Today I want to close out the series that I have been doing on Spiritual warfare interacting with Richard Beck’s new book “Reviving Old Scratch”
One of the most encouraging things that I have seen over the past few years has been several of the progressive churches’ leading voices re-discovering how important church is.
My biggest beef for a long time among my progressive Christian friends is that they were so quick to love Jesus, but not the church, without much regard for the very group of people that Jesus claims as His Body on earth.
I get that everyone had stories behind their dismissive approach to the gathering of God’s people, sometimes those stories are of great pain or betrayal. I also get that church takes a thousand different forms, from under trees in Africa, to strip malls, or Cathedrals, or living rooms.
But generally speaking, conservative people placed a higher value on belonging to a local community of faith than my progressive friends.
So the past few years, seeing leaders like Rachel Held Evans, Nadia Boltz-Weber, Scot McKnight, and Sarah Bessey (among many others) write books emphasizing how important church really is has been a breath a fresh air.
It might be a surprise that a book on Spiritual warfare talks so much about just being a part of a local church until you begin to realize how much those two things overlap.
Remember when Jesus first announced that He was going to build the Church? He takes His disciples to Caesarea Philippi, a hub of worship for the pagan god Pan, and he announces He is starting a church and “the gates of Hell cannot prevail over her”
We progressive Christians are drawn to doing something. We want to help lighten the suffering in the world, and so we become activists. We wear the bracelet on our wrists, and we picket or blog and tweet our particular vision on what we need to do to make the world a better place.
All of these are well and good (I do them too), but here is Beck’s needed pushback. I am quoting him at length here:
And yet, Jesus wasn’t much of a political activist, but what Jesus did do and the early church followed his lead – was to create a community characterized by two things: the practices of care and peace. People flocked to Jesus because he cared for them. He healed them, protected them, honored them, included them, blessed them, and fed them….Over and over in the epistles, the church is encouraged to are for and love each other, in concrete and tangible ways…The church is a laboratory of love, a place where material care, sharing, hospitality, and mutual honoring are practiced and lived out….In addition to care, Jesus also practiced peace. In Jesus’ band of followers were Zealots and a tax collector, sworn enemies of one another. Jesus, a Jew, cared for Samaritans and colonial occupiers. Following Jesus, the early church was revolutionary in how it broke down the “wall of hostility” that had existed between Jew and Gentile. The church is also a laboratory of peace: Repeatedly, the Bible tells us that the church is the place where we come together to practice care and peace. The church is a laboratory of love and reconciliation, a workshop of sharing and forgiving, a testing ground of mercy and grace.
And what is vitally important about all this is how care and peace are practices being worked out face-to-face with real people. The kingdom of God is the hard, intimate, and sweaty work of simply getting along with people. The church is the laboratory of care and peace where you can’t get away with loving humanity abstractly and theoretically. You have to practice care and peace with the person standing right in front of you, the person boring you or annoying you as you’re sipping bad coffee together.
Jesus didn’t leave behind a political party. Jesus gave us a group of people to get along with.
And while that might seem simple enough, if you’ve ever tried caring for and living at peace with a group of people, you know it’s one of the hardest things in the world. It’s much easier to love people in the abstract than to love actual human beings. But that’s what the church gives you: actual human beings.
That’s church. Just an ordinary group of people who gather each week to participate in the liturgy of drinking bad coffee together, the liturgy where we practice the hard, awkward, and intimate work of caring for each other. A liturgy so powerful, transformative, and holy that even atheists are starting to gather on Sunday mornings in “Sunday assemblies” to experience it.
Drinking bad coffee is saving the world.
When we love humanity in the abstract, like loving humanity via social media or through a political party, one of the things that is persistently hidden from us is our own inner darkness, our own spiritual poverty and brokenness – our inner demons.
Community, real community, involves exposure. Only community can reveal, surface, and unmask our inner brokenness and sinfulness.
Two things here as I close out this book review. One, is this not true? In the quieter moments, when we are in between spats of moral outrage on Twitter about the Gorilla or what our Senators are or are not doing, does anyone else have those moments where we start to realize that I am not really as great of a person as I think I am and that the anger isn’t as pure as I thought it was, but instead was filled with bits of malice and envy and a lot of ego-building?
In church, we come face to face to our real personal brokenness, and maybe that’s why we don’t like her these days, not just because of the bad experiences, but because some of those experiences made us confront evil, the kind that actually causes suffering, isn’t just out there….it’s in me too.
And secondly, I think everyone should read this book, because I go to church with Richard Beck. I’m the preacher for his family, I’ve seen them live this out.
One of the more wonderful parts of reading this book was that I’ve gotten to see first hand a lot of the stories he tells (one of the more confusing parts was that he had to change their names).
He is smoking what he is selling here.
Over the past decade, there is not a commitment bigger to the Becks than to the local church and to the disenfranchised of Abilene.
Sure, he’s brilliant, and a great writer, and this is a wonderful book, but it’s more than ideas for him. It is a way of life.
And if you were to come to church on Sunday and ask the people that he picked up from the disability center to come to church, or at Freedom on Wednesday and ask the people who he picked up in the van about Richard, some of them would tell you that he hasn’t saved the world, but he has saved their world.
And if you came to the Bible class he teaches you would probably see him drinking bad coffee with others, practicing love and peace with real people.
You know, Spiritual Warfare.