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Extracurricular Activities 2.28.15 — Diversity, the Church and Utopia, & Rural Churches
In the latest issue of JBL is an article by Paula Fredriksen on “Paul’s Letter to the Romans, the Ten Commandments, and Pagan ‘Justification by faith,’” JBL 133.4 (2014): 801-7.
Fredriksen attempts to understand “justification by faith” beyond its usual theological discourse and identify the meaning of the phrase in its original social context. Her starting point is Josephus, Ant. 18.116-19 with John the Baptist’s preaching of “piety” and “righteousness” which correspond to the two tables of the Ten Commandments: commands 1-5 (piety toward God) and commands 6-10 (justice towards others).
A prominent question many worldviews and metanarratives are now wrestling with is the question of human diversity. Diversity is a fact that cannot be denied. The insularity of other cultures — which has always been partial — has now given way the phenomenon of globalization. It is hard to miss the fact that we are living in an age of increasing diversity; not just the world at large but even in our own nation and communities. In fact, some sociologists are now indicating that may soon be a majority-minority nation — a fact which is already a reality in some states. If our churches are truly going to represent the kingdom, if they are truly going to be gospel churches, then our churches are going to start to look more and more like our nation’s changing demographic map. Furthermore, our churches will rejoice in those changes.
Benedict of Nursia in the sixth century said, “The life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent. Since few, however, have the strength for this, we urge the entire community during these days of Lent to keep its manner of life most pure and to wash away in this holy season the negligences of other times” (Rule of Benedict 49.1-3). Though Benedict directs these words to men living under his rule in a monastery, they seem applicable to all baptized believers since we too are called to live lives of holiness: “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). Yet, what are the means to wash away the negligences of other times? Benedict answers, “This we can do in a fitting manner by refusing to indulge evil habits and by devoting ourselves to prayer with tears, to reading, to compunction of heart and self-denial” (RB 49.4).
It is not uncommon to read someone poke the church but no one pokes the kingdom. (There’s a story in that observation that can’t be engaged in this post but I discuss how to compare the two in Kingdom Conspiracy.) More often than not people poke the church because they have an eye (or two) on the kingdom. Which is a way of saying they poke the church because they are strapped to utopia. Much kingdom thinking spins between utopia and idealism.
The church of our reality struggles with folks who have utopian visions of the church and for the church. It only takes a good dose of reality, a theology of here-and-now reality, to reveal that the pokes are based on utopian visions that are not for the here-and-now-church.
Last week the brilliant blind member of the House of Laity John Spence (whose mesmerising speech in the final debate on women bishops swayed the vote towards ‘yes’) warned that the Church could be ‘eliminated’ from rural areas in ten years’ time. ‘If you look at [the] arithmetic projection you identify that, over the period 2007 to 2057, church attendance and membership would fall from 1.2 million on a regular basis to something like two or three hundred thousand.’
Can the current situation go on, in our 10,000 rural churches? Tiny congregations, with few people under 70; overworked clergy racing from church to church, having no time to chat to parishioners after each service, worn down by having six Grade I churches to look after, underpaid or not paid at all and at a loss as to how to make more people come to their Family Communion?
(Image: Totila e San Benedetto, by Spinello Aretino [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
Extracurricular Activities is a weekly roundup of stories on biblical interpretation, theology, and issues where faith and culture meet. We found each story interesting, thought-provoking, challenging, or useful in some way – but we don't necessarily agree with or endorse every point in every story.
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