A Question for the Church
During yesterday’s sermon at New Life, Mark used an often quoted analogy about social change involving a frog, a pot of water, and fire. The story goes that if you put a frog in boiling water it will jump right out, knowing that it’s in danger, but if you put the same frog in a room-temperature pot of water and then slowly turn up the heat, the frog will stay there until it is eventually cooked to death. It’s a powerful analogy and a warning for the church. Mark’s use of it was appropriate and wise.
But a question rose in my mind as he used it, “Why is the church so willing to quote this story as a warning of her own demise, but seems unwilling to apply it in her approach to solving the problem?”
The question isn’t meant to be directed at Mark, or his approach to ministry, but to the church at large. There seems to be a lot of uneasiness in the church as the tide of culture shifts, and the things of this world appear to be over taking the things of God. In that uneasiness, many take to shrill cries of foul! The battle lines get drawn quickly and the church begins to shout their disapproval of this problem or that. As this rattled around in my head, three possible reasons popped to mind.
- Fear. Fear makes us react quickly, and often without thought. Many Christians seem to live with the fear of time. I’ve found myself in this place in different seasons of my life. Afraid that I’ll disappoint God, or that something must be done “before it’s too late” I have put together a quick solution instead of dealing in the long term, deep soil of real influence and change. There’s something natural in a quick reaction when you realize the water is boiling and you want to get out, but the analogy has been pressed too far in the direction of the church’s response. Our response and efforts of cultural change must be defined by love. Love drives out fear. Love takes investment. Love takes engaging with and living alongside the very people who we feel are perpetuating the problem. All of this takes time.
- Simplicity. I hear many people simplify complicated issues. All we need to do is…and then things will go back together again. It’s a singular, pointed solution to a situation that in most cases arose out a complex tapestry of social issues, all of which are rooted in sin. Ignoring the complexity of issues allows Christians to be marginalized because it turns the heat on too quickly, and for many, it doesn’t take seriously the questions people have. Now I tend to go to far the other direction and let things get so complicated that I become paralyzed, and I don’t mean to say that simple answers are wrong. The church, however, has tended to ignore the hard, long work of the simple answers. I truly believe that Jesus is the answer, for whatever is broken in society, but to just announce that ignores our call to again, come alongside and get dirty in the complex details of life so others can see what it means to declare that Jesus is lord.
- Pride. I’m not sure which I think is more influential pride or fear, but I tend toward pride. The church would rather bellow about the solutions than humbly admits her own failings in living out Jesus’ rule. It hurts to admit that we’ve ceased to live God’s vision for our lives and it hurts to have to that publicly. So rather than do that and spend time mending what has been broken, it seems like the we would rather blame and point fingers.
Again, Mark was right, we have let the waters of a sinful culture heat up around us over time so that the church is in danger in the Western world. So what do we do about it? How do we begin the long process of living out God’s rule in such a way that calls people back to him? How do we see things with long range eyes, realizing that while Jesus’ return is imminent we might also have another 1,000 years? This way, the long way, is a more difficult way. It means we won’t likely always see the fruit of our labors, and we might spend a great deal of time waiting. But should we surprise us? We serve a God who addressed the problem of sin with a plan that has taken centuries to unfold. Perhaps he calls us to act with that sort of patient, long-suffering love as well.