Yesterday the Indiana primary confirmed that we are moving into a new America, starting in November. In past elections, there seemed to be a positive path forward somewhere. This time, I don’t see one anywhere. We seem to be funneling down to a new America, whoever is elected.
For us pastors, our new question becomes: How will we retool our churches for the new America that the Lord will call us to serve? Many thoughts flood my mind, especially memories of Francis Schaeffer and the wisdom he demonstrated the last time our nation went into such intense upheaval, as I recount here and here.
But let me propose now, for starters, one key aspect of a new church life for our new America. I will summarize it in one word: real. The real Jesus of real grace for real sinners. It is time now — not a year from now but right now — to search ourselves and our ministries asking, Is what I am doing in my church real? Is the Jesus I preach the real, biblical Jesus, in all his grace and glory? Is my voice in the community real, credible, honest, or am I mouthing what people expect me to say, even what I expect to say? Does my church offer other sinners a grace so obviously real that, though it might be refused, it cannot be denied? And so forth. The questions are endless, unsettling, freeing.
There is a New Testament verse that I believe is a perfect fit for our churches in these demanding times. Rather than become angry and defensive, let’s embrace this ancient wisdom: “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Any church walking with God and one another out in the light will have a ministry today and tomorrow. Any church settling for less will be swept away. But reality with God is not hard to find. He is right there “in the light,” in the obvious place, waiting for us with open arms.
To “walk in the light,” in the context of 1 John chapter 1, is an honest relationship with the Lord and with one another. Honesty about our sins and failings and weaknesses and shortcomings. No more sweeping anything under the rug, but stepping out from the shadows of denial and evasion and posing into the light of plain honesty. It is humbling, even painful, to face ourselves. But humbling ourselves and owning up, moment by moment, is how we live in reality with the living God. Every pastor continually faces this question: Will I be impressive, or will I be known? Walking in the light might make us feel exposed, vulnerable and embarrassed, initially. But entire openness to God and one another about who we really are and what we really need is where God himself becomes real again. “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light . . . .”
And the new ministry God has for us out there in the light is two-fold: one, deeper fellowship with one another, as the walls fall down and we discover how much we have in common and the sympathy flows back and forth as never before; two, cleansing by the blood of Jesus his Son, as he frees us from long-standing sins by the mighty power of his finished work on the cross.
We might not find a candidate on the ballot this November that our consciences can vote for. But nothing is stopping us from being pastors who walk in a gentle honesty so real that it flows out into our churches and through our churches into our nation. And the blood of Jesus might work some miracles of cleansing to surprise us all.