A friend passed along a sermon by Greg Boyd who was on an indefinite leave of absence from pastoring a large church. He expresses his crisis of faith:
My present crisis was precipitated precisely because the clearer I¹ve gotten about the profound significance of the kingdom, the foggier I¹ve gotten about the relationship that exists between it and the church.
To be more specific, I¹ve discovered it¹s not terribly hard to build and run a mega church. Anyone with the right set of skills can do it. But it¹s not clear that building a church in and of itself has any kingdom value. One could just be constructing another religious carnival to entertain American religious thrill seekers. One could be feeding the beast of the American consumer mindset that wants more than anything else to use Jesus as a means of improving our already overly-privileged lives. The question I am presently wrestling with, therefore, is how can we ³do church² in a way that cuts through all this American religious excrement and actually advances the kingdom of God. That is a much more difficult question to answer than how to build and run a church!
Greg hits the nail on the head here. He goes on to say that we must be very clear about what the kingdom of God is lest we confuse it with our own cultural conditioning. "We then delude ourselves into thinking we¹re advancing the kingdom of God when, in fact, we¹re only advancing ourselves."
So how do we become clear about what the Kingdom actually is? Greg says it well: "Jesus is depicted as the perfect embodiment, the incarnation of the kingdom of God."
Only to the extent that we act as Jesus acted, dying for those who despised him, are we authentically his body. Only to the extent that we sacrifice our lives for others, whether they be enemies or friends, can we claim that the kingdom is present in us. Only to the extent that we replicate the sacrificial love of Calvary for the homeless, the sick, the rejected, the oppressed and for prisoners, do we belong to the kingdom of God, as Jesus taught (Mt 25).
From the distinct perspective of the kingdom of God, all the profound knowledge we might ever acquire and dispense to others is nothing more than a ³clanging cymbal² if it isn¹t motivated by and doesn¹t result in communicating Calvary-quality love (I Cor. 13:1-4). All the ³true doctrines² we might believe, all the pious talk and religious activity we might ever engage in, all the theological debates we might ever win and all the great revivals we might ever hold are altogether worthless, devoid of any kingdom significance, if they aren¹t motivated by and don¹t result in love defined as Jesus Christ dying on the cross.
Only to the extent that we bleed out of love for others in what we do does anything we do manifest the dome in which God is king. This is as simple as it is challenging. It is as obvious as it is obviously absent from the Church.
In short, the true kingdom life is one that lives and breathes "Calvary-like love."
Sadly, Greg points out, that although this kind of love is the litmus test of our Christian life, few Christians exemplify this. HOWEVER, his own personal challenge is to NOT look at others but simply determine to personally live that Calvary-quality love moment by moment. In other words, the kingdom life begins by pointing at ourself, not others.
Will I live in love, as Christ loved me and gave himself for me? Am I willing to bleed for others? Will I wash the feet of prostitutes and even more challenging for me personally, the feet of Pharisees?
Awesome thoughts... yet Greg surprised me by saying that he decided to go back to pastoring a mega-church in order to live the kingdom life out within that context. It's not up to me to judge the decision of another, but I do want to use this entire context to pose an important question:
Can we live out Calvary-like love within systems and cultures that are, by nature, unloving? Perhaps the reason that so few Christians live lives of kingdom love is because we are so heavily committed to church systems that are so dysfunctional that love finds it difficult, if not nearly impossible, to break through.
I want to be careful here because, like people, no church systems will ever be perfect. Nevertheless, in the context of living out lives of Calvary-like love, when we look at the mega-organizational structures that are sustained through business principles (and even small churches are set up this way)... and when we see the way these systems themselves defy the very essence of love... I simply want to ask... Can't we do better? Doesn't it matter that the systems and organizations we are committed to make living kingdom-love so, dog-gone difficult?
Didn't Greg make a very important point back at the beginning when he said, "Can we 'do church' in a way that cuts through all this American religious excrement and actually advances the kingdom of God?"
God, I hope to some degree we can!!!