Tuesday, February 24, 2009

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Angry Young Christians

There's a place in the world for the angry young man
With his working class ties and his radical plans
He refuses to bend he refuses to crawl
And he's always at home with his back to the wall
And he's proud of his scars and the battles he's lost
And struggles and bleeds as he hangs on his cross
And likes to be known as the angry young man
(Billy Joel)
Americans have a soft spot for revolutionaries. Whether it be George Washington or Luke Skywalker, we love to see the brave, usually young, usually good-looking hero take on the despotic establishment and emerge victorious--or even to fail tragically but valiantly.

Such is our romance for heroic rebels that we find them where they are not. Che Guevarra was little more than a murderous thug who helped bring a half century of repressive dictatorship to Cuba, yet his face continues to adorn merchandise as a symbol of some glorious resistance against ... whatever.

This romance extends to the church, sadly, and is the siren's song of the heroic "revolutionary" who is, in many cases, merely a contemptuous and rebellious troublemaker. Revolution of this other sort has no positive vision, no hopeful calling. It is merely the call to be an "Angry Young Man" (or Woman), sniping at the church's faults and treating even Christ's most devoted and selfless servants as if they are merely part of some great Evil Empire. Such wanton destructiveness, as noted by the Presbyter below, disrespects many of those we ought most to respect--those who do much good work on behalf of the Kingdom of God at great personal sacrifice. Moreover, it brings discredit to the honest and necessary revolution and reform happening elsewhere.

To illustrate, consider the cultural revolution that began in the 1960s. This revolution marked a critical turning point in the war against racial discrimination which was still so shockingly prevalent across the Deep South. Much good and many heroes marked the period. Yet the same generation so honored with nobility among some also featured shocking and destructive excess among many more. The truth is, those who were the true and necessary revolutionaries often became entangled and confused with and among those who were merely arrogant rebels along for the ride--youths who despised their parents' generation and used the guise of "revolution" as an excuse for self-indulgence.

There is likewise a temptation to arrogantly savage the organized church without issuing--or better yet, living out--any higher calling. In many cases, the self-righteous rejection of the organized church serves as little more than a cover-up for sin. Freed from the "oppression" of the church (or should I say the accountability to the church), there is often a descent into sloth. This is not a spiritual revolution ... it is a temper tantrum.

The church needs its revolutionaries and its reformers. It needs those who will, like Jailbreaker, live out a bold new vision in order to be his witnesses "in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." But those who merely snipe at the church's faults do the cause no credit and no good service. In fact, they harm it gravely.

26 comments:

  1. "My son, do not forget my teaching,
    but let your heart keep my commandments,
    for length of days and years of life
    and peace they will add to you." (Pr. 3:1,2)

    Since there's a whole book of the Bible, dedicated to the proposition that our walk with God, and indeed our walk in the world would be much richer and fuller if we would only listen when we're young, it is indeed appalling that we exhibit such a soft spot for revolutionaries. I don't think "The Screwtape Letters" mentions a department down there that dedicates itself to promoting this, but perhaps C. S. Lewis simply have time to include it in his plot.

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  2. Agreed, Presbyter, but of course we have to be careful not to cast too wide a net ... the Apostle Paul and Martin Luther, for example, were both very necessary revolutionaries (in the sense of revolution as "a sudden, complete or marked change in something". Importantly, neither set out to lead revolutionary overthrow but rather revolutionary reform.

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  3. I agree that we need to be careful in this.

    But, on the other hand, 10 days after he posted his 95 theses in 1517, Luther celebrated his 34th birthday. Not a greybeard to be sure, but not a youthful revolutionary either. By this time, his "theology of the cross" was almost fully developed, so his "revolution" came from very mature insight. One suspects from his example that "revolutionary reform" may not be a young man's business.

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  4. This post is a wonderful insight into my generation's skepticism. I see my friends constantly challenging the "old" traditions, but not doing anything "new." I think squalor is a good word, as the post put it, because it seems most are just wallowing in self pity. They have lost their sense of sacrifice ...

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  5. Thanks for your kind remarks, Carly. That was my post. Mediating this blog, I find that there are true "revolutionaries" or "reformers" who are really trying to do something new and important, but their work is tarnished by others with no real agenda except to whine about things. The whiners succeed only in putting the organized church into a deeper defensive crouch, making the reformers' job even more difficult.
    By the way, there's a corollary problem: traditionalists who refuse to confront the real issues brought up by the real reformers, instead dismissing it all as mere rebellion. The two problems, obviously, feed off one another. We need to be better than that, recognizing that there are godly people in the organized church and godly people at the fringes attempting to reform her--both deserve our respect and support as we all seek to be more like our Lord.

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  6. One of the hardest things, to me, about trying to revolutionize the established church is that it, like any organization, relies so heavily on its own traditions, funding, etc.

    I think there are some good arguments that traditional religion -- pulpit driven and program oriented -- doesn't bring most adherents to the point where they die to themselves and live for Christ. Nonetheless, people (including me) had to start someplace, learning to read the Bible, absorb the message and apply it to our lives.

    As much as Martin Luther reformed the church, even he didn't try to bring it back to its biblical roots. I go back and forth whether that would be a worthwhile thing to do, or whether we should just take the church where it is and go forward in trying to recraft authentic Christianity.

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  7. I agree that there are far too many disaffected people in the church merely throwing stones. It isn't enough to curse the darkness without shining a light, but the fact of widespread disaffection should be a warning to us all.

    My family and I are members of a prosperous suburban congregation with a facility that has a multimillion dollar maintenance budget and a private school that has an annual tuition rate which is beyond the reach of 99% of the local population, but the church is very well led and is doing a great deal for our troubled community. On the one hand I deeply respect and love our leaders, on the other I find myself repelled by the materialistic largesse of the church.

    Search as I will, I cannot lay my finger on a biblical mandate to go into all the world, building luxurious facilities for those who are already saved, and private schools for the children of privilege.

    Sometimes disaffection is a sign of a secret, seething sin of inward rebellion, true enough. But that's not always the case. If it was, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, and others would have remained submissive monks and priests, obedient to a fault and never questioning the magisterium that ruled the church.

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  8. I think your point about being "freed" from accountability is a good one. Accountability means responsibility. Unfortunately, I don't see this as soley a younger Christian's issue. For so long I have fought in my head and occasionally expressed it to others that I am really tired of the statement, "Well, that is just how men are," when it comes in respose to a wife's frustrations reagrding the lack of leadership that her husband takes. The same can be said for the wife who spend and buys without conuting the cost and the husband becoming very inflamed over it and that emotion, rather than being vailidated, being met with "Well, what do you expect, she is a woman. That's how women are." (and I am sure there are many other examples - these stereotypes are more sociotypes I am afraid these days) When young people see apathy in their parents and see that apathy sloughed off as a given based on gender, they have before them an example that teaches that duty can be reasoned away somehow. When young people see inability to work though difficulty in their homes and have been handed a relationship of 'things' as opposed to a relationship of time, commitment, and personal investment, the temper tantrum that you mention (which, by the way, is a great visual) is almost understandable. Kids want attention - we all do. Kids want affirmation - who doesn't? Kids want love - that is why we were made! Prior to becoming a licensed massage therapist I was an inner city middle school teacher. I commonly had to teach students that 'we affect our environment.' They didn't understand that if they didn't take the responsibility that was theirs, they affected the system as a whole and our entire classroom functions less efficiently. Likewise, if they kicked the chair of the kid in front of they, they effected him negatively and he will probably be mad at them - action--reaction. (What they wanted was to be able to kick the chair of the kid in front of him and have the kid not mind - to do their inappropriate action and have it be ok.) Somewhere along the line here we have lost the concept of consequences and now we have a new generation who is quite angry about the fact that they were raised by parents without a clear understanding of them. Now they want 'change'...not sure what kind of change - they just know they want it. The consequence for the father not taking leadership in the home is a chaotic home and should not be explained away because he is a man. The consequence for a wife's overspending is debt and hardship and should not be explained away because she is a woman. Those consequences are, in spite of their negative nature, are reassuring. Perhaps it is time to stop excusing ourselves and using gender as a reason for not doing what we should, confront our mistakes, learn from them, and start again. Could it be that we are reaping what we have sown!

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  9. I take your point, but every generation has had it's Christian counter-culture crying foul. I was just listening to some old Larry Norman music that took me back to the Jesus Freak days of the 60's & 70's. Keith Green & Rez Band stirred things up in the 70's & 80's. Going back much further, we had Luther, Calvin, & the Wesleys. All correctly pointed out hypocricy & sin in the church. They were most effective when they did it in love.

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  10. Good post, Jailer. I find it interesting that the most successful reformers were trying to purify what was there ... and separated when forced. Separation is often necessary, but not for its own sake.

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  11. This blog post on sniping was well said, Jailer.

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  12. Your title and Billy Joel remind me of the Randy Stonehill lines:

    Angry Young Men
    (Randy Stonehill)
    He wants some angry young men
    Ones who can't be bought
    Ones who will not run from a fight
    Ones who speak the truth whether it's popular or not
    Ones who'd give up anything to walk in His light

    Chorus: Rest assured when Jesus comes again
    He'll be looking for some angry young men

    He wants some angry young men
    With fire in their eyes
    Ones who understand what Jesus gave
    Ones who have grown weary of the world and all its lies
    Ones who won't forget they've been delivered from the grave

    They say if you don't laugh you cry
    I say if you don't live you die
    Well, well, the road to hell is paved with some impressive alibis
    But unless you thirst for Jesus first
    Man, heaven will pass you by
    Heaven will pass you by

    You'll be tempted, tried and tested
    There'll be wars the devil wins
    But God's love is not a license to lie there in your sins
    He understands the human heart
    His mercy is complete
    But His grace was not intended
    As a place to wipe your feet

    He wants some angry young men
    Who love the Lord they serve
    Ones who'll do much more than make a speech
    Ones who'll act their faith out with a passion it deserves
    'Cause if we cannot live it
    Tell me, who are we to preach?

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  13. Yes, I also remembered that song, being an old Randy Stonehill fan ... obviously it wasn't the sense of the word I had in mind. :)

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  14. Romans 13:7 "Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor."

    What is due to Church leadership? Maybe nothing?

    This issue begins to touch upon God's delegated authority which is out of site to the rebellious and often ignored by the Body of Christ, the Church.

    Matthew 23:2 "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. 3So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.

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  15. Do we need revolutionaries or do we need committed soldiers for Christ who will submit to the authority of Scripture and lovingly, respectfully stand up to those who diminish or distort the Gospel?

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  16. A fine point, perhaps, but at times I believe the church needs its revolutionaries. Again, I appeal to the Apostle Paul & Martin Luther as my A-list examples, but there are less visible examples. Perhaps the word "reformer" is more palatable, but, as I mentioned earlier, "revolutionary reform" is often the kind required.

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  17. Well said, Jailer! Gee - I guess I should take my Che and Mao posters off my classroom walls. I had one up of Marx and Lenin but then someone remarked that they didn't think that Groucho was a Socialist and that I had spelled John's last name incorrectly.
    Oh, well.
    But seriously, folks, I really want my students to ask me questions - challenge me, not accept what I say blindly but probe and discover. That's a hard thing to do for folks who have been taught that "it's in the textbook so it has to be true." Successful revolutions are made by those who have asked questions and provided answers that haven't fit the status quo. Young people (the ones who start revolutions) have idealism but no experience. Older folks like me (who resist revolutions) have experience but have often traded their idealism for peace and quiet.

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  18. Chief mentions older folks who resist revolutions. Consider John Knox as a counter-example:

    In 1558, as a mere boy of 48, he was intemperate enough to publish his pamphlet "The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women". The Romanist Mary was his target, but she soon died and her Protestant sister Elizabeth succeeded her, and reigned for decades, grievously offended by what Knox had written. Being persona non grata in England, Knox's subsequent work was restricted to Scotland, where God used him mightily.

    Some points to ponder:

    Is it all that clear that a revolutionary disposition always fades with age?

    Are the real revolutionary reformers sometimes the ones who have the courage to endure all the (often well-deserved) trouble that their intemperance brings on them, and then still make a difference?

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  19. Presbyter,

    - As a simple observation, it would seem that the answer to your first question is that often it does. I well recall the fervor of my youth and how the campus was the hotbed of revolutionary (and frequently aimless) enthusiasm.

    - Love the second point. It seems many revolutionaries live very "colorful" lives, and we're sometimes embarrassed to learn of the often foolish excesses of our heroes as they navigated their various passions.

    Of course, there are also examples of revolutionaries who grow more eccentric and erratic through the years, losing all perspective.

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  20. Presbyter
    Absolutely! John Knox is an excellent counter-example. We might also have included Benjamin Franklin who was even older. Still, I believe that these are the exceptions.

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  21. that's the typical commentary of the organized church. those in power would rather divide the church. so they tell those who are tired of the compromise, failure, and devasted lifes first, to calm down, lower the volume, and to work in and through the church. of course that's not effective. next they label these agitators as rebels. finally, they drive them out. it's maintenance of control, not effectiveness that's wanted.

    it's like the ladies before Solomon and the case of who's baby is it? the acceptance of division shows the true nature of the organized church's leadership. if these leaders really were devoted and selfless servants would retention of authority and demands to be honored be so precious to them?

    by any measure the church is suffering. church growth is negative - not even procreation keeps the numbers positive. all negative social statistics - abortions, divorce, delay of marriage, acceptance of homosexuality, etc. are increasing. how does the so-called leadership continue to demand respect and obedience?

    if the american church were in such great shape and had such great leadership wouldn't our country be in much better shape morally, economically, environmentally, and spiritually?

    your post shows your utter ignorance of the current state of the church and it's leadership. it is not a matter of a few tweaks or another voice at the table. you're always pretending like there are different ways to see and do church.

    there is not - there is one body, and one spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one lord, one faith, one baptism, one god and father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

    if my people, who are called by my name, humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will i hear from the heavens, and forgive their sin, and heal their land.

    we are one community of believers, who have no master, no father, no lord other than Jesus Christ. we need repentance and humility and God's grace.

    it is absolutely shocking anyone could stand up proudly declaring to be or want to be a leader given the current state of the church in america. the church needs servants, slaves and those with the heart of a father. it has had leaders - now it's time for the servants, slaves and fathers.

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  22. Was not Jesus Christ a "revolutionary?" Was not Paul a "reformer?" Organized religion hated both and murdered them...

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  23. Mark, you are correct in emphasizing that the nature of leadership needs to be servanthood and sacrifice. But it seems that you are dispensing or denigrating the very concept of leadership itself in your comment. Remember, that Paul, through the Holy Spirit was the one who commanded that elders (a type of leadership) be appointed in the churches in Crete (Titus 1:5) and listed the qualifications of leadership. Further, Paul's comment in I Timothy 3:1 indicates that a person can legitimately desire to be a leader (specifically, an overseer).
    You also state that "if the american church were in such great shape and had such great leadership wouldn't our country be in much better shape morally, economically, environmentally, and spiritually?" Well, possibly. Don't forget that healthy churches have never historically guaranteed all the things you mentioned. Consider the Roman Empire during the first century. Hardly a moral, economic, environmental, and spiritual model of virtue. Neither was the American church at any time in its existence. We have always been an imperfect mixture of wheat and tares and will be until the King returns.
    When you mention "the leaders" I wonder which leaders you are referring to. There are many honorable, selfless servants of Christ out there - perhaps you are one of them - who lead in both formal and informal ways - even if they aren't part of the organizational chart they are moral, intellectual, economic, and, of course, spiritual models to follow. Failure to appreciate this can lead to tremendous bitterness and hopelessness. And, since we know that Christ's church will never be slowed down by the gates of hell, we can rejoice. He who honors Christ's church, both in its local and its universal application, honors Christ.

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  24. it's a good thing to read scripture and use it as a measure of how we should live. for all of these leaders, the good, the bad and the ugly. i have one simple question, "is christ divided?"

    look at Timothy's epistles, how do 99.999% of church leaders meet these qualifications?

    they're content to divide the church. not only do we have thousands of denominations, we have tens of thousands of independant churches. indeed, it's now litterally every man for himself.

    the average christian drives by at many different churches to get to the one they want to attend. they fill out a card and even put their address on it. do pastors ever read those cards? do they note where people come from and try to have them attend a place of worship closer to home?

    no, they embrace division! it is celebrated! it is taught! business marketing principles of differentiation, segmentation, and targeting are taught and used openly.

    does it really matter if a leader is polite, considerate, well mannered, and even to some extent personally committed to godly living if the participate in the division of christianity?

    God says he hates division. Anyone who names the name of Christ and either passively or openly supports division is not an honorable, selfless servant of Christ.

    i'd love to meet one pastor sometime during my lifetime who does not have donations and attendance as the only metrics of his church. i'd love to meet a single pastor who does not contribute to division and attempts to keep the body of christ together.

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  25. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature[of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! Phi 2:3-8

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