“The enemies of the church seek to turn it aside its own way, in order to make it follow their way; the moment it yields it becomes the plaything of the forces of the world. It is given up to its adversaries.” – J. Ellul
”…remember that the meaning of life is to live it as if it were a work of art.” – A. Heschel
I came across these quotes today as I was reading. The first comes at the end of Ellul’s The Presence of the Kingdom. The second was quoted by Rob Bell in his book, Drops Like Stars. Both of these quotes can offer a new way of seeing both the church and the life one lives with the Body of Christ.
Ellul’s book is older than I am (at least the French version). Though he does not provide a detailed exposition, theologically or otherwise, regarding the Kingdom of God, the conclusion in which the above is found addresses tendencies within the church that have not aboted in 40 years time. His concern is that of teh church adopting the ways of the world be they Marxism, socialism, capitalism or any other -ism. This adopting of technical methods leads to teh church becoming nothing more than another social movement. Though the church is in the world and in history, her origin and destiny is eternal. The issue for the church in the present age is how to proclaim the Gospel when most of humanity does not care. His challenge is for the church to return to and find her way. In this struggle, much like Jacob’s wrestling, the church can discover two things. First, a style of living in the world, that engages teh world and also challenges the ways of the world. The second is working to provide a place/space in which the Gospel can be heard by the world today. He calls for revolution that transcends any tmporal revolution. A revolution of heart, mind and community that can only come through the work of the Holy Spirit.
The second quote, by Abraham Heschel, can be a jumping off point for creating such a space for a Gospel hearing. Though the quote refers to how one lives life, how would this look for those living together in Christian community, in the church? A few things come to mind but I’m open to further suggestions. Freedom is needed to allow the creatives in the church to pursue such ends. Like the blank page or canvas they face, such freedom is frightening because of the responsibility that come with it but it is also liberating when the creative work begins. Likewise openness is needed in supporting those pursuing such work. A space is needed for such pursuits without fear of judgment or cries of heresy or even worse, the expectation of overly literal (Biblical) interpretations imposed on the work. My final point, though surely not the last, is the need to embrace the reality of the world. We live in a world filled with both goodness and pain, joy and horror. This is the source material for the artist, the life lived in the midst of joy and pain. The art that draws from the reality of the world will in some way reflect, enhance or challenge that reality. If we are the poetry crafted by God, can we not embrace the transcendent while embracing the world? If Jesus came to the world in love and reconciliation, why do we seek to avoid the world?