Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Becoming an "All-Letter" Christian

I used to be a Democrat. In the same way that I wrestled with feminism after coming to faith, I wrestled with my political affiliations. Not because I wasn’t pro-life, or even pro-marriage. And not even because I was overly political. Those were never issues for me. I just hated to see people hurting and in poverty, especially children, and I wanted so badly to do something about it. So, I thought the best way to fix the poverty problem was to vote people into office who would fight poverty and join forces with humanitarian organizations.

For myself, my moderate, socialist leanings were stemming from a genuine desire to see needs met, but these honest desires were the result of a deficient ecclesiology on my part. While I paid lip-service to the truth that churches were supposed to help the poor, I was easily swayed by the mainstream ideology that the average conservative religious person cares very little about the poor, and for that reason I wanted no part. I honestly believed that the primary way to bring about kingdom change was through political agendas and the welfare state.

And then I moved to the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis.

Phillips is where supposedly over 200 languages are spoken, and on my street our house was the minority. It was not uncommon to see a drug deal take place within feet of our front door. It was not uncommon to hear gun shots at night. It was not uncommon to see a fight right outside our window and then wait for the police to show up. One night we even came home from Chipotle to find a charred and smoking car across the street. It had been set on fire.

But we didn’t live their simply because we felt like it. We lived there because our church, based in the city, was committed to being a Light to the community where we worshipped on Sunday morning. Now, more than ever I realize that if we are ever going to see poverty dealt with it will not be through elected officials, or even secular humanitarian groups. It must come from the local church living in communities and teaching the Gospel to their neighbors. And living in a community does not simply mean handing out Gospel tracts and door-to-door evangelism without ever inviting the single mother and her children over for dinner. If we are ever to see lasting change in the city, and in the world for that matter, we must live life with the people we desire God to save. We must know their names. We must bear their burdens. And above all we must preach the Gospel to them.

Christians should care about “social issues” primarily because, as Christians, our concern is not with fixing situations and symptoms, but rather the heart of the problem. I am not simply a “red-letter Christian,” but an all-letter Christian, recognizing that all of Scripture is inspired by God. Poverty is a symptom of the real problem—sin. We live in a sin cursed world that is crying out for redemption, and we can see that even in the face of the little boy playing across the street while his mother completes another drug deal. The Bible is telling us that the Kingdom is an already, but not yet. We are striving for a City that is to come, and if we exert all of our energy in a political agenda divorced from the Gospel and the local churches mandate to help the poor, we will be disappointed and confused in the end, and we really won’t be helping anyone.

We cannot attempt to put new wine into old wine skins because the Bible has shown us that it doesn’t work. We need new wineskins, new hearts, and a new creation, that has all been transformed by the saving power of our Christ.

C.S. Lewis said it best in Mere Christianity:

We must try by every medical, educational, economic, and political means in our power to produce a world where as many people as possible grow up ‘nice’; just as we must try to produce a world where all have plenty to eat. But we must not suppose that even if we succeeded in making everyone nice we should have saved their souls. A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking for further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world—and might even be more difficult to save.

For mere improvement is not redemption, though redemption always improves people even here and now and will, in the end, improve them to a degree we cannot yet imagine. God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man.

May our hearts desire be to labor for the “new kind of man” and not simply a reordered old one.


Anonymous said...

Wow. This is very good. Praise Christ!

debt said...

Amen and Amen, Courtney!!! What good is a redemption/salvation if we are not changed and transformed. God does not leave us in our pigsty, but works by His grace to make us more and more like Christ. I look forward to the day when this process is complete. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!!! Yes, praise Christ!!!!!