Tell Me If You Have Understanding

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, the romanticized ideal of "church" in America.

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, the romanticized ideal of “church” in America.

Then the Lords answered Job out of the whirlwind:

‘Who is this that darkens counsel with words without knowledge?

Gird up your loins like a man,

      I will question you, and you shall declare to me.

Where we you when I laid the foundation of the earth?’ – Job 38:1-4a


As part of my post-Easter reflections, I was forced to think, and re-think, something I wrote back on March 13.  I insisted that Willow Creek church, in the Chicago suburbs, was both ugly and, by certain implications, not at all what “church” – the gathered Body of Christ worshiping the Father in the Spirit – should be.  I am now admitting this judgment was not only wrong; it was both insulting and inconsiderate.  Furthermore, it may well have been more than a tad dismissive of the power of the Holy Spirit to move in places and through worship styles with which I am neither familiar nor (I must confess) comfortable.

This was all prompted by an invitation my wife received in the mail to attend an event at Willow Creek called the Global Leader Summit.  I happened to glance at the brochure and started the whole critical thing almost immediately.  It was then I realized I was doing exactly what I insisted we should not be doing: wasting our breath criticizing how others live out church.  Willow Creek may not be for everyone, but for those who attend, who volunteer, who are on staff, who built this congregation, it most certainly is Church.

It was then I heard again the words from the whirlwind: Where were you when I created the world?  These are not just critical of Job, convinced of his innocence and God’s injustice in the face of his loss and suffering.  They are words addressed to any who would dare presume to an understanding of Divine Providence, the movement of the Spirit in people’s lives, and how the Body of Christ may come to be in the future.  We spend so much time insisting our worship, our polity, our theology, our theological education be just so, we forget that the Church of Jesus Christ has existed for a couple thousand years now, and despite persecution and torture and being hounded by authorities from Rome to ancient China and medieval Japan to the Soviet Union and some Muslim countries, it has managed to continue, even thrive, despite our best efforts to kill it.  That the church over the past 2000 years has existed in many shapes, sizes, forms, languages, styles, and beliefs should go without saying.  Sitting in judgment over one particular contemporary expression of a people’s faith in Jesus Christ is, to put it mildly, presumptuous.

That others might wish to do so, well, that is their business.  It is something of which I wish no part.  It may not be something that appeals to me, but many things do not appeal to me, from Japanese Noh plays to the history of hay.  That does not mean these things are unimportant.  It does not mean they are not meaningful. Mistaking preference for truth is among the more egregious errors of our world.  It’s a human tendency to be sure, but that does not make it right.

In a bit of “Physician, heal thyself”, I am admitting I was wrong in my judgments about Willow Creek.  Part of that admission includes both a promise and a hope: A promise I shall, in the future, refrain from being critical both of the practices and beliefs of Christians who differ with me; the hope is that I can keep to this promise, perhaps with some help from you, Dear Reader, to remind me that I am not at all the one who laid the foundation of the earth.


About gksafford

I'm a middle-aged theologically educated clergy spouse, living in the Midwest. My children are the most important thing in my life. Right behind them and my wife is music. I'm most interested in teaching people to listen to contemporary music with ears of faith. Everything else you read on here is straw.
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