August 23, 2017

A Letter to the North American Church

By Chaplain Mike

In the tradition of Jesus’ seven letters to the churches in Revelation, a group called Epiphaneia Network has challenged writers to present a “letter” or communication of some sort to the North American Church, expressing God’s desires and concerns. They call this the “Eighth Letter” project. On Oct. 1-2 in Toronto, submissions that have been selected will be read, along with letters from folks like Shane Claiborne, Andy Crouch, Len Sweet, Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove, Ron Sider, Wendy Gritter, Tim Challies, Sarah Lance, Makoto Fujimura, Jason Hildebrand.

The opportunity came at a timely moment for me, because what I’m writing is a summary of what I think Jesus would say to his people here at the end of our three week series on three streams in the post-evangelical wilderness.

So, here is my “Eighth” letter…

To the North American Church,

Do you realize how much I love you? How much I have blessed you? Of all people in all ages of history, I have given you more wealth, technology, and energetic, positive character than anyone could imagine. You have been pioneers, conquerors of open spaces, dreamers, and guardians of freedom and self-determination. Your ambition alone has reached the moon. For this I praise you.

You, my children in America’s churches, have brought this can-do, never-say-die spirit to the practice of your faith. As you crossed the prairie, you left countless baptized believers and steepled congregations in your wake. Spiritual awakenings engulfed whole regions. Circuit riders tirelessly reached the most distant villages with my good news. Great Christian universities and institutions were founded to carry on my traditions to succeeding generations. For this I praise you.

Like all of my people in every place, you have sinned and fallen short of my vision for you. You treated the natives of this land with unconscionable cruelty, and the few that remain suffer to this day. The stink of chattel slavery has long been with you, and in many ways you have yet to face up to its full implications. You have too quickly taken up arms as a solution to perceived threats. Industrialized capitalism has all too often chewed up and spit out the weaker members of your communities. And you have ignored them. Even you, my churches, have participated in these sins, and for this I cannot praise you.

I am building a new mansion for my people in America. I will construct it in the heart of the city, in a location that is not prominent or attractive. Among the poor. Where few will know your name or care about your credentials. I am inviting you, my North American Church, to come and live with me there.

My mansion will have a great foyer, a hall in which I will hold gatherings for everyone who lives there. The hall will be a place for conversation, for developing friendships, for respectful, spirited discussion and debate about the differences you have with each other. There we shall raise our glasses together, enjoy feasts together, and learn to talk with those who have different ways of thinking and acting. We will learn not to fear one another. I will not tolerate you missing these gatherings.

Following these social occasions, you shall all return to your separate rooms. In those smaller apartments, people in my family who share similar thoughts and perspectives will live together. Each day you will practice and develop your own traditions. You will learn to love one another, nourish one another, and care for those who suffer among you. Your rooms should not be used as places where you merely sit around, denouncing and dismissing those who have chosen to live in other rooms. This, I will not tolerate.

There is one more requirement for living in my mansion. Every day, people from all the different rooms will go to work for me in the community that surrounds my house. Sometimes, individuals will work alone with me. At times, people in one apartment will work together as a group to do something meaningful. On other occasions, I want people from the entire household—from every single room!—to join forces and achieve results that no one smaller group can fulfill. Together, in various ways, as individuals, small groups, and one big family, living in my mansion will involve bringing good news and practical love to the poor among whom you live.

To this life I invite you. Today.

Links:

Comments

  1. Christiane says:

    “There is one more requirement for living in my mansion. Every day, people from all the different rooms will go to work for me in the community that surrounds my house.”

    I like this very much. You can see it many ways, but I like to think of any ways in which Christian people can cooperate so that they don’t go around ‘preaching the Gospel’ in front of starving people, without the grace of loaves and fishes to divide among them.

    I also see another ‘cooperation’ among Christian people with those of non-Christian groups in order to serve those who are in great need of care from their fellow human-beings. In THAT cooperation lies more chance of sharing ‘who we are’ as Christians than the horrors of islamophobic fundamentalist evangelicals’ rants.

    BTW, I appreciate your analogy to C.S. Lewis’s idea of the ‘central’ hall where Christians can meet, as a contrast to the separated rooms off of that hall where Christians warm themselves by separate fire places and keep aloof in their own ‘comfprt zones.’

    Great post. Thought-provoking.

  2. As a non-American, the one quibble I have is how you start out:

    “Do you realize how much I love you? How much I have blessed you? Of all people in all ages of history, I have given you more wealth, technology, and energetic, positive character than anyone could imagine.”

    Wealth as a measure of God’s love? Not so much to my way of thinking; as the saying goes, “If you want to see what God thinks of money, just look at who He gives it to”. 😉

    Then again, feel free to criticise me as a godless liberal Euroweenie cowering under the heel of the faceless bureaucrats in Brussels as creeping secularlism and socialism runs rampant before the Muslims overrun us all (I love you Americans, but sometimes the view of Over Here ye have makes me laugh out loud).

    🙂

    • Christiane says:

      Oh heavens, Martha, I sure hope you all don’t suffer from the rampant islamophobia that we have going on here among Christian fundamentalists. It’s getting pretty bad now.

      • Christiane, I think Martha was lampooning what a lot of Americans think of Europeans.

        Martha? Am I right? Please?

        • Correct, Ted. I’ve seen some sites where discussion is usually reasonable, until someone drags in Europe to prove a point and the impression does seem to be that we are all crushed under the diktats emanting from Brussels.

          Which sometimes, yes, but sometimes no. I think myself that many of the attitudes come second-hand from reading English views of the interference of the EU and that’s because the English are generally law-abiding.

          Take for example the regulation comes in that all goods must be sold in kilos and not pounds weight. Okay, here in Ireland, we’d go along with that, but people would still, for example, ask at the deli counter for “A pound of ham” or the like (though we’ve adapted with no problems to buying a litre of milk not a pint). There would not be anyone leaping out from behind a display cabinet to arrest either the shop assistant and/or the customer for selling goods in pounds and not in kilos, because we’re not as hung up on the fine details of the law. But the English, who would enforce regulations to the maximum because “It’s the law, you have to do it!” would be in a tizzy over this, and that’s why you get angry letters in “The Daily Mail” about Continental interference and the Dunkirk spirit, and then nice Americans read these online and think we’re all being persecuted by the soulless forces of bureaucracy 🙂

          • This is awful. It’s after 1 AM here and I just got home from a small party with old and dear friends, one of whom is that islamophobe that Christiane mentioned. He’s a doctoral candidate in theology, which makes it difficult for the rest of us. The others in the room were an Anglican, a Catholic, a Jew, a nominal Methodist, and my wife and I, the Baptists. Interesting discussion, and he the minority of one (well, plus God, if he’s right). But he didn’t budge.

            His argument revolved around the Muslims not stopping until they have conquered western civilization because it is ingrained in their culture. Europe did come up in the conversation, and he decried the sliding morality of England and France in particular (although Austria made a showing) and also “the soulless forces of bureaucracy” (in his own words). I’m glad to say that your Ireland was spared, as was Brussels. But with him, the mention of Brussels would have started another tirade, so don’t let’s push it.

            As another friend once said to him, “It’s a good thing we’ve been friends since we were kids, or I wouldn’t LIKE you.”

    • Martha, the wealth comment is fair, but the stereotype of those with wealth is not. I am an American living in Europe and I am drowning in stereotypes (especially national labels), and the swimming won’t get any better whenever I return to the US. Can we all just follow Christ?

      • You said, Libby: “Can’t we all just follow Christ?”

        Amen and Amen!! That alone keeps my days and thoughts filled – like a little puppy with eyes somewhat open, I am trying so desperately to follow Christ, but I do get led away from the scent. Follow him. Yes.

        • Wanda, yeah! Let’s keep following him and count on grace to keep us on the scent and get us all the way home!!

    • Martha, I did not mean to be presumptuous or look down on others. Just attributing the fact that America is the wealthiest country in the world to God’s Providence. We may soon be surpassed by China, and I would say the same thing about them. No reflection on anyone else. God’s gifts come in all different forms.

      • You are indeed fortunate in living in a land of great natural abundance and resources. The problem comes in when people start thinking they deserve all this good fortune, and that the wealth of their nation is all down to their own efforts and virtuousness alone

        If God has blessed me by letting me be American, and the measure of the blessing is that my country is wealthy and important, then countries that are not wealthy and important are not so blessed, and therefore the people living in those countries are lacking God’s blessing.

        Which is not so, correct? 🙂

        • Martha, don’t mess with manifest destiny:) Country and God, er, um, God and country. Either way, we must be careful using conjunctions with “God”. For we cannot serve both God and…

        • I hear what you are saying, Martha, but God’s blessings come in many forms. None of us deserve any of them. When I think that the vast majority of people in the world make less than two dollars a day, I am often ashamed of my poor stewardship and lack of generosity of all the resources I have. God’s kindness in giving us any blessings at all should lead us to repentance. “To whom much is given, much is required.”

          • It was just a nit-picking quibble on my part but perhaps it may be useful in showing how some things that are well-meant can strike on the ear.

            Starting off your Letter to the Vespericians with “See how materially rich you are? That’s how you can measure how much I have blessed you! I praise you for your can-do spirit!” – um. Maybe no?

            Yeah, further arrogance from the Land of Saints and Scholars (oh no, there’s nothing at all vainglorious about that appellation).

            😉

    • Martha,

      Allow me to suggest you sit back and relax to Christy Moore’s “City of Chicago”. Referring to the discussion earlier this week on immigration, it is common knowledge that much of the wealth American amassed over a century ago was built on the backs of the Irish. Many of them died in the process; I am thinking of the scoopers who hand-dug the Erie Canal by spade, nearby my home, and contracted swamp malaria in the process. When they arrived here from the Great Famine, they were restricted to farms on the rocky hilltops; Irish needn’t apply for land in the rich bottomlands. Meanwhile, some immigrants became rich. Even in my community, it still matters if you came from “shanty” Irish or from “lace curtain” Irish stock. A common pub sign here is “were it not for beer, the Irish would have conquered the world”. The Irish made and are making a remarkable work here as you may know and our country is much beholden to their generous contribution. It is hard to disagree that generations of Irish toil are an ingredient to the wealth Americans now enjoy. I guess my point is, tonight I will put on some Paddy Moloney, think of good times at Mother Redcap’s and mull it all over with something from St. James Gate. I know it’s not really a point, but I’ll enjoy it nevertheless.

      • And it would be extremely ungracious of me not to acknowledge that for my countrypeople, your country has indeed been a land of plenty, a land of opportunity, and a land of liberty.

        The thousands who have left our shores for a better life in America because of what Chaplain Mike does rightfully say – the open land, the opportunity to start over, the loosening of the old strictures of social class and keeping one’s place – many of them benefited and throve in the New World.

        For this, we are grateful.

        • More britishisms from Martha: “throve”. (Thrived?) 🙂

          How about preach/praught, in the spirit of teach/taught?

          • Ted, we in Ireland learned our English at the sword’s edge, so it’s kind of hard to remember what you Colonials may be accustomed to 😉

  3. I’ve felt for a long time that the US has lived somewhere between Ephesus and Laodicea.
    In Pilgrim’s Progress, we may have left the City of Destruction, got sidetracked on our way to the Celestial City, and have lost our way trying to live in Vanity Fair.

  4. Shane Claiborne and Len Sweet? What a waste…

    • Mark,

      Thank you for providing a living, breathing example of those who “sit around, denouncing and dismissing those who have chosen to live in other rooms.” Brother, perhaps that old phrase about having nothing good to say might apply here.

      It is just too painful to see the very clear point of this post go sailing by unheeded.

      Ray

  5. get my room ready, abba.

  6. (facepalm, long sigh…)

    Peace to you from our Lord, brother.

    • in reply to Mark… comment didn’t attach to the conversation.

      • The Chaplain is deleting my posts that sound too “lordship salvationist” or anti antinomian. I wonder if he would do the same if John MacArthur started speaking his mind on these blog posts.

        • Mark, “the Chaplain” is not deleting your posts based on what you say. I have told you repeatedly than my primary reason is that you stray away from the main point of the posts and keep beating the same drum over and over again. You are very close to being placed on permanent moderation. I have not done so yet because I truly want you to be able to participate. I think we need to hear your perspective. But we need to hear it only when it is given in the appropriate context and with due courtesy.

  7. One of the things I love the most about Jesus is the fact that He called us together around Himself. Not unity in assent to a set of propositions, nor unity in conformal standards of external behavior, but unity in being personally related to Him. Our diversity is given a point of commonality that allows us to come together in ways that are otherwise seemingly unnatural… in a “great foyer” perhaps.

    • Ray, curious, though I agree that “assenting to a set of propositions” never saved anyone, I wonder what the set requirements are for us to be personally united to him? Can a person reject the deity of Christ and be personally united to him? Can someone give evidence of not being regenerated (which is not necessarily about external behavior but about internal attitudes towards God and other people) and still be in reality in personal union with Christ? Our diversity is about agreeing to disagree about non-essentials and still considering each other brothers and sisters in Christ. Those who disagree with the Apostolic faith and Christian orthodoxy do not apply here. That is why theological liberalism (and its less deviant sister, watered-down mainline Christendom) is a cesspool from hell, because it leads many down the broad road to destruction.

      • Mark,

        I would strongly encourage you to heed Chaplain Mike’s words… I echo him in saying that your perspective is welcome here. You are our brother and we do want to hear from you. But it is disheartening to have a relatively simple statement about one of the wonderful attributes of our Lord pulled, stretched and folded over to suit your own needs. You are asking and answering questions that were not put in play by the statement… the leap of imagination made from diversity in the body of Christ to the dangers of theological liberalism was just not necessary.

        • “But it is disheartening to have a relatively simple statement about one of the wonderful attributes of our Lord pulled, stretched and folded over to suit your own needs.”

          Ray, what was it about my above post that made you think this way? I would really like to hear this.

  8. It is interesting that the message to the church in North America immediately assumes that N America is the USA. A letter to the church in Canada might well begin with something like — do you realize how much I love you and have blessed you? I have given you freedom without the bloodshed of a revolution or a civil war. I have given you benefits such as the assurance you have that when you need health care, it will not result in denial of services or devastating financial loss because of universal health care which was introduced by a Baptist minister.

    Although evangelicals in Canada tend to copy a lot of US ideas, I am grateful that most Christians are not into the American culture wars or the necessity to support only one political party.

  9. Chaplain Mike,

    Trying to write a letter like that is a tall order.

    My only comment on yours is about the “Among the poor.” That’s where I “see” God the most today

    I think God would repeat much of what he said in the seventh letter and add a story similar to “wedding feast” in Matthew 22.

  10. If I’m not mistaken, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once wrote a “Letter to the Church in America.”

  11. How about a “Dear John” letter to the Devil too? Here is one such example from the late Keith Green…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ox06MlV5fLM