Sunday, April 3, 2011

And Why, Do You Presume, Do I Love The Church?

I find myself being a part of a society that finds it increasingly difficult to understand faith. Faith does strange things when translating itself into action, and all faith leads to action. Here is a brief philosophy that is part of a larger document I created once upon a time. It helps me clarify faith, and kept me focused on what I was doing at the time. I was and still am trying to "Let the Church Be the Church".

The Suffering Church
A philosophy of ministry by
George Brandon Hoyt
“Then the LORD said, "I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt
and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings
Exodus 3:7, English Standard Version1

People have been suffering since sin first was introduced into the world. God has seen the suffering of people, and at various times, has directly intervened in the lives of individuals and groups to alleviate that suffering. Consider Psalm 40:1-3
I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon rock, making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.
The writer of this psalm makes his cry to God, and expects an answer. Our God hears us in our suffering, and answers our pleas for His help. Jesus himself took part in that kind of ministry2. The Church is called to bear with others in their suffering. Even when we catch another in sin, we are called to bear the burden together. Nobody gets out for free3. As a Church we must understand what role we play in helping someone overcome a burden. There are several Biblical principles for understanding the role the church plays in overcoming suffering.

First we must understand what God is calling us to do as a "Church". We are Christians so that we can return to God. Our sin separates our lives from Him, and God cannot, as such tolerate our presence. We are like Isaiah4 and like him we need holy atonement, so we can rightly proclaim the message of God5. Christ said it like this: "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.6" Christ's death brings us life, in that our old lives were crucified with Christ7. This is good news because only Christ can reunite us with God8. This idea that Christ's death alone makes us righteous is at the very core of a theology of grace. Nevertheless, people feel obliged to do good works, saved or not. They should, because ultimately God has made us to do good works, especially if we are believers9. Jesus himself let what he did speak for him when John the Baptist sent some disciples to ask if he was the Christ10. Jesus didn't answer with a simple yes or no, but drew attention to what he was doing to show he is the Christ. As a Church, we must also show that Jesus is Christ by drawing attention to what Jesus
did. It’s not enough to only talk about what he did though, we must also show what Jesus
did. Jesus wants us to follow the golden rule11. We see how this rule is practically
applied in our lives by fast forwarding to the future, where Christ judges the people of the

The Great Throne
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.' "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?' Then he will answer them, saying, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." Matthew 25:31-46 (Emphasis added).
Whether we like it or not, if we want to share in the kingdom of God, we must take care of the needs of others. Jesus mandates that whatever we do for even the least of Christ’s brothers we do to Him. Sin has real consequences. Notice also who receives help, and where they are when they receive it. The hungry get food, even if they have squandered all their money on drugs. The thirsty get water, even if they are thirsty for beer. The strangers, no matter what our mothers have taught us, are welcomed. The sick people with AIDS are comforted, and drug dealers doing 25-life get regular visits, maybe even cookies! The odd part about this passage is not the service, plenty of people take care of others, the strange thing is that Jesus is every single one of them. Not in some literal sense, but he takes it personally because ultimately we treat others they way we would treat Him. This is the thrust of the golden rule. The Church that Jesus wants to see is a Church that suffers along side of the world because He suffered for it. It is a Church that meets needs because Christ has met our greatest need. The Church, the people, the physical universe needs forgiveness of sin, and relief from the consequences of it. It is important for the church to remember that when people see Christians doing good works for Christ’s sake, God gets the glory, and they will be won12.

1 Emphasis added. All quotes in this appendix are from the English Standard Version, unless otherwise
2 Matthew 4:24
3 Galatians 6:1-5
4 Isaiah 6:1-5
5 Isaiah 6:6-8
6 Luke 5:32
7 Romans 6:6, 7
8 John 14:6, 7, Acts 4:12
9 Ephesians 2:8-10
10 Luke 7:18-23
11 Matthew 7:12
12 Matthew 5:16


Chris Marsden said...

Since The Church is the bride of Christ and _we_ are The Church, it is our job to share His heart and love with the world. His heart is for the lost, but also for the hurt, the suffering, and the disenfranchised. As the bride, His love for us is now different (not less, just different). Our job as the church is not to love the church. It is not our job to love the bride. We are the bride. Our job is to live His love out in the world.

This is the my core frustration with the institutional church. Staff of the institution are charged with the job of primarily caring for the bride rather being representatives of the kingdom as the bride.

G. Brandon Hoyt said...

When I teach the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5, 6, 7) I begin at the end, with the story of the wise and foolish builders, because the crux of the whole three chapters is found in that parable. The sermon is a matter of hearing and doing, or hearing and not doing. Interestingly enough, as soon as Jesus tells us about getting ourselves right with God (the Beattitudes) he goes into instructions about leading others to knowledge of God through action (Matthew 5:13-16) Will we be salt and light? If not, our foundation is on sand, and we will be washed away.