If the church could take a selfie

DSCN3653Admit it. You’ve done it. You’ve snapped a photo of yourself – a “selfie” – at least once. Maybe you’ve even gone to the next level and bought one of those trendy selfie sticks, a trick to make a selfie appear like someone else took it.

Sometimes I wonder: What if wasn’t just individuals who took selfies?

What if the church could take a selfie?

What would she see? A better question might be: What should she see?

These are the kinds of questions that more than 300 Nazarene thinkers asked at the March 2014 Global Theology Conference, held in Johannesburg, South Africa. In a summation, Dr Thomas Noble, Professor of Theology at Nazarene Theological Seminary concluded:

The church must be God-glorifying, Christ-centered, and Spirit-filled.

Dr Thomas Noble, Nazarene Theological Seminary
Dr Thomas Noble, Nazarene Theological Seminary

The statement is strong for several reasons. First, it is brief, making it more memorable. Secondly, it is Trinitarian, focusing equally upon God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. That is no small virtue at a time when so much of our worship music centers on Jesus to the point that the Father and the Spirit are in danger of being eclipsed. Finally, it is not a halfhearted suggestion. It breathes urgency by using the word “must.” To neglect any of three characteristics is – in some sense – to cease being the church.

But let’s unpack the parts of this triplet.

The church must be God-glorifying.

Worship is the church gathered, but what is the purpose of worship? Pastor Victoria Osteen, Co-Pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, was roundly criticized following her remarks in a widely-circulated video. She opined:

When you come to church, when you worship Him, you’re not doing it for God really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy. Amen?

Self-absorption runs counter to Christ’s call to a life centered upon God and poured out in service to the world. Self-glorification is the antithesis of the two Great Commandments, loving God and neighbor (Mark 12:29-31). John Calvin (1509-64), the great Reformer from Geneva, noted regarding God the Father: “As all good flows, without any exception, from him, so ought all praise deservedly to return to him.” (1) Beyond worship, if the church receives human praise for a work of charity, shall she accept the credit for herself or deflect it back to the Father, the source of all that is good?

The church must be Christ-centered.

If God the Father is the one who to be glorified by the church’s worship and deeds, this does not dismiss the importance of Christ in all  that we do. To be Christ-centered as a community of faith means above all never losing sight of Christ crucified. In his self-giving love at Calvary, we behold the exemplar of who we are called to be both individually and corporately. In The Crucified God, Jürgen Moltmann observed:

The gospels intentionally direct the gaze of Christians away from the experiences of the risen Christ and the Holy Spirit back to the earthly Jesus and his way to the cross. They represent faith as a call to follow Jesus. The call to follow him (Mark 8:31-38 par.) is associated with Jesus’ proclamation of suffering. To follow Jesus always means to deny oneself and to take ‘his cross’ on oneself. (2)

Christ crucified is the antidote to the narcissistic ethos of our time. As the church contemplates the self-giving love of Christ most excellently displayed in his death, she will be disgusted by every ingrown, time-consuming program that makes the church a comfortable club for the saints instead of a rescue squad rushing to the aid of those sick and dying from sin.

The church must be Spirit-filled. Make no mistake: This is not just any spirit, for the New Testament recounts the life-sucking and malevolent presence of evil spirits in the cosmos (Ephesians 6:10-20). Rather, God calls the church to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Wesleyan-Holiness teaching has emphasized the need for God to pour the Holy Spirit out like a river upon individual believers. Too often, we forget the corporate nature of this filling as exemplified on the Day of Pentecost. On that momentous occasion, it was the church gathered together in prayer that experienced the miraculous descent of the Dove (Acts 2:1-4). Only through the ongoing effusion of the Third Person of the Trinity is the church unified, cleansed, gifted and empowered for her outwardly-focused mission. Clark Pinnock explained:

God did not pour the Spirit out for us to exult in it as a private benefit. The purpose was ( and is) to empower witnesses to God’s kingdom (Acts 1:8)…God wants a community that, like Jesus, gets caught up in the transformation of the world. (3)

The Holy Spirit is the dynamo of the church (Acts 1:8). Though potentially dangerous if overdone, the metaphor of spiritual warfare demands reliance on the continual protection and empowerment of the Holy Spirit. This is especially important when the church begins living out its call to pierce the darkness by loving the last, the lost and the least, resulting in fierce push-back from the Enemy. Only the Spirit can instill courage amidst the fight, filling the church with stubborn love toward all even if she is at times the target of undeserved hate. Only the Spirit can energize the People of God to advance the Kingdom of Heaven, often against seemingly impossible odds.

If the church took a selfie, I wonder what she’d see? Would she capture the image of a community of faith that glorifies God, is centered on Christ and his selfless example, and overflows with the power and love of the Holy Spirit? Give me that kind of a church and we’ll change the world.

———

Notes:

(1) John Calvin, in I. John Hesselink, Calvin’s First Catechism: A Commentary (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Know Prss, 1997), 9.

(2) Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1993), 54.

(3) Clark Pinnock, Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit (Downer’s Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 141.

———

Image credit:

Dr Thomas Noble: NTS.edu

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