On a recent trip to see my father, I was picking through various magazines looking for something of interest. On the cover of one of the ladies’ magazines was the heading Get Your Best Butt Ever. It is to be expected that many of the articles in such magazines will be geared toward ’self-improvement’. I don’t know that I even begrudge anyone who takes an interest in their personal appearance. But something about the magazine’s ‘come-onâ’ struck me as rather shallow in a world beset by war, poverty, environmental challenges, and religious intolerance. And then it came to me. It was as if it had just been revealed that an early scribe altered the text from the Gospel of John, which originally had Jesus telling Nicodemus that he needed a born-again rear.
One of the gems I discovered in Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life (Zondervan, 2002) provides, Worldly Christians look to God primarily for personal fulfillment. They are saved, but self-centered. They love to attend concerts and enrichment seminars, but you would never find them at a missions conference because they aren’t interested. Their prayers focus on their own needs, blessings and happiness. It’s a “me-first” faith: How can God make my life more comfortable?….In contrast, world-class Christians know they were saved to serve and made for a mission.
Why isn’t there that much, or at least not nearly enough, unity and communion among the world’s Christians? Some might point to differences in culture, theologies, or worship practices. Certainly, American “civil religion” is one hindrance. Consider, though, that the main problem might be that too much of Christianity is seeking self-fulfillment instead of common purpose and mission.
One of my most painful experiences with respect to church unity came several years ago as I was inviting various churches to participate in our ecumenical Thanksgiving service. The pastor of one church dismissed me with a rather condescending comment to the effect of, “we don’t worship with non-believers.” This very moment, various Episcopal/Anglican leaders are declaring themselves completely or partially “out of communion” with fellow Christians.
Are there changes on the horizon? Some have surmised that the African church might lead some kind of ‘awakening’ toward a more covenant-community orientation. (I grant that some of the Anglican leaders declaring themselves out of communion are from Africa.) My former Bishop, Bruce Blake, often told his pastors about asking an African church leader about the main difference between African and American (Western?) worship styles. The leader was said to have replied, ‘You sing “I” songs; we sing “we” songs’.
Standing on the promises we cannot fall,
Listening every moment to the Spirit’s call,
Resting in our Savior as our all in all,
Standing on the promises of God.
(R. Kelso Carter, 1886)
No, I didn’t read the article on butt building. It could have included, but likely didn’t, advice to strengthen the gluteus maximus by hefting some of the debris from the destruction in Lebanon and Israel, the 2004 tsunami, or Hurricane Katrina. A group workout, so to speak.