God-directed zeal.

A God-directed and empowered zeal and a cause-directed activist zeal seem to me very different. A God-directed zeal is inspiring and points people to a deeper understanding of the greatness, love, compassion, and true justice that God offers. It calls people to see beyond their culture, their understanding, their presuppositions. It brings them into an encounter with the impending kingdom of God in a way that they never anticipated or recognized. One who is energized by a God-directed zeal isn’t easily discouraged, doesn’t make political compromises to achieve a modified end result, and is characterized by long endurance toward the stated goal.

In contrast, a cause-directed zeal appears for awhile to be similar. A person or group of people may rally around a cause that includes possibly an injustice or an unfair situation. However, within their hype and deep personal commitment there is an element that is hollow. There is a component missing that fails to ignite others, and lacks perpetuity. This is demonstrated by the lack of examples listed above. I see no hints or recognition of a great deed regarding people like the activists who have sat in a large oak trees for years to prevent it from being cut down.

Can human activists realize success? For sure. See what God said about the people at the Tower of Babel. And maybe it is good that old growth oak trees are not brashly chopped down for a strip mall. But to be honest with ourselves, there isn’t really a depth in such activist activities that causes my soul to soar.

Why? Perhaps because a cause-directed zeal is at it’s core a human effort to bring in some level of human utopia. As theologians might describe it, such efforts are humanistic in the sense that a person or group decides that they will be the torch-holder to make a specific human condition different. After all their concentrated work and efforts and sacrifice, unfortunately humanistic efforts are like hay on a pile of red coals. When the spiritual component behind any extreme zeal is lacking, the activity is hollow. When the spiritually driven component exists, the movement can be compared to fine gold that a fire cannot destroy.

The difference between extremism and activist then in my observation is the difference between human-carried zeal, and God-given and empowered passion. More regarding empowered passion to follow.

Concordia said...

I consider the question whether a Pastor should engage in an activist activity. First, maybe the position of a pastor is too highly elevated, as if they are supposed to be the spokesman for a justice cause. Strikingly, few examples mentioned were “pastors” in the current understanding of the role. So I will rather speak toward the entire priesthood of believers. It would be difficult or impossible to support the position that a committed believer in Jesus would be able to ignore or walk away from a God-given passion. Further, when a person is supernaturally empowered to do something they are emboldened with a strong desire to do it and to see success! Some would term a God-given passion as the “calling” in their life. We all admire people who are living a passionate live according to their "calling".

There is an expectation that people must invest whole-heartedly toward bringing in the justice of God, His love, authority, righteousness in all areas of their life as they bring light into this world. Sometimes they will be leaders, sometimes they will be the drops of water that create a wave. Revelation chapters 2 and 3 show examples where churches failed to complete the work in front of them, and Jesus specifically encouraged them to engage.

However, the church throughout history demonstrates a human tendency to involve ourselves in human-carried zeal efforts that suck up our time, resources, and energy. I would charge that most of our “activist” activity is such.

Concordia said...

Continued from above...

I don’t understand our human fascination with temporary activist efforts, as I find myself involved in such as well. Maybe like a hamster on a wheel, we are moving so fast that we can’t believe such activity would be a waste of time. We create rationalizations for our involvement and summon creative justifications for where our time, talents, and treasures are invested.

These things give us the appearance of bringing the kingdom of God in, but really if we admit it are exhausting exercises that are burdensome and very human driven.

We sometimes forget that it is not about us or our human activities or causes we care about. The kingdom of God doesn’t come in with persuasive words or political speeches as far as I see throughout the Bible.

It is fully about a supernatural intervention of God. “Not by might or by power but by my Spirit” says the Lord,

and in Ephesians “..that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.”

You see it is not our human desires for utopian justice and fairness in this world that are the objective or that should drive us. Those are the forces that drive an activist.

A true extremist is called, committed, and demonstratedly empowered to display God’s claims to fame.

When someone is extreme in their passion for a given subject, there are certain signals that we can listen for to see if they are an Activist or Christian Extremist. Is there a God-directed cause that clearly is precedent over a particular political party or country leader? Is there a condemnation in their voice that strangely mimmicks wordly viewpoints? Is there something that touches a depth of your soul, even if you disagree.

At this stage I believe activism sneaks in. We disagree about a political position based on our life situation or knowledge. Then we incur our human efforts to justify it and establish our viewpoint. We state our positions, argue about political compromises, disagree about solutions, and possibly some people become radical enough to develop a small following regarding the issue.

It seems to me that a God-directed zeal would rather evaluate the core value that needs to enter the discussion and determine how God would empower us to engage. There is no need for heated debates. We forget that opposing activists create a hostile battleground in the very neighborhood they both claim to want to help. I wonder if their deeper unrealized goal is actually to win the battle or gain political influence.

For example, If God is stirring up the church to begin to engage specifically with mercy then we cannot engage the people whom we are trying to help in diametrically opposite activities. If we truly care about mercy for our citizens as a whole, how would God have us to do it? He won't have contradicting advice.

I have stopped tracking news stories closely because it strikes me as being activist-driven. But in terms of current events, I very much will track what God is saying to the church today. Frankly I realize I have not decisively sought God's counsel in the healthcare issue and how that relates to the application of mercy. Despite my negligence, I am surprised to find however that I have lots of political opinions.

When we focus too much on debate & politics and too little on gaining God’s zeal and empowering spirit in our thoughts and actions, we turn from empowered extremists to annoying activists.

Concordia said...

follow from above..
I reread Ray's writings, and now see that he stated "I am an Activist" The statement in the previous post was not to call Ray an annoying activist. Rather the intent is to present a 3rd person question so that we each recognize where we are.

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