We’re continuing our study of Michael J. Gorman’s Inhabiting the Cruciform God. We are now well-beyond the book, but continuing to explore its implications.
I would like to offer two suggestions and to dismiss a third —
First, when I was much younger, some argued that the church isn’t suffering as the Bible says we should and so, therefore, we must be more audacious in our evangelism. We should be shouting Jesus from the rooftops! Of course, suffering for being annoying isn’t really the idea.
Second, Ray Vander Laan, in one of his videos, argued powerfully that our mistake is to ignore the plural. “We” share in his sufferings. “Our” sufferings. He reminds us of —
(1 Cor 12:26) If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
In 1 Cor 12, Paul is describing the “body” of Christ — the church. When any of our people anywhere in the world suffers, we are supposed to suffer. But this isn’t imputed suffering. It’s not that I get credit for someone else’s suffering. Rather, because I’m a co-crucified person, when a brother or sister suffers, I feel their pain. It hurts me, too.
Of course, we’re just terrible at this. We live in an age when more people die for Jesus in a year than died for Jesus in the First Century. We have brothers and sisters all over the world being brutalized for the cause of Christ, and we turn our heads.
I’ve seen all good people turn their heads each day. “So satisfied I’m on my way.” …
Don’t surround yourself with yourself.
Third, imagine a congregation that is so concerned with the mission of Christ that they pray for their persecuted brothers and sisters at every gathering; that holds up those who die and are maimed for the sake of Jesus as heroes to be emulated; that teaches its teens that missions isn’t so much about painting houses as putting your lives on the altar of Christ. How would the church change in a generation?
We don’t suffer with our persecuted brothers and sisters because we don’t want to feel their pain — and we sure don’t want our kids to get the crazy idea that they should leave the safety of our shores and suffer for the Christ. That would be, you see, more than we could suffer.
Indeed, we are far more likely to encourage our kids to join the military and risk life and limb for our country than to join the mission of Jesus and risk life and limb for our real country. Seriously. Count the number of kids in your congregation who’ve been to Iraq or Afghanistan in uniform and compare to the number of kids who’ve been to equally dangerous places because they were clothed with Christ.
I’m not a pacifist (with covered this already, and I’m not looking to re-start the conversation). I just wonder why it is that we consider military service honorable, despite the obvious risks, and yet fear to let our kids join the Lord’s army. Surely, it’s a better choice.
We don’t suffer because we’re too comfortable and content to leave the safety of our homes and go where the gospel is spreading the fastest — places where there’s real suffering.
You see, in most congregations, we’ve so sanitized, homogenized, and pasteurized Christianity that suffering is a foreign concept. It’s about fixing the world so we — the church — don’t have to suffer and we can enjoy high property values. And so we feel no comraderie with our suffering brothers and sisters and we certainly don’t rejoice over suffering.
(1 Pet 2:20-21) But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
Peter explains one way that sufferings produce hope —
(1 Pet 5:8-10) Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
It’s easier to resist temptation when you are aware of and sympathize with those suffering for Christ around the world. It helps us be less self-centered. It helps us see the mission as important when we know the price others are paying for it. It pushes us to rely on our hope — not our present comfort — and so push temptation away.
Now, I need to share a story from Stanley Hauerwas, found in his brilliant book, written with William H. Willimon, Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony (required reading). Hauerwas is a pacifist and a Methodist, and I am neither, but he makes a very important point —
Sometime ago, when the United States bombed military and civilian targets in Libya, a debate raged concerning the morality of that act. One of us witnessed an informal gathering of students who argued the morality of the bombing of Libya. Some thought it was immoral, others thought it was moral. At one point in the argument, one of the students turned and said, “Well, preacher, what do you think?
I said that, as a Christian, I could never support bombing, particularly bombing civilians, as an ethical act.
“That’s just what we expected you to say,” said another. “That’s typical of you Christians. Always on the high moral ground, aren’t you? You get so upset when a terrorist guns down a little girl in an airport, but when President Reagan tries to set things right, you get indignant when a few Libyans get hurt.”
The assumption seems to be that there are only two political options: Either conservative support of the administration, or liberal condemnation of the administration followed by efforts to let the U.N. handle it.
“You know, you have a point,” I said. “What would be a Christian response to this?” Then I answered, right off the top of my head, “A Christian response might be that tomorrow morning The United Methodist Church announces that it is sending a thousand missionaries to Libya. We have discovered that it is fertile field for the gospel. We know how to send missionaries. Here is at least a traditional Christian response.
Which of our Bible class teachers or preachers or elders would have answered the question in those terms? Who would have suggested — at a time when Libya was militantly anti-American — that the church’s way to deal with Libya’s bombing of a civilian plane in Lockerbie, Scotland, would be to send 1,000 missionaries? Would the suggestion have even come up in class?
Some would have argued for economic sanctions or harshly worded diplomatic communications or even more bombs. None would have said, “I’ll fix this. I’m going to Arabic school so I can bring Jesus to Libya!” And that should tell us all that we think very much like the world.
Indeed, Hauerwas goes on to make the point that there was a time in the history of the church that we routinely sent thousands of missionaries into pagan, anti-Christian territory, often to see most of them killed. But over the centuries, entire continents that were once pagan became Christian.
And yet the last time I got on Amazon.com to look for a book on the lives of great missionaries, I couldn’t find one. Not one.
But that was about 10 years ago. I just checked, and things have changed. There are actually several books available now. Most are for children. Have our children’s curriculums changed? Do we hold up great missionaries as heroes to our children?
Can you think of a better way than Hauerwas’s suggestion to teach the world about a God who was willing to die for people who hate him?