In the silence surrounding his death, Jesus became the best possible companion for those whose prayers are not answered, who would give anything just to hear God call them by name. Him too. He wanted that too, and he did not get it. — Barbara Brown Taylor
More Gold from David Timms –
Reforming the Church
490 years ago (October 31, 1517) Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 Theses on the Power of Indulgences to the door — the local community bulletin board — of the Castle Church at Wittenberg, Germany. That document launched the Protestant Reformation and specifically railed against the Church’s practice of selling people forgiveness for their own sins and for the sins of the dead. To buy such forgiveness was to purchase an “indulgence.” It raised a lot of money!
Following Luther’s outcry, the Church has never been the same. Yet, it continues to require reformation.
Each generation inculturates the Church just a little bit more. “Civil religion” describes Christianity that eventually merges with culture; no longer a narrow way of Christ-following but a broad path to social acceptance. It happens imperceptibly, sometimes over generations, and renders the Church innocuous. Congregations take that small but lethal step from “becoming all things to all men that by all means we might win some ” (1 Corinthians 9:22) to simply “becoming all things to all men.”
Not every congregation needs the same kind of reformation.
The renowned Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago, Illinois — begun in 1975 and now attended by nearly 20,000 people — recently concluded that for many years they have failed to encourage the spiritual formation of their congregational members to the extent that at least 25% of attenders (as many as 5,000) would describe themselves as spiritually stagnant and perhaps ready to leave the church. The church needs reformation, and now has the vision to see it and the will to address it.
If I were to write my own 95 Theses, a few of them (in no particular order) would read this way:
Let the Church rediscover its commitment to broad issues of social justice (poverty, homelessness, education, health care) not just placarding against abortion and gay rights. Historically the Church has led the way with the schools, hospitals, shelters, and charity that have formed the foundation for Western civilization.
Let the Church return to its roots of making disciples not simply converts, understanding that a raised hand or a signed card is no achievement. Rather, we call people to transformed lives in a world hungry for an authentic option to its own plastic superficiality.
Let the Church be a city of refuge, a place of grace rather than legalism. While we genuinely and consistently urge each other to live lives of selflessness, purity, and godliness, we forgive unfailingly whenever people express contrition and repentance.
Let the Church constantly affirm its mission to work first with people not property, to build the Body before buildings, to focus constantly on ministry ahead of facilities. Too many congregations have become mired in debt and distracted by the development of acreage rather than hearts.
This Reformation week provides a great opportunity to look at the state of the Church today, but also the state of our own lives. While we re-cast a vision for the Church that honors Christ, let’s also be open to the Spirit of God casting light on areas of our own hearts that need reformation and transformation.
May our prayer be, “Lord, reform your Church … and start with me.”
In HOPE –
You can find back issues of “In HOPE” (2005-2007) at http://www.hiu.edu/inhope/.
David Timms serves in the Graduate Ministry Department at Hope International University in Fullerton, California. “In HOPE”, however, is not an official publication of the University and the views expressed are not necessarily those of the Administrators or Board. “In HOPE” has been a regular e-publication since January, 2001.