Sojourners or Settlers - an important question
I'm teaching in Canada this week at a place where the international mix of guests, staff, and students always makes for lively discussion. I could tell you about conversations regarding health care (I hope you'll talk to some real live Canadians and Europeans, whose assessments of this subject might be a tad more realistic than Rush Limbaugh's) but I'll save it for another time because there's a more important subject worth considering.
Last night, after my lecture, I spent some time with a couple of German women who are passing through Canada on holiday before returning to their medical careers in Europe. Both were raised in the communist, totalitarianism of the GDR (East Germany) and even the small fragments of their story that I learned last night are worth sharing with you so that you ponder some important questions with me. They spoke of their childhood, and the role that the church played in the demise of communism. They spoke of the challenges that came with growing up as Christ followers in a political climate intent on silencing any vestiges of the gospel. They explained how, towards the end of communism's run, the church buildings of old became strategic centers where people gathered for to offer prayers for a change in national direction. The few became groups. Groups became 'the masses'. The masses became a national movement. And the walls came down.
"Right after freedom came" one said, "the churches were full. Everyone came." Then, after a moment of silence, the other said, "but not anymore. I suppose it's the materialism that comes with freedom." I I left our conversation shortly after that, feeling that our conversation held some significant elements to ponder. In my ponderings, I've been reminded of several things:
1. Historically, it's the people who are, existentially speaking, sojourners, that live clinging to God. Consider the Black Church in America, or the Reformationists in the midst of Catholicism, or the Radical Reformationists in the midst of the Reformationists, or the house churches in China, or the random few believers in Eastern Europe in the mid-twentieth century. It always seems to be true that it's the people without the power that are clinging to Christ most profoundly and, in their clinging, are shaped by God's heart, filled with unquenchable light.
2. This unquenchable light seems to shine as long as we're sojourners, but it also seems true that as soon as we settle down, we settle into darkness. Political power has seduced the church countless times throughout history. It's as if the church, at various times, has 'gained the whole world, but lost it's soul'. Mediocrity, greed, complacency, division, boredom, and gross materialism become hallmarks of the people of God, who increasingly mirror the values of the principalities and powers of this world. Thus does salt lose its saltiness. Thus do we suffer loss as we gain.
I wonder if I'm right, and if I am right, I wonder what can be done about it. As Eastern Europe gains their own versions of Walmart and Costco; as they fill their ears with the buds of ipods and their minds with our values, their churches are emptying. What does that tell us? I know what Jesus says: "No man can serve two masters." But I'm wondering what we, who didn't ask to be born into wealth and comfort, can do, to become sojourners who are clinging desperately to our God, rather than settlers who've made a pact with the comforts of this world, and in the process blown out our candles?
I welcome your thoughts...