To be silent does not mean to be inactive; rather it means to breathe in the will of God, to listen attentively and be ready to obey.
I’m up to my ears in a new book that I’m writing for Zondervan. It’s going to be called Shrink & I’m trying to make the case for faithfulness and virtue (over and against success & results), as the central leadership pursuits of those involved in ministry of any kind.
As part of my writing I’m using some of Bonhoeffer’s work. One of the things he was sold on was the idea that we should not be in pursuit of principles that will apply in any situation. What matters in every situation is always, “What is the will of God?” What we want as Christian is to have this bag of doctrines and principles that we can follow, that we can apply to any given situation. What we have is a sovereign Lord who is free from any attachment of subjectivity to principles. God is free to act how God wishes. Our job is not to distill the story of God into doctrines, theologies, and principles that we follow. Our job is to follow the will of God.
The will of God should have absolute power over our lives. Perhaps more than any other nemesis, the will of God is often thwarted by an arch-rival named success. This rival is kicking the will of God’s can all over the playground in our contemporary American culture. As I am trying to fight against this I am always amazed at how passionately many Christians will fight against you when you try to take away the idol of success.
There’s the famous story about Bonhoeffer and Bethge who were visiting one of the Confessing Church pastors in Prussia while Hitler’s Blitzkrieg was pulverizing Europe. While they were there news came that France had surrendered to Germany. The whole place erupted in song, giving the Nazi salute. To Bethge’s surprise Bonhoeffer joined in. “Are you crazy,” he whispered to Bethge, “Raise your arm! We’ll have to run risks for many different things, but this silly salute is not one of them!”
It was during that same time period that Bonhoeffer wrote his book Ethics, perhaps his finest work.
by CAP STEWART
In our pluralistic culture, churches have become so varied that they spread confusion about what it really means to be a follower of Christ. When it comes to hot-button issues like gun rights, abortion, and homosexuality, professing Christians line up on opposite ends. Can Christianity legitimately be so divided? Or, to put it another way, can anyone discern the “real deal”? Is it possible to know what functional, practical Christianity truly looks like?
James, the brother of Jesus, says yes—and he gives us a simple litmus test:
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world (Jas. 1:27).
James provides a short, two-item checklist: (1) love—helping those in need, and (2) holiness—separating from worldly influence. These two traits summarize the practical outworking of a life changed by the gospel.
Much of the current division within the church comes from overemphasizing one trait over the other. Some churches tend to emphasize love, whereas others tend to prioritize holiness. But neither is negotiable. Both are essential for living the Christian life.
First Essential: Love
One way Christians can be tempted to forsake the requirement of love is to pursue our rights. Especially in America, where individualism is one of our sacred cows, we can get caught up in fighting for our rights, particularly as they pertain to religious freedom. There are certainly times and places to use proper legal means to secure those rights (as Paul did in Acts 22:22-30), but we should be known for something better than demanding equal treatment.
We can become so consumed with our liberties that we end up treating those in the world as our enemies, to the detriment of the gospel. God has called us to proclaim a message of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-20), something that is hard to do if we constantly approach unbelievers armed for a fight.
The Christian is called to consider the needs and preferences of others (Gal. 5:14). Yes, we must sometimes draw attention to a person’s—or even a nation’s—sins, but are we going to do so with our fists in their faces or with tears on our cheeks? During New Testament times, the government was far more corrupt and hostile to Christianity than ours is today, yet we don’t see Scripture commanding us to fight for our rights. Instead, we are instructed to expect unfair treatment—even blatant persecution—and to return hostility with love (John 15:18-20; Rom. 12:18-21).
Second Essential: Holiness
The sacred cow of individualism has affected not only our love but also our holiness. Too often, we have turned our personal happiness into the greatest good. As long as it makes me happy (whatever “it” may be), and as long as no one else gets hurt, I can and should pursue it. If I don’t pursue my own happiness, I am being untrue to myself. Or so the argument goes.
But the second fruit of genuine Christianity, James says, is “to keep oneself unstained from the world.” The world may tell us to follow our hearts, but we are called to be true ultimately to God and his Word—not to our autonomy. And being true to God often comes in the form of denying ourselves what we think we want, because it is actually bad for us (Rom. 13:4; 1 Pet. 2:11).
At the same time, we don’t want to be so far removed from the world that we don’t understand it. We can’t affect the culture if we aren’t engaging with it. In many ways, though, we have sacrificed our holiness on the altar of relevance. With the apparent purpose of being more engaged with our culture, the church has tried so hard to fit in that the distinction between churched and unchurched peoples has often been obliterated. We must take James’ warning to heart: aligning ourselves with worldly values is aligning ourselves against God (Jas. 4:4).
Christianity Is Countercultural
Christ-like love is a beautiful thing. To love unconditionally, regardless of another person’s maturity or theological depth or moral purity, is to love like God loves.
…has established his sanctuary on earth in righteousness. This sanctuary is Christ, the Body of Christ. Our separation from sin has been accomplished through our death as sinners in Jesus Christ. God has prepared himself a people which has been justified from sin. This people is the community of the disciples of Jesus, the community of the saints. They are taken up into his sanctuary, his temple. They are taken out of the world and live in a new realm of their own in the midst of the world.
The Church is
…the holy Church (Ephesians 5:27), the community of the saints (1 Corinthians 14:33), and its members are called to be saints (Romans 1:7), sanctified in Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:2), chosen and set apart before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). The object of their calling in Jesus Christ, and of their election before the foundation of the world, was that they should be holy and without blemish (Ephesians 1:4). Christ had surrendered his body to death that he might present his own holy and without blemish and unreproveable before before him (Colossians 1:22). The fruit of their liberation from sin through the death of Christ is that whereas they once surrendered their members servants to iniquity, they may now use them in the service of righteousness unto sanctification (Romans 6:19-22).
The ECCLESIA Christi, the disciple community has been torn from the clutches of the world. Of course it still has to live in the
world, but it is made into one body, with its own sphere of sovereignty, and its own claim to living-space.
They (Christians) wander on earth and live in heaven, and although they are weak, they protect the world; they taste peace in the midst of turmoil; they are poor, and yet they have all they want. They stand in suffering and remain in joy, they appear dead to all outward sense and lead a life of faith within.