“Churches should be the most honest place in town,” Walter Brueggemann asserts, “not the happiest place in town.” While it would appear that most of our effort goes into fostering happiness. Which suggests that this is a topic to be considered more at length.
Reversing the order, what is involved in our obsession with enhancing pleasure? First, it reveals a consumer mentality. One drawn from the realm of economics, and indiscriminately applied to other areas. For instance, I found it applied in higher education, where there was a concerted effort to create a good feeling, even when this meant compromising high standards.
In this regard, a mega-church pastor recently observed: “We thought we were promoting discipleship, but it turns out that we were entertaining.” Their program was appealing, but the results were disappointing. As such, calling for a reality check.
Second, it fails to affirm the highest good. Which is in creedal terms to glorify God and thus enjoy his gracious blessing. Which solicits the observation that the greater threat to the highest good is not the blatant evil we do, but emphasis on the lesser good. Which, in this instance, pertains to the pursuit of pleasure.
This, in turn, recalls the satirical remark, “It must be right because it feels so good.” Not necessarily, since doing evil may seem pleasurable at the time. Recalling an academic person who appeared to enjoy establishing a pecking order, thus demeaning others.
Third, it does not deal acceptably with the fact that to live is to change. While it savors the moment, it does not anticipate what will come to pass. Not unless some concerted effort is made to prepare persons for what may eventuate. In particular, the adverse circumstances that require a creative adjustment.
While the more some things change, the more other matters remain constant. It is a wise and fortunate person who can distinguish between the two. While unbridled pleasure is not calculated to produce such a discerning spirit.
Finally, it fails to come to grips with notion that there is “a season for every activity under the sun” (Eccles. 3:1). In particular, there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” So that we are enjoined to rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn.
Consequently, we are admonished to sense the pleasure experienced by others, and take pleasure in their pleasure. Even when our circumstances differ greatly. Likewise, to feel the pain others are experiencing, even though it is not derived from our personal experience. As with the passing of a loved one.
What, in turn, can be said about the cultivation of ecclesiastical honesty? Initially, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). There are no exceptions. As expressed by one such sinner, “I have met the enemy, and he is me.”
Now sin consists of any lack of conformity to God’s righteous standard. It may be with regard to commission or omission. While the latter is often the more subtle and reprehensible. How many things have I failed to do today that I should have done? Far more than I realize.
Then given the fact that we are inclined to see the wrong in others, while oblivious to the wrong in ourselves. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” Jesus pointedly inquired. “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matt. 7:3, 5).
Secondly, the apostle Paul adds to his observation that all have sinned that “we are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Grace consists of unmerited favor. Bestowed on us by way of Jesus’ redemptive sacrifice, on condition of our acceptance.
Giving rise to John Newton’s memorable lyrics, “Amazing grace! How sweet the sound—that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see!” Accordingly, his tombstone allows: “John Newton, clerk, once an infidel and Libertine, a servant of slavers in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had so long labored to destroy.”
Thirdly, there is need for sanctification. This is a concept associated with both conversion, and subsequent growth in spiritual maturity. Such are from the former set apart for his service. Thus bonded in a teacher/student (disciple) relationship. Resulting in the designation Christian, as a follower of Christ.
Then, too, one is exhorted to mature. Thus increasingly assuming responsibility for oneself, and the care of others. No longer content to dwell on the elementary teachings, but concerned for their larger implications. Thus formulating a Christian faith and life perspective. Something that is largely lacking according to recent studies.
Eventually, as concerns service. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them,” Jesus allowed. “Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:25-28). Like Jesus, then like his disciples.
This implies a holistic ministry. One that embraces the entire hierarchy of needs: from those related to survival, through such as pertains to security and a sense of belonging, to that associated with one’s calling. Accordingly, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward” (Col. 3:23).
All things considered, let the church serve as a reality check. Not as a means of escape but engagement. Thus to enhance a corporate spirituality, and serve as a social catalyst. While in keeping with the proclamation of the gospel.
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