Lesson 3: Who Speaks for the Church?

God spoke through Balam's assThe problem becomes even more complex when you ask who speaks for the Church in the cacophonous public conversation taking place in modern democracies. I was quite naive when I suggested the Church is one voice among many in these days. There are all sorts of voices claiming to speak for Christ out there, and few represent me. In fact, not one of them speaks for me all the time.

Like it or not, we are burdened with a terrifying freedom in our democratic society. It no longer works to assign the Church’s voice to people elected by the community, whether they be the Pope, a pastor, a celebrity preacher, a church scholar, or the leader of a nation. To claim an elected official in any institution always speaks for God is met with derision. And well it should be when church scandal after church scandal has destroyed any Gott mit uns argument.

One response has been to take the violent power option, in which one community insists it is the Church’s voice and attempts to silence all others. We see that approach all around us when groups claim Heaven for themselves and assign everyone else to Hell. They act as if Christianity represents the winners in this world and assure themselves of salvation by demonizing others as losers. It seems to me that this approach is just the opposite of Jesus’ Gospel. He calls us to resist power by rejecting violence as self-destructive.

I am satisfied to assert that the voice of the true Church is anyone who speaks in love as Jesus defined love. It might be in a United Nations debate, a national government discussion, or a neighborhood conversation. None is any more important than the other. In each, the assumption is that God’s Word never returns empty.

Dr. Robert Jenson, a well-known Lutheran theologian, was fond of saying in Christianity it is love all the way down, so that any reliable grasp of reality must be loving. Our goal then is not winning, but acknowledging in every way that we are all connected in a mesh of permeating relationships. That means we have no desire to silence anyone, but simply want to gather around common tables at which all can voice their positions. We are confident we can proceed with but one rule, no “put downs”; because God is also found in those permeating relationships.

The conversation might be taking place in a society that is imploding around us, as I love to hear Paul Wildman suggest. I sense he is quite right. However, even then, Christians speak love as the Word of God that enriches our lives in spite of the situation.

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