Revolution. In my observation, revolution is one of our current buzzwords. Cultural revolution. Church revolution. Political revolution. Institutional revolution. Everyone is talking about change, about revolution, and altering systems to enable impact in the world.
I have been engaged in ongoing conversations with several friends of mine about the need (and desire among so many) for the institutional church to be more reflective of the Body of Christ; as Christians are called to be. As my friends and I tossed around questions, one came up that has stuck with me: “What is essential for change?” That is, what are those things that absolutely must be taught, emphasized, and practiced in order for our modern, institutionalized church* to be revolutionized and become once again the Body of Christ in a hurting world? This blog, and others that will follow, are my attempt to share what I view as some of the building blocks for revolution.
I begin with sacrifice.
At this point, I’m sure many of you are thinking, “Sacrifice? Why sacrifice?” In my reading, the overarching message of the Bible is LOVE: God’s love of creation and especially humanity, the love of Jesus for the outcast, and the love we are called to have for God and for one another. According to John’s gospel, when Jesus offered the greatest commandment, to love God and love one another, he also said this, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15: 13, NRSV). That, of course, is the ultimate sacrifice, the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made for us. But when it comes to being followers of Christ, sacrifice takes on many different forms.
The most powerful definition of sacrifice I have heard thus far came from Kendall Soulen, one of my seminary professors. In my Systematic Theology class, Kendall offered this description, “Sacrifice is costly self-giving.”
What does costly self-giving look like? What is it to really give of ourselves? (I will admit that I’m feeling a bit presumptuous trying to offer answers to this question because I certainly do not have this all figured out, but hopefully these thoughts will help us think through this together.) I think costly self-giving looks like putting aside that deadline to provide a shoulder for a mourning friend to cry on. I think costly self-giving means stepping away from our agenda so we can hear the hearts of the people around us. I think sacrifice leads us to push aside our fears and open the doors for the “unknown.” I think costly self-giving means offering to God our “first fruits,” not just our excesses. I believe that sacrifice means we have struggles; that we know pain and disappointment in our lives, so that those persons who have never known anything but pain and disappointment might get a taste of God’s grace, mercy, justice, peace, and most especially, God’s love. This is costly self-giving.
Admittedly, what I propose above is a tough pill to swallow. Sacrifice is counter-cultural in every respect. America’s market-driven consumer culture sends a constant message that any sacrifices we make should be for self-gain, not at self-cost. And as Kevin Watson says in his newly released book, A Blueprint for Discipleship, “It is often easier to coast in our faith in the direction in which our culture leads us.” (39) But coasting at the whims of culture is not costly self-giving. So, indeed, to talk about really making sacrifice a part of our lives is to talk about not just a church revolution, but a cultural revolution. But imagine how different our world might look if all people (or at the very least all Christ-followers) truly engaged in costly self-giving. Even that picture is somewhat difficult to imagine. To speculate a bit, I suspect that there would be fewer people on anti-depressants. I think there would be a greater understanding among varying societies, cultures, and viewpoints, which might also mean less war. I believe that through costly self-giving, poverty could be eradicated. By my estimation, these are just a few of many possibilities.
I hope beyond hope that this world might someday know the true justice, peace, mercy, grace, and love that comes from God. It is to that end that Jesus Christ made the ultimate sacrifice, laying “down his life for us so that we might live, and so that we might be a sign to the world of the power of the coming kingdom of God.” (Watson, 41) It is for this cause, the kingdom cause, that we too are called to follow Christ’s example and to sacrifice; to give of ourselves at a cost, even a great cost. I believe that if we can truly engage in costly self-giving, then church revolution is a certainty; but even more greatly, I think that we will come to know and experience in its fullest sense the Kingdom of God on earth, as it is in heaven.
Amen and amen.
*Our society has placed a high value on institutions. I believe that we are at a point, particularly in American culture, where any non-institutions are viewed with great skepticism. Because of the importance we put on institutionalization, it is my observation that nearly all churches have some institutional aspects affecting the way that any given church is in ministry in the world. In many cases, the institutional structure has diminished the work of the Body, and this is where the desire for revolution stems; a passion for the church to really look like the Body of Christ, not just another institution.