Friday, July 19, 2013

Recover Tradition, Recover Influence

My conviction that churches and pastors are healthy counter-cultural influences grows deeper with every passing day.  The more things change around (or even within) the church, the more our convictions and practices rooted in the faith once and for all delivered to the saints matters.  It is simply more true now of pastors and churches than it has been in a long time - we are culture makers.

At First Things, Dominc Verner reflects on this kind of imperative through the helpful lens of early catholic and Catholic influences.  These are men and women who shaped the ecclesiastical culture and disposition toward the outside world that was significantly un-Christian.  There are lessons to be learned here.  One influence he discusses is that of Dominic:

But the revitalization of our tradition must also be Dominican. Dominic graced the world with his love of Truth and his unshakeable faith in its power to save. His friars devoted, and continue to devote, themselves to study, digging their roots deep down into the soil of sacred mysteries. Firmly planted in the tradition, intellects honed through dialectical disputation and sanctified by contemplative prayer, the Dominican is at home in every public square, pulpit, and classroom. Even far from his priory, the preaching friar walks on native soil, confidently exploring the dark caverns of error, inviting lost wayfarers to come home to God’s truth.

Our stance towards the secular world must be Dominican for the simple fact that charity compels us to share the truth. Yes, we must first be steeped in our own tradition, fortified with sacred scripture, contemplative prayer, theological wisdom, and our perennial philosophy, but then, out of charity, desirous of the salvation of souls, we must boldly venture out into the wilderness of rival traditions and speak the word that saves.

The influential pastor will now be someone who recovers this kind of tradition.  Gone are the days of the fly-by-night televangelist who commands the loyalty of millions and reaches significant numbers of American/Pagan converts at the same time.  We must dig deeper.  We must study harder.  We must do the nitty-gritty work of laying our theology over the canvas of everyday life and weaving the beautiful tapestry of the Kingdom of God.  We must live with our congregations for longer periods of time than are typical for the average evangelical pastor.  We must find our routes into the cultures and communities around us. We can no longer get away with half-hearted and shoddy work.  We must become (again?) the moral and intellectual leaders of our communities.

We cannot become deceived by the prevailing cultural idea that love is tolerance of other religious and moral views, and thus become weak or afraid in our proclamation of the Gospel.  Christian love makes reality as clear as it can wherever it can.  And we believe that Christ is reality and the Kingdom of God is actually present and at work.

That's all.

This sounds expansive and nearly unattainable because it probably is for most of us, especially in its complete application.  But the Christian leaders who made the most impact in their non-Christian and pagan-saturated worlds were the pastor/theologians to aimed in this direction and worked at it with all their might (like Dominic).

It is becoming easier and easier for the church to be different from the world around it - just be the church and believe what the church has always believed.  It is good for our congregations to do so, and it is good for the world, despite their protestations to the contrary.

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