The “state” has sucked up the majority of everyone’s allegiance and made the church a private, leisure time matter. That makes our public covenant-making with the people of God a radical, countercultural act. We still think Jesus is Lord and he personally leads a kingdom. On vacation I read a stimulating book that stoked the fires of my covenant convictions. I’ll get to that in a minute. But here’s the gist: I got excited about how it made me think about a piece of our “about making a covenant” teaching that has just become more radical since we started teaching it.
The covenant is a life, not a concept
It should be an obvious teaching — elementary Christianity. In my estimation, it is stating the obvious to teach that a Jesus follower will not be one in name only but will, by nature, demonstrate their covenant with Jesus and His people with some basic activity. In the case of Circle of Hope:
- they will obviously be part of our weekly meeting when the community shows herself to the world in worship and truth-telling (1 Cor. 14);
- they will obviously be part of a cell where we share our gifts face to face, are given basic care, and share in basic faith dialogue (Acts 20:20);
- they will obviously be part of some expression of our mission as part of one of our many teams or, if they are blessed, through their occupation (1 Cor. 2:4);
- and they will obviously share their money in our common fund (Acts 2:44).
In our teaching about what it means to make a covenant with real people in real time, we note that we all have resources of spiritual gifts, time, care, and money. We actively put these resources into practice as a part of the body. All this seems like basic Christianity to me. But I think it has become radical. Circle of Hope is a community of activists in a lowest-common-denominator Church and world.
Are most American Christians followers in name only?
I’m coming to the conclusion that American Christians love nominalism; they like being Christians in name only. They are having a tough time right now because the culture changed on them and the nation is less inclined to protect their “freedom” to sit in their Christianity, having it unmolested by any need to exercise it. When Circle of Hope got started, we flourished by picking up a lot of the radicals who could not find a place in a nominalized Church, and a lot of new believers who never found Jesus from knowing inactive Christians. We are still going against the grain. But our capacity is going to be tested in postChristian America. Circle of Hope has also had some freedom to sit. Now we might have to mean what we teach.
The drift away from consensus building
That brings me to my book. I have been reading Rachel Maddow’s Drift. It documents how the presidents have slowly become the sole deciders of when the U.S. goes to war, without the approval of Congress and certainly without the input of us citizens. The book shows how the privatization of what used to be soldiering and the expansion of secret operations has led to perpetual war that is off the radar of the nation. The leaders make sure we aren’t disturbed by war. Maddow is generous enough to say that this was caused by “drift,” not decision, starting with Ronald Reagan and added to by every president since.
I could not help but think that in the same era the BIC leaders have drifted the same direction (and I think that includes a lot of us pastors). They also do more in secret and ask the constituency to trust their advertising. We are not disturbed by our body life. It seems that the BIC started going this direction when people misapplied John Maxwell’s leadership training. I don’t think Maxwell meant to install the “my way or the highway” style that characterizes congressional debate these days. But it got installed. I think the leaders drifted out of what they considered ineffectual consensus-building and into “over-anointed” leadership.
The radicality of covenant
I’m thinking about that drift in relation to maintaining ourselves as a group of activists. What I am working on is that Circle of Hope is growing up in an era where radicals are less likely to float to the top of a placid sea of nominalism and collect as a new, cool church. The sea of the nation and the Church is too stirred up, and the people who lead the nation and church have drifted into an authoritarian style that keeps people from handling too much reality. We might need to really choose to live by faith. We might have to be thoroughly disturbed. Honestly, I am delighted with that challenge. Good trees need to bear good fruit (Matt. 7).
The Jesus way honors us all as crucial “members of the body.” Our way of life as Circle of Hope demands that we act on the reality of our life in Christ – at least that is what we teach. We are going against the grain when we insist that we all make a difference, not just the leaders, in a world where Occupy sputters into distrust and ineffectiveness, and we don’t take to the streets when the president fights secret, debt-exploding wars that no one is required to pay for while the bankers run us into the ground economically with impunity. It is good to go against the flow if the flow is going down the spiritual drain.
When the thirty-or-so people showed up to consider making a covenant with us the other night, they were exploring something that has become even more radical than when we imagined it. Imagine! – people who would consider coming right out in the public, as it is now, and pledging their allegiance to Jesus and his people in a way that is not just in their secret thoughts but in their hands and feet and relationships, in a way that impacts their loves and their finances. That’s not a surprising thing in the Bible, perhaps, but it seems rather rare these days.