Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Thermometer or Thermostat?

Tonight I felt particularly challenged by a quote from Martin Luther King's "Letter From a Birmingham Jail." A letter that was composed on scraps of newspaper and directed at white clergy challenging their lack of support towards the fight against racial injustice.

The letter is strongly worded to say the least as Dr. King challenges the Church to reflect the image of the God, that they were made in and as new creations are expected to grew into.

As you (and I!) read this quote, I challenge you to ask yourself how well your Church represents this view? How well do you represent it?

I've asked that tonight and I certainly plan to keep on asking it.
There was a time when the church was very powerful--in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators."' But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven," called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent--and often even vocal--sanction of things as they are.
So, is the Church simply taking to temperature of the culture around us and trying to avoid "rocking the boat" or are we setting the standard, pumping the heat up a few degrees, asking questions like . . .

Why will 90% of black children in the United States receive food stamps for some period of time before they turn 20? (Source: Washington University in St. Louis)

Why does everyone at my church look pretty much the same as me and Sunday morning at 10 AM is still the most segregated time in America?


How is it possible that there's a city of 2.5 million in a large Middle Eastern country that has less than 25 persons in it who know and walk with Jesus Christ?

If anyone should be asking (and answering!) these questions, its the Church!

But it starts with asking. I believe at my core that God loves justice and cries out for the distress of the poor, orphan, widow, and immigrant and that He calls his body the have hearts that beat and break for what He cares about.

So, please, Church, let's ask the questions, starting with: Are we a thermometer or a thermostat?

(Dialog! Leave comments! Challenge my theology! Please! You can agree with me too if you want . . .)


Kristen said...

This is an interesting quote/idea. I think that MLK nailed it when he described the Church as being a thermometer - a belief in which I completely agree. It actually kind of goes along with a book I'm reading now - "Why Christianity Must Change or Die" by Bishop John Shelby Spong. He has some pretty radical ideas (which I think most Christians would probably call heresy), but in this book, he focuses on how Christianity and the Church of the modern age must change their way of thinking & acting in order to reach more people. He calls himself a "believer in exile", in that he feels that the Church is too passive and is relying on ancient traditions too much, which is causing a decrease in "true" belief. It's interesting so far, but I'm not very far yet. I'll let you know how it goes.

Dan said...

Very powerful. I'm afraid I'll go in a million different ways.

The church is 'the people.' Not just the men and women on the church staff, but all the members. All Christians. It always has been and it always will be (I hope)! I see this in your blog, but some comments seem to focus on what I think is the message from the pulpit. I think speaking FOR the CHURCH from the pulpit has to be difficult. How do you effectively reach each different person in a congretation and drive them full of zeal in the Lord? Each person in God's family has a different bent, a different need, a different motive. I believe that is put in them by the Lord himself. It has to make delivering many messages only quasi-effective depending on the listener him/herself.

To cut to the 'thermometer/thermostat' model, we must remember, though, that not all Christians in the early church were thermostats. If they were, why would Paul (and other disciples/apostles) have had to remind them of their obilgations and intentions as Christians through letters and return visits? Some were thermometers. Thankfully, there are also Christian thermometers and thermostats today, too. Just because the Bible accentuates those that were the movers and shakers does not indicate that all were this way.

Each one of us chooses what good we will do in God's name and image minute-to-minute, day-to-day. We choose who to impact and how. Every parent decides to what degree the children will be instructed in the ways of the Lord. People in an office may choose to be Christ to his/her co-workers in a gentle way...but often it may be true that 'still waters run deep' through that quiet but faithful follower who demonstrates how to do and say the right thing each time. Some people work to save babies from abortion. The injustices of our world will always be there in one way or another. There is good news that someone is always there to address each need!

Each of us is called in a different way. Some of us choose not to hear the call. Some of us hide Christ in us for fear of being teased for the sake of our's just easier. Some of us will be and have always been thermometers. Some have been thermostats.

Because we are human creatures, we will always have our poor - Jesus himself said so. Yes, it is our duty to help our brothers and sisters, but we must recognize that job will never be done.

Many will hear the voice/word of God/Jesus, but will chose not to follow for any of a million reasons. Still, we carry on. Some of us will choose to be on fire for the Lord, some of us won't. Some will help the poor. Some will help themselves. Some will know God and share him with others...some will know God and keep him to themselves.

I don't want to placate tepid followers. We all - the church - need to show our colors. We need not to back down from 'political correctness.' We need to kindle the fires of our love for Christ and do what we are called to do with the skills and abilities given. Only the Lord will know and judge us by our actions or lack thereof.

Marc Nettleton said...

Good insight, Dan. It gets me thinking of about 15 other concepts I could (and hopefully eventually will write about). Thanks for pointing out the shortcomings of the early church, we need to not romanticize that period, as while there were amazing acts of faith, love, and sacrifice, there was also whacked out morality and every kind of heresy man could imagine.

Also, thanks for the reminder that some "thermostats" always exist. I as one particularly prone to cynicism need that reminder and am encouraged by that reality.

One more thought, that might have to turn into a full post later, it is certainly true that Jesus said "You will always have the poor among you" but for the church (meaning whole body of Christ) are the poor among us? Where are they? Do we see them? Do they sit in pews next to us?

Something to chew on.

Also, which Dan is this? Turns out I know about 20 Dans.

Evan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Evan said...

I wanted to comment just to say something. That comment about how 10am Sunday is still the most segregated time of the week hit me. It's natural for like things to group together--like jocks in the lunch room or CEO's in the first class section of airplanes. I wish that for Christ following people, Christ would define us. That we would flock to others who love Him. That way, on Sunday, it is people who are colorful and from all places in the world--asian, latino, white, black, poor, middle-class, young, old, with handicap, without--who all love Jesus.