Mature Christians

December 3, 2007

I’ve been following the buzz surrounding Willow Creek Church’s newest
“highly effective” way of doing church, an initiative called Reveal: Where are you?
After a generation of numerical “success,” Willow Creek Church has
apparently learned that attracting large numbers of people is not the
same as forming faithful disciples of Jesus.

We
learn this if we listen to John the Baptist during Advent. His
preaching summons us to turn our attention away from our own actions
and efforts to the coming One who baptizes with the fire of God’s
Spirit. Even John, the last and greatest of the prophets, can only take
us so far with his call to repentance and claims of the law. Although
he challenges us with his austere, disciplined way of life and lean,
no-frills style of preaching, only the coming of God will save us from
all that stands between us and the fullness of God’s rule of justice
and peace for ourselves, our neighbors and enemies.

John
shows—and Willow realizes—that self-help religion, or following a
program that advocates principles to meet “deeply felt needs,” cannot
do the one thing we need more than anything else: the re-creation of
our life in God’s image through the gift of sharing God’s holy love.

This
is the work of the Spirit who moved over the waters in the beginning,
the same Spirit that spoke through the prophets, that rested upon Jesus
at his baptism, that was poured out on all flesh at Pentecost and that
graciously continues to dwell in the church. It is not a matter of
“effectiveness,” of finding the right way of “doing church” or of
“being relevant.”

During Advent, John calls us to remember that
the wisdom of God became incarnate in Jesus Christ. The heart of this
wisdom is to know who created us and to what end we are created. This
is why John announces that the One who is coming is mightier than he;
so much mightier that John does not even presume to be worthy of
untying his sandal. The humility required is not self-prescribed
improvement or modification of behavior or attitude adjustment. We are
destined for union with Christ in the power of the Spirit, for
communion with God by grace.

Without the fire of the Spirit, we
are destined for frustration in trying to live according to God’s
demands. We can repeat with our megachurch friends, “This is what God
wants you to do”. . . .“This is what you need to do”. . . .“Here are
five things to remember this week,” but such moralisms ignore that our
final destiny and happiness is life in and with God. They impose a
morality that can only invite presumption or promote despair; it lacks
a hope in the One who anoints and sets us ablaze with the Spirit’s fire.