I was reading an article from the H.E.B. Foundation Magazine Echoes this morning, and I came across a description of a summer retreat led by Adam Neder. The retreat was titled “Faith in the Ruins.” A description of the retreat in the promotional material for it sums it up: “…as challenges multiply, as the church perfects the art of discrediting itself, as friends leave the faith, many Christians are feeling exhausted, disoriented, and discouraged. Some wonder how much longer they can stick with Christianity–or even if they want to.”
That’s where the 10 observations by Neder came in. I looked at them and thought I would do a series of prayer journals on the 10 observations the article mentioned Neder covered during the retreat.
#10. The Church was never intended to rule.
Dear God, this is an interesting one for me. I’m not sure to what extent I agree with it at first blush. I almost feel like I need to strip away my preconceived notions of government and political power and think about what you intended from the beginning.
I heard someone ask in the last year, “What is the form of government that the Bible endorses?” My first temptation is to say autocratic rule with a king because it is the most common. But when I think about 1 Samuel 8 and the Israelites angering you by asking for a king I have to reconsider. Before Abraham, there were just men and their families. Adam. Noah. Job. You didn’t have a nation. Even with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, they were just heads of families. Not much government there. It wasn’t until the Israelites came out of the Egyptian incubator in which you had them for several hundred years that they were a true nation in need of political structure to function. At the top of that structure you had Moses, but he wasn’t their king. There was nothing about him that was kingly. He was their judge. He was a leader, to be sure. But he was almost a high priest, judge, ruler combo. Then came Joshua who largely worked in the same manner. This pattern continued in a hit and miss, informal way up through Samuel. There was not a clear plan of succession from one judge to the next. Other than children working in the temple and as judges (I’m looking at you Eli and Samuel), I don’t really see a lineage passed down from generation to generation. It was a loose organization that didn’t seem too stable. But it pleased you a lot more than a kingdom of men did.
So where does that leave us now in the United States? It’s complicated. Belief in you was very predominant at the time so that, even though they wanted to have a non-religious government, you were so ubiquitous in people’s lives that belief in you couldn’t help but be woven into the fabric of the document. At the same time, there are those now who would say the document was divinely inspired–putting it, I suppose, on the same level as scripture. However, if it is divinely inspired then what do I do with the parts that are evil such as condoning slavery or the 3/5 Compromise? Why 17 amendments after the first 10 that were part of a compromise? No, it’s a good document and I believe you used it, flaws and all, to do your will through our country, but I don’t think I can consider it divinely inspired.
But going back to Neder’s observation, I think I’ll agree because the judge system was to lead others into worshipping you, but not mandate it. There’s a difference. I had a friend recently send me a news story about how self-professed Christians are shrinking as a percentage in American society. Down from 90% saying they believed in you in the 1990s to about 65% saying they believe in you now. The alarmist headline was that Christians will be the minority religion by 2045. I replied to the friend that if you count people who are actually discipling Christians, worshipping and building a regular relationship with you, and not just self-professed Christians then we are already the minority. I also asked how he thinks people reading it on Fox News will respond to the article. For those it will alarm, there are, I suppose two main responses: 1. The liberals are taking over and we need to get control of this and make people believe in God again or 2. We have been failing our society and we need to repent, pray about what we’ve done wrong and then move forward modeling ourselves after Jesus and his disciples. The first group would see the Church as being the intended ruler of society. The second sees the Church as needing to lead hurting people to you.
Father, I have to be better. I have to be better at leading people to you. Those close to me and those not. I am sorry. I am sorry I fail out of fear and apathy. I am sorry I fail because I simply don’t care sometimes. I don’t take the pain of others seriously enough. I don’t love like I should love. I don’t lead them to you like I should lead. I don’t worship you like I should worship. I don’t pray like I should pray. I am sorry. As I look at that news story, I definitely find myself in the second camp. Help me to live out what you are calling me to do and bless the work of my hands for the sake of your children and your glory.
I pray this through the power of everything Jesus is,