Being a church Requires Starting: a Reflection on 1 Kings 18:20-21, Psalm 96, Galatians 1:1-12, and
Two 18th century philosophers, David Hume and Immanuel Kant, argued that there was no basis to believe that the world had a creator. Hume had no interest in Christian theology, but Kant did. Kant insisted that affirmations about God be linked to human ethical experience as opposed to ideas about the origin of the universe.
Human ethical experience is compromised today. The rugged individualist is affirmed. Injustice thrives. The rich are blessed and the poor cursed. Making enemies and wars is celebrated. Humanity is self-absorbed. Following the 2011 London riots, Great Britain’s chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks commented on the “moral disintegration” of the Western world:
“The tsunami of wishful thinking washed across the West saying that you can have sex without the responsibility of marriage, children without the responsibility of parenthood, social order without the responsibility of citizenship, liberty without the responsibility of morality, and self-esteem without the responsibility of work and earned achievement. What has happened morally in the West is what has happened financially as well. Good and otherwise sensible people were persuaded that you could spend more than you earn, incur debt at unprecedented levels and consume the world’s resources. Religion is a thing of the past, and there is no counter-voice to the culture of buy it, spend it, wear it, flaunt it, because you’re worth it.”
Being a church the Saddleback Valley is asking for focuses on the gospel and includes those who are self-absorbed. A church like this gathers AND scatters. Fans are turned into followers AND consumers become missionaries. Inclusion is AND people live in authentic intergenerational community. Aspirational? Yes! Seeking more “starters?” Absolutely.
All four texts point to the requirement of starting; that is believing in Jesus Christ, banking one’s hope on the promises of God, and living the gospel. We learn in Galatians that Jesus “gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age.” In Psalm 96, we note that God alone is worthy of our affection and loyalty. In 1 Kings 18, we discover that Israel’s God alone can work great wonders. In the times of drought, Elijah told the people to look only to YHWH. King Ahab told the people to hedge their bets and look to YHWH and Baal. Luke reminds us that faith in Jesus Christ matters. The centurion knew he was unworthy. Faith is believing we become worthy by holding firmly to Jesus the One who makes us worthy.
Being a church requires starting. Starting means becoming missional in our thinking and being as Christians. The authors of And: The Gathered and Scattered Church write, “…How “missional” [a church is]is largely determined by the extent to which…people model the life, activities, and words of Jesus.” Be devoted to the foolish notions of “faith” and remembering, telling and living the way of Jesus.
So let’s become missionaries by engaging culture, forming community, and structuring congregation. As we become missionaries our “street cred” increases, we become the “go to” people when an emergency happens, and people expect us to initiate a lot of great times together.
Starting happens often and over time. On the journey together, I remain faithfully yours.
Ideas gleaned from John B. Cobb, Jr. in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 3 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 80.
Jonathan Sacks, “Reversing the Decay of London Undone,” (The Wall Street Journal, August 20, 2011).
Adapted from Hugh Halter and Matt Smay, AND: The Gathered and Scattered Church (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2010), 26.
Hugh Halter & Matt Smay, And: The Gathered and Scattered Church (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2010), 52.
Ideas adapted from Hugh Halter & Matt Smay, And: The Gathered and Scattered Church, 56-57.