Image or character?
Most of us know the rhetoric about the church and the world. Being in the world but not of it is the stuff of seventh grade Sunday School. There's always been a line separating them, albeit faint. Maybe it's just a vision thing, but that line seems less visible today than ever before. The ways of the world may be our new norm.
We can also quote Romans 12:2 and provide slick, razor sharp commentary about conforming to the world system as opposed to being transformed by personal spiritual renewal. Vacillating between these two extremes may not, however, signal a spiritual collapse or moral choice between the ways of God and the ways of the world. There is a profound reality that our entrance to that world for the sake of the Gospel may require becoming all things to all people that some may be saved (see 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, ESV). Change may be necessary at critical points of structure and procedure.
Still, there is the contemporary warning that image cannot define us. It is a cheap, shallow counterfeit to bearing the marks of Christ. His character must be that which separates us from world systems. And, these polarities---image and character---may be trip wires for our messengers headed to Dallas for #SBC18 next week. A couple of considerations guide my thinking here---
1. Image is suddenly a central theme in Southern Baptist Convention identity.
For several years our leaders, those elected and those who are employees, have sought to right many wrongs of the SBC past. Right now racism, the place of women in ministry, the moral and ethical standards of leaders, theological question marks, perplexing ACP numbers, leadership accountability, fake news, the blame game, and many other front page headlines are the outcomes of corporate positioning, the metrics of saying we're not those people anymore. Underneath the glamour of well-crafted governing documents, social media rants, raves, and factual presentation, is an almost humble righteousness declaring this is, instead, who we are now. it's more a new suit than a new heart. And, we all know what God thinks about that. If not, read
1 Samuel 16:7. Ouch.
2. Image is shaping our approach to and expectations of #SBC18.
Blogs, articles, social media posts, and Tweets are emphasizing the stretch of the Dallas meeting next week. Suddenly, the eyes of Texas aren't upon us, but the eyes of the entire world. And, that's a worry in the corner offices and executive suites. What in the world is the world going to think about us? Let's not be naive about the ways image open avenues of mission in the United States and around the world. At the same time, let's not set aside biblical standards because we love the applause of the world. My prayers for next week is that our messengers will downgrade the approval of the human species so that we can upgrade our desire to please the Father as we reflect the character of the Son. Paul's word to the Galatians leads the way here. He wrote, "For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ" (Galatians 1:10, ESV). What the world thinks of us should be down the priority list.
3. If there is to be an image, it must be the image of Christ.
There's some legitimacy in having SBC people on President Trump's spiritual advisory team. Thank God for to these prominent leaders and their willingness to serve. Having eloquent, educated men and women in highly visible media certifies that we are, in fact, a fair, reasonable and tolerant tribe, a denomination of believers who can be trusted. That is all well and good. I'm praying, however, that people around the world will see the character of Jesus in us, and that this image will define us in everything we do in the years to come.
Egonomics is my word for self management. It is certainly a personal, individual study, especially in a culture with so many egocentric specialties, designations, and labels. It is a corporate lesson plan as well because organizations, even Christian churches and denominations, can develop self-centered tendencies that can distance us from the populations Jesus commissioned us to reach. Today, we're straddling a very blurred line, God's ways to one side, man's ways to the other. And, we must make a decision about this egonomics thing, whether we're going to be image driven or character driven.
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