E-pistle August 1

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

I want to think a little bit about what you and I see when we look into the mirror, but first, a little background:

I have been listening to various responses to the decisions and actions of the recent General Assembly of the PCUSA.  It is disheartening to find that organizations that I have trusted most to provide fair and faithful perspectives on the things of the denomination are so discouraged.  The Outreach Foundation, for instance, one of the most respected independent mission agencies in our denominational life, concludes that this last assembly "erred in dramatic ways."

In a lengthy response to the GA, which I believe is worth the time it takes to read, Presbyterians For Renewal note that in response to several "flash point" issues, the GA seems to have done little more than follow the trends and ways of our ever-shifting culture. But in critiquing the General Assembly, they know that they must be judged by the same standard and add,  

Mainline evangelicals may have been unfaithful on different "issues" than those who have explicitly embraced a pattern of cultural accommodation, but we have been unfaithful nonetheless. Matters of wealth, justice, power, and care for the creation, to name but a few, are matters on which many of us in the broadly evangelical movement have allowed ourselves to be made captive to the culture rather than to Christ. These are not the central points of the "culture war" and so they have not become central points of contention in the mainline denominations. Both "liberals" and "conservatives" in the PC(USA) and other denominations have made serious accommodations to these aspects of western culture.

For those of us who desire to take seriously our commitment to the One who declares us to be in the world but reminds us that we are not of the world, no indictment is more serious that the indictment that charges us with complacency and accommodation with and to the ways of the world.

Now back to my mirror.  The Apostle Paul wrote "Now we see in a mirror dimly." And is point is well taken.  Someday we will know fully, even as in Christ we are fully known.  But the figure itself reminds us of a time when mirrors were, at best, polished metal and always reflected a distorted image back to the viewer.  We've learned to make really good mirrors, mirrors that can reflect the light of stars a hundred galaxies away so well that astronomers can measure the exact gases being burned by those stars.  And we have really good mirrors that hang on our bedroom and bathroom doors, mirrors that, unfortunately, always tell the truth, even when the truth is that we are not the fairest of them all. 

When American Christians stand before the mirror we too often see the same 15 pounds of gained weight that every average American has gained in the last two decades.  We see people who used to know how to adjust the rabbit ear antennas on our television sets and complain about $15 phone bills now paying twenty times as much for cable, Internet, cell and, if we still have it, old-fashioned phone service. We consume more time feeding our stomachs with fast food than our souls with the Word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.  We spend more on a week of vacation than we give to the year-round work of the church.  We are shocked by a 50% divorce rate, but have not found a way to address the fact that the rate is virtually the same for Christians as for non-Christians.  We see in our faces the same anxiety about the economy and whether our kids will make the team as we see in the faces of those who do not confess the sovereign love of the Living God (He is, after all the God who tells us,"Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.").

There's another thing we American Christians often see in the mirror, and that is our love of feeling guilty, as if that will do the world some good. 

But like some middle-aged American, let's say a pastor, who looks in the mirror and says, "I need to do something about those 15 pounds," we Christians are called to do something about our cultural accommodation, our increasing comfort with being in the world and growing discomfort with not being of the the world.  We are called to follow Jesus.  You may have read my current Cross Purposes column in which I describe the shape of the coming year's worship and Bible Study program that will be molded around three movements in Sharing the Life of Jesus – "Knowing the Life of Jesus," "Living the Life of Jesus" and "Giving the Life of Jesus."  I'm hoping that this adventure together will help us shed some spiritual flab and draw us closer to the One who knows us fully.

The PFR article concludes its discussion of cultural accommodation by saying, The distinctive mark of a Christian church is not that we should be a community found perfect in this life, but that we should be found in continual repentance of our sin and calling upon God for forgiveness and transformation, that we might embody the Gospel for the sake of the world.  It's a image to live both out of and into. 

By the way, Becky and I just passed the six-months-at-LPC mark and we continue to give thanks to God for his call and for each one of you.  I can't imagine a group of people I'd rather be with as we grow together in this adventure of being conformed, not to the image in the bathroom mirror, but the very image of the beloved Son.