Note from CM: Over the next season on Fridays, we will focus on some of what Michael wrote about the church and church-shaped vs. Jesus-shaped spirituality.
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I am going to disagree in some fundamental ways with the following statement.
“My passion isn’t to build up my church. My passion is for God’s Kingdom.” Ever heard someone say that? I have. It sounds large-hearted, but it’s wrong. It can even be destructive.
Suppose I said, “My passion isn’t to build up my marriage. My passion is for Marriage. I want the institution of Marriage to be revered again. I’ll work for that. I’ll pray for that. I’ll sacrifice for that. But don’t expect me to hunker down in the humble daily realities of building a great marriage with my wife Jani. I’m aiming at something grander.”
If I said that, would you think, “Wow, Ray is so committed”? Or would you wonder if I had lost my mind?
If you care about the Kingdom, be the kind of person who can be counted on in your own church. Join your church, pray for your church, tithe to your church, participate in your church every Sunday with wholehearted passion.
We build great churches the same way we build great marriages — real commitment that makes a positive difference every day.
• Ray Ortlund
Someone is saying “You’re going to disagree with probably the most respected, spiritually passionate guy in the Christian blogosphere? You really are out in left field knocking down the fence.”
I am a big Ray Ortlund fan. I’m not on his level as a Christian or a minister, much less as a blogger. I’m not really here to disagree, but I want to respond to what is an important issue for me and many others in our pursuit of Jesus Shaped Spirituality.
1) A passion for a marriage is not at war with a passion for marriage. The two are related. A passion for the welfare of my family or the success of my vocation are derived from some larger, defining passion.
2) If my marriage should fail, would my faith in marriage vanish? If my children go astray, does my belief in the importance of parenting end? No. In both cases, I will find hope to move on, to encourage others, to garner wisdom and even to try again from love that is greater than even my love for my marriage or children.
3) If you care about the Kingdom, faithfully care for your church. I agree completely. But if your church ceases to preach the Gospel or compromises its purpose and mission for relevance and worldly success, what will be the larger framework that will allow you to know something is wrong? It will be a passion for Christ and his Kingdom, applied to a specific situation.
4) What concerns me is a tendency to sound like we are saying “the Kingdom (as far as you are concerned) = your local church and what it’s doing.” I do not believe this is the teaching of scripture, and I don’t believe sound local churches even leave this as an option. It is, to use Ortlund’s phrase, a destructive error.
5) I would go further. I don’t believe a Biblically sound church restricts service to the Kingdom to service/involvement in that particular local church. In my book, I’ll be calling this “church shaped spirituality,” and I’ll have quite a lot to say about it. Isn’t a church that is making disciples sending those disciples into the world? Isn’t the church the disciple-making, initiatory fellowship, but not the primary place where discipleship takes place?
6) Tithing to a local church, for example, is a practice that I can’t see being scripturally required in any new covenant sense. I was taught my entire life that God commanded me to tithe to my local church. Awareness of the larger needs of the Kingdom, of other ministries, of individuals and even of other causes supported by my church was always laundered through the “tithe to the local church” first rhetoric.
Shocker: I don’t trust many local churches to spend that much money in a kingdom-savvy way. Insurance. Utilities. Salaries. Facilities. With a percentage to “missions.” I can no longer believe that is how I, as a Christian, am to be a steward of my financial resources. My church should help me manage and spend that money by showing me many different ways I can make it count for the Kingdom and teaching me to be a Kingdom investor in all of life. They should teach me to see the world with Kingdom eyes and my resources through the priorities of Jesus, which include the local church but certainly isn’t restricted to it.
If an American church has 10,000 members, and they would all tithe, what would most of those churches do? Build bigger buildings and hire more staff to do more programs. Let’s support the church, but let’s not buy whiskey for proven alcoholics.
7) The Kingdom economy is one where the local church is a demonstration of the Kingdom, and the church prepares and equips Christians to live Kingdom-useful lives. That life can’t be restricted to a local church. The marriage analogy depends on an exclusive vow as the moral center of marriage. Only one relationship. That exclusive vow is with Christ, not with a local church.
8) Don’t accuse me of “either/or,” because I am not saying that in any way. Christians have responsibilities and commitments to their local churches, but that relationship is relative to 1) Christ, 2) the Kingdom of Christ and his purposes. The local church has a place and a role in the Kingdom, but that is relative to the ultimate claims of Jesus Christ and the call of all disciples to seek first the Kingdom.
9) The claim that “the church is the way disciples seek first the Kingdom” is a claim made by churches and church leaders. I think it has to be questioned, not because there aren’t great churches and pastors like Immanuel and Ortlund, but because there are worldly and compromised “churches” and “shepherds” as described in Revelation 2-3, Ezekiel, etc.
10) I greatly appreciate and affirm Ortlund’s words. There is a lot of wisdom there. I think he is expressing some things which many of us need to talk about in the context of our own rather different experience of church.