This week, as I observed the reactions to a recent statement regarding human sexuality by a group of Evangelical Christian leaders, my thoughts have been scattered and distressed. As a matter of fact, these two words — SCATTERED and DISTRESSED — pretty much sum up my thoughts and feelings regarding my standing within the traditions of Christianity and Evangelicalism along with my response from within these two traditions to the broader culture. These feelings of “scattered” and “distressed” are further exasperated by the response to Evangelicals from my brothers and sisters on my left.
I confess that too often the traditions that I call home have acted poorly, unpastorally, and unlovingly. I confess that leaders within my traditions have made strange bedfellows with politicians for short-term “political” gains while losing sight of the long-term goals of the Kingdom. I confess that their sin is my sin even if it is only through my silence. I confess that we have lost our voice because of our own screaming about the sins of others.
I also confess, however, that these sins of mine — some by action and some by inaction — keep me from speaking the Truth with love. I feel guilty. I feel angry — at myself and others. I feel scared that my hypocrisy will be pointed out. I feel scattered. I feel distressed.
A fuller examination of these feelings is probably a post for another day — maybe even its own series. In the meantime, I look and listen to those whom I believe God has placed in my path to provide discipleship and ultimately healing for my confusion, my “scattered” thoughts, my “distressed” feelings. For me, Walter Rauschenbusch has become one of those voices.
Today, I was struck by Walter Raushenbusch’s writing concerning the Church as a product of Jesus’ compassion or social feeling. I realize that I may move beyond Walter’s initial take on this passage, but like usual, he challenged me; I hope it does the same for you.
From The Social Principles of Jesus by Walter Rauschenbusch. Chapter 3, “Standing with the People.” Page 33.
THIRD DAY: The Church, a Product of Social Feeling
And Jesus went about all the cities and the villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of disease and all manner of sickness. But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion for them, because they were distressed and scattered, as sheep not having a shepherd. Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest indeed is plenteous, but the laborers are few. Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he send forth laborers into his harvest. And he called unto him his twelve disciples, and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of disease and all manner of sickness. –Matt. 9:35-10:1
The selection of the Twelve, their grouping by twos, and their employment as independent messengers, was the most important organizing act of Jesus. Out of it ultimately grew the Christian Church. Now note what motives led to it. Jesus was relieving social misery. He was oppressed by the sense of it. The Greek verbs are very inadequately rendered by “distressed and scattered.” the first means “skinned, harried”; the second means “flung down, prostrate.” The people were like a flock of sheep after the wolves are through with them. There was dearth of leaders. So Jesus took the material he had and organized the apostolate — for what? The Church grew out of the social feeling of Jesus for the sufferings of the common people.
To what extent, in your judgment, does the Church today share the feeling of Jesus about the condition of the people and fulfill the purpose for which he organized the apostolate? Or has the condition of the people changed so that their social needs are less urgent?
Jesus’ response to the pain of the sheep was not to attack the wolves — the sheep didn’t need to be saved from the wolves. they needed to be saved from their condition, from their evil spirits, and ultimately from their sin.
It was the mistake of the first century to think that the Messiah was coming to save the people of God from external oppressors — from the Romans or even the religious leaders. And it would be the mistake of the twenty-first century to think that the Messiah came to save the people from external oppressors — liberal or conservative — political or theological.
Jesus came and sent the Church into the World to save us from our own sin. In so doing the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are made whole, the deaf hear, and the Good News is preached to the poor and oppressed!
This is the message of the gospel — the social gospel or otherwise. The comfort brought to the sheep is through the rod and the staff (Psalm 23) not through allowing the sheep to go their own way further into darkness and danger.
Let me put this as plainly as I can in a way that I hope will not offend anyone (but possibly may offend everyone):
I do NOT need Jesus to save me from someone else’s definition of marriage (regardless of the definition); I need Jesus to save my marriage from my own selfishness, my own pride, my own sin.
I do NOT need Jesus to save me from someone else’s restrictive or progressive sexual ethic; I need Jesus to save me from my own lust, my own wandering eye, my own sin.
I do NOT need Jesus to save me from fundamentalist or liberal theologians (or politicians); I need Jesus to save me from my own nature, from my own unclean spirits, from my own sin.
It is wrong to speak the Truth without love. It is also wrong to speak love without the Truth. And I am thankful for the many men and women in my life (some in person and others through their writings) that have acted pastorally by pointing out my innate sin nature and have challenged me by speaking the Truth into my life with love! I hope that through their example — through their voices of love speaking the Truth — God will bring this scattered and distressed sheep closer to Him, and may He chastise me with His rod and His staff if a I stray or if — and God forbid — I ever run with the wolves!
- How do we challenge the notion that the Gospel can be separated from the social concerns of the world?
- How do we challenge the notion that one can have a Social Gospel separated from the transformational power of the Gospel to change the internal and external life of the sinner?
- To what extent do you feel that Church leaders (and members) are wolves rather than sheep? And how does this happen on either side of the left/right divide in the Church?
- How do we discern that we are not running with a wolf pack even when we think we are one of the sheep?