Friday, March 19, 2010

The loser is the winner

Malcolm Muggeridge was one of the great British journalists and social commentators of the twentieth century. Whether it was Communism, the British monarchy, the “new morality” of the ’60s, the media, or a host of other issues, they were all fair game for his acid wit. Occasionally he even directed his attention to the church.

This happened most notably in a feature-length film, Heavens Above. It starred Peter Sellers as a bumbling Church of England clergyman who sincerely believed in the utter truth of every word of the Sermon on the Mount. When this led to giving away the parish silver and opening the doors to the poor, it soon led to trouble with the church hierarchy.

Muggeridge was one of those many people (like Gandhi) who had enormous respect for Jesus and his teachings, but not for the church. Eventually it was the witness of Mother Teresa (among others) that led him in his sixties to turn from agnosticism to embrace the Christian faith. He saw Mother Teresa, unlike so many who go by the name Christian, as one who actually lived what she professed.

Increasingly I wonder about the church in the western world of today, and how much—in spite of our professed orthodoxy—we have adopted a theology that is foreign to the gospel. We operate on a basis of power rather than weakness. Our model has become Rambo, not Jesus.

So we (and here I include myself) end up gauging the success of a church in terms of its budget or average Sunday attendance, not by the lives that are being changed for the better through the love of Jesus. We waste millions of dollars in prolonged legal wrangles over property, never imagining the powerful witness—and the enormous freedom—we might have by just walking away from our luxurious premises. We lament the church’s waning moral and political influence in the world while ignoring the Holy Spirit’s waning influence in our lives.

The apostle Paul wrote of a God who once said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” “So,” he continued, “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”

Paul had learned (largely through the school of hard knocks) that the message of the cross simply does not make sense in the world’s eyes: that weakness should be the source of genuine strength, poverty the fount of true riches, and death the way to eternal life. Is this not also what Jesus taught his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount, and then proved through his own death and resurrection?

Perhaps we need to be like those two disciples on their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus—to walk a few miles with Jesus and allow him to open the Scriptures to us. Perhaps like them we also will find our eyes opened and our hearts burning within us. May it lead us to embrace the foolishness of the gospel and to count it a privilege to be known as fools for the same of Jesus.