Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Churches: Activist, Conversionist, Prophetic

In his book, Disruptive Grace: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth, pp. 89-113), George Hunsinger, professor of theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, included a 1987 essays entitled, “Where the Battle Rages: Confessing Christ in America Today.” In that essay, he speaks of churches activist and conversionist. For the sake of greater clarity of purpose, we will compare these alternatives with our prophetic mission groups.
Today Jesus is calling Christians here and there to serve him together as prophetic mission groups of two to twelve members. Our purpose, as a group, is to be what George refers to as a “confessing church.” Basically, that means ministering with one another in ways that allow us to live as prophetic witnesses to Jesus Christ both personally and as a group. Our mission as a group is to send members, two by two, to participate in local churches to invite them to live as faithful witnesses to Jesus Christ as well.
Our prophetic mission groups will not be like activist churches. The goal of activist churches is societal change: political, social, economic, or cultural. They remain Christian Olympians because they regard Jesus as a means to an end. If Jesus fails to deliver the desired change, they freely abandon him in detail or in general.
In our day activism grows increasingly political in two opposing ways. Some activist churches define faithfulness to Jesus as vigorously promoting restorative political causes. They want to return society to some imagined lost golden age of moral purity. They support political candidates who promise to do this.
Other activist churches define faithfulness to Jesus as vigorously promoting progressive political causes. They struggle mightily to push society into some imagined future golden age of peace and justice.
Sadly, this political activism serves Jupiter god of politics. It presents us with the sad reality of Christian restoratives and Christian progressives mutually savaging one another in the name of Jesus but all in devotion to Jupiter. It also destroys the theological integrity of the Church by judging the Bible and preaching in political terms rather than judging contemporary politics in biblical terms.
At the same time, our prophetic mission groups will not be like conversionist churches. While activist churches see Jesus primarily as a means of societal change, conversionist churches see him primarily as a means of personal change. Whenever Jesus is seen as a means of change, however, disloyalty to him occurs whenever that change fails to occur as fast as we think it should. So all means are brought to bear on people who fail to change their way of thinking enough to accept baptism. Once they do, who cares? The goal of the conversionist church is maximizing the number of baptisms per year.
Our prophetic mission groups, however, will be like the “confessing church” described by George. Rather than understanding Jesus as a means to societal or personal change, we seek each day to see Jesus as the supreme end in himself and seek to remain faithful to him in all that we do.
George’s confessing church is “a church of reconciliation, a church of nonconformity, and a church of the cross” (105). Our prophetic mission groups will attempt to be the same. Our mission as prophetic witnesses to Jesus Christ, through our participation in various existing churches, will be to invite them also to put Jesus first by becoming a confessing church as well.
We will seek to be mission groups of reconciliation and invite the churches we participate in to do the same. Jesus reconciled us with God. We witness to this reconciliation with a membership which rises above existing societal divisions. “In the world of the Bible, the greatest social division is the one between Jews and Gentiles. If that division falls, they all fall—whether based on race, gender, class, nation, or some other social distinction—so that all are one in Christ Jesus” (105).
We will seek to be mission groups of nonconformity and invite the churches we participate in to be the same. Our “inner communal life and outward communal mission will reflect the difference it makes that Christ, not Mars or mammon [Pluto], is Lord” (105).
We will seek to be mission groups of the cross and invite the churches we participate in to be the same. The cross—suffering—is the unavoidable cost of nonconformity. It is our “participation in the victory of Christ over the powers of this age” (John Howard Yoder quoted by George, 106). “It means reflecting the essence of Christ’s saving work and partaking in it. It means joyfully doing in the world, come what may, the will of God. No church which compromises its witness, either for the sake of avoiding suffering or for the sake of supposed effectiveness, can be truly faithful to its calling” (106).

Copyright © 2015 by Steven Farsaci.
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