Wednesday, January 13, 2010

"Do you want to go away as well?"

Whenever Jason Byassee writes a guest editorial for Theology Today, don't miss it. In the latest issue he describes his experience with young ministers:
Another sign of hope is the posture of these young ministers toward institutions. Many of my former seminary classmates left the ministry after they tried to fix things at warp speed. They tried to make the whole church pacifist. Or inerrantist. Or as inclusive as they are in their enlightened, tolerant state. All in a year or two. They wrote some articles, served a church or two, went to some conferences, and it just didn't work. So they became Latin-Mass Catholics, for whom Pope Benedict XVI is a dangerous liberal with too compromising a posture vis-à-vis the modern world. Or they became bicycling, farmers-market shopping crusaders against carbon-based fuels. Now they look at people like us and are puzzled: "Why are you still messing around with church and those same old pitiful problems?" In their impatience they fail to see that God chooses to save corporately, through institutions... God saves by Israel and the church after all - it should be no surprise to anyone who's even glanced at the Bible or church history that institutions are often corrupt. And as the young ministers often showed me, institutions are the most beautiful thing there is.
Of course, a given reader might find themselves quibbling with portions of Byassee's editorial, such as his upholding Andrew Sullivan as an example of what it means to faithful to an institution you disagree with. Furthermore, a Catholic convert from Protestantism might reply: "I fully agree. Where were those arguments in the 16th century?" But those are quibbles. Like Kevin de Young, Byassee exposes the immaturity, a thwarted hunger for power, in those who are too good for institutions. Needless to say, such deserters are in significant company. John 6:66 comes to mind: Christ had an embarrassing public moment, after which, "many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him." The verse that is the title of this post immediately followed. Would that we had a shred of the faithfulness of David, who, with a clear shot to eliminate the undeniably corrupt institutional leadership of Saul once and for all, was egged on to murder by his men, but instead replied, "The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord's anointed" (1 Samuel 24:6).

Now, as an American evangelical, if someone could clarify to which of the dozen or so ecclesial institutions that have shaped me I should be faithful, I'll get right on it.

[cross-posted at Evangel]