In case you have missed it, the church has zero influence in the culture around us. And whatever influence we have left, we are squandering it. We are squandering it with infighting as we try to carve out our piece of the culture by offering virtue signals to those around us to show that we are the most, (fill in the blank), church around. This is happening to churches from every background, style, ethnicity, and theological perspective.
One of the ways we are staking out the ground us is by letting our people know that we are "affirming."
The question is, "What are we affirming?"
In our culture, there is pressure to affirm all sorts of things. This is true in the LGBTQ discussion but actually applies to just about every issue these days. Clarifying who or what you affirm allows us to determine who is in our tribe. We are now as asked to affirm lifestyles, political parties, and theological positions. Without even realizing it, we have changed the direction and purpose of the church.
What if we went a little old skool in our approach. You know, long before moral, therapeutic deism ruled our culture and the church. What if we looked back to a time when Jesus Christ was the center, and we came under his teaching about seeking first his kingdom and righteousness.
Back in this day, followers of Jesus understood that they had value and dignity because they were made in the image of God. They also were the minority position and affirmed human value and dignity to all humans, not just in their tribe. That is why Christians have always been on the front lines of caring for the orphans, widows and marginalized.
But they did this "charity" not because they were good people, but because they were followers of Jesus and this is what Jesus commands of his people. We are not "good" people. We have a sin nature and every one of us is capable of evil. As followers of Jesus, they understood that humans were deeply flawed, some would even say totally depraved. It was for this dilemma that Jesus became an atoning sacrifice, taking away our sin, and where we are invited daily to pick up our cross, die to ourselves, and to lay down our sinful and selfish nature, so we can once again follow Jesus wherever he leads.
This ancient way of the church was marked by self-sacrifice, temperance, generosity, and service. Imagine a time when the people of God would give up their rights and become slaves to their weaker sisters and brothers for the sake of unity and for the movement of the Kingdom of God. (A kingdom centered on the glory of Jesus, not on the fulfillment of human desire.) . This is because they understood the intrinsic value and dignity of humanity and the need for salvation and sanctification to chip away at our sinful and rebellious nature.
When we fight for affirmation, we no longer have to be reflective. We have bought into the lie that we don't have a sin nature and not capable of evil. You see, it is always "those people" who are capable of evil, not me.
When we fight for affirmation we actually lie to ourselves and think that we have arrived. Speaking as a heterosexual, married man, if I simply want the church to affirm me and my sexual choice, the church actually does me a disservice in my spiritual formation. For now, with this affirmation, I can simply embrace my self-righteousness and dismiss anyone who is not like me.
Rather, what if the church could simply find a way to give value to human beings and fight hard against demonizing one another and advocating for those who are marginalized. That is what needs to be affirmed. Affirming lifestyles, political positions, theological perspectives always leads to self-righteousness and divisions. What we do affirm always centers on the person, work, and worship of Jesus Christ and the partnership of being co-laborers with him.
Is it too naive to think that if we stop trying to justify our life, lifestyle, and politics, by asking the church to affirm them, we can be free to be what the church is supposed to be, the gathering of God's people to give honor and worship to Jesus and encourage and empower his people to join him the work of seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.