What is the Reform the Church Needs?

What is the Reform the Church Needs? July 22, 2011

In advancing this series (Part One, Part Two, Part Three) on David Platt’s Radical Together, I want to address these questions: What exactly is the reform that the American church requires?  How exactly should that reform be framed?  What are the right terms and categories to explain it?

I’ve explained in detail what I find so worthy of celebration in Platt’s work, and in the response to Platt’s work amongst theological conservatives.  The truth is, theological conservatives should be – and sometimes are – the ones most committed to caring for those who cannot care for themselves.  We believe Jesus really said the things recorded in the gospels, and really meant the things he said, and that it is the calling of our devotion to Christ to live in obedience to his teachings.  When theological conservatism overlaps with political conservatism, then theological conservatives may have different ideas than political liberals on the best ways to serve the needy.  But respect and care for the widow and the orphan is a profound, non-negotiable, and beautiful part of the life of faith.

I’ve also explained why I don’t think that being more “radical” in our faith can be the goal.  Should we be more radical in our faith?  Yes.  Should that be our goal?  No.

In Radical Together, Platt sets forth six principles for living a radical faith within the communities of the church.  They’re fine principles, and I don’t disagree with them.  Too many churches have become “caretaker” churches, where the congregants want to be lavished with cheap grace, want to live unchallenged lives, want someone to sprinkle a little holy water over essentially worldly and comfortable lives.  If the pastors press for lives wholly abandoned to God, then the graybeards in the congregations warn them that they’re growing legalistic and extreme.  The congregants basically want a little religious mood music to usher them into old age and beyond.  I know this because I’ve seen it happen.  I’ve seen pastors thrown out of their congregations because they believed that when Jesus said “deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow me,” he did not mean to lead ordinary suburban American lives with the addition of church attendance and the occasional tithe.  Those of us who attend excellent churches that fully preach the gospel and the call of discipleship should not underestimate how much complacent Christendom is out there.

So what is the solution?  Is it to try to be radical?  Can we grit our teeth and ball our fists and will ourselves into more radical lives of faith?  I don’t think so.  This is not a battle that will-power can win.  The more we trust in our own will power, the more we entrench ourselves in the illusion of self-sufficiency.  Grace is the key not only to our justification, but also to our sanctification.  It is God’s grace that counts us as righteous (“God demonstrated his own love for us…while we were still sinners” – Romans 5:8) and God’s grace that makes us righteous (God will be faithful to complete the work he began in us – Philippians 1:6).  No, the solution is not ourselves.  The solution is Christ.  We do not need a better us.  We need more of Christ in us.

I am convinced, what is desperately needed in the church today is a recovery of the ideal of the imitation of Christ.  We do not seek to be radical; we seek to be like Christ.  We do not seek to live a radical life; we seek to live a life like Christ’s.  Trusting in Christ, we are empowered to live the life Christ lived.  Living like Christ, we become like Christ, and we come to know Christ and rest in him ever more deeply.  From salvation comes imitation, from imitation comes transformation into the likeness of Christ, and from transformation comes understanding and union.

Next, in the final part of this series, I’ll try to sketch out what this means.

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