I was amazed yesterday to meet one of our church’s first-time messengers in the hallway outside the meeting. She was running to and fro, trying to find a way to resolve her anger. She is Iranian by birth and has been in this country only seven years. She is a Christian convert from Islam and is now in seminary. She asked me breathlessly, “Did you see it? Did you see that flag processional? Can you believe they brought the American flag in ahead of the Christian flag and all the other flags of nations after that? And the American flag was higher than the Christian flag. That is idolatry!” She is right, and I am embarrassed that it took someone so new to the faith and to our country and to us Baptists to even notice. She didn’t know whether she needed to bring a resolution or a motion, but since a motion calls for action, I hope we move that that never happen again in a Baptist meeting.
We need more laypeople like that. Mercy, is there any possibility that this prophecy notion might even apply to them? What’s happened to those laity with a prophetic word? What is trumping the laity’s ability to discern the differences between the present culture and the Kingdom of God? Could it be that we are so consumed by consumerism that we have little power to believe or to act? Do we live in this cultural imagination rather than a Kingdom imagination?
Consumerism, the thing that tells us to go shopping to solve all our problems, must be addressed in our churches. The barnacles of consumerism grow on us day after day until our hope of hearing Jesus’ words, “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of God,” is slim indeed.
Now here I need to start with confession time. The boat is used and the motorcycle is several years old, but I do not lack for toys. This applies to all of us.
And we need to remember that, for many of our Baptist brothers and sisters, consumerism is not the issue. For them, the issue is survival. Like the fellow we met outside the Dixie House where we had just had dinner with our friends Bob and Judy Coleman. He was asking in his wheelchair how to find the nearest homeless shelter. People like these are often invisible to us. We have to intentionally put ourselves in places where we can see them. Prophets have that kind of vision. They see things and people we otherwise do not see, and they tell us about them.
We desperately need a “theology of enough.” We are stewards, not owners, of what we have, at least in Christian teaching. So do we have any walls around what we will spend on ourselves? Do we have any sense of enough for ourselves? That’s where the prophets will emerge.
Ah, but what about one more—denominations. Should they take risks and speak prophetically? Or should they declare that the only real role of the denomination is meeting the needs of the churches who are members of the BGCT? To me, the answer is easy. Meeting the will of churches, vital as it is, comes in behind one other: listening for and meeting the will of God.
What trumps the prophetic role in denominations is fear of financial loss, and the lack of understanding what crosses they are willing to die on, if any. What is so compelling that a denomination will stand there and ignore the consequences? Do we know the answer to that question? The question must be asked of laypeople and pastors and churches.
A half-century ago in this very city some of the brightest lights of Baptists shone in church pulpits. One of the brightest was Blake Smith, pastor of University Baptist Church. One Sunday morning, he stood tall in that pulpit and declared that it was past time that the University of Texas open its doors to all Texas citizens. The time for integration had come. What’s more, he said to his all-white church, the time had come for University Baptist Church to open its doors to all for whom Christ died.
Well, right after the benediction, the predictable took place. An emergency deacons meeting was called for that afternoon. For hours, those men grumbled on about what the preacher had said that morning, about whether he had the right to say those things, about the autonomy of the local church to decide who would and who would not be its members, about whether Blake Smith ought to be their pastor at all. After a long while, the moderator looked to the back of the room, where an old respected judge was sitting quietly. The man said, “Judge, we haven’t heard from you on this matter. What do you think?” The judge rose to his feet and said solemnly, “Well, boys, you know I don’t like what our pastor said this morning any more than any of the rest of you. But I think Jesus liked it a lot.” Motion to adjourn.
Where have all the prophets gone?