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Introduction

Three weeks ago I took up Julie Clawson’s challenge and wrote up eight questions that I would love to ask the North American church of fifty years from now. I entered my questions in some sort of contest which IVP was having and while I did not win it I still think my queries deserve posting. Last week I published the first four questions in this space: https://gracetracer.wordpress.com/2012/05/07/a-rejected-letter-to-future-churches-part-one/ Below are the final four questions:

Dear North American Church of 2062:

5) Have you broken with individualism at last?

Our Great Reformation, at the beginning of our era, released several conceptual gingerbread men upon the world and some of them ran away from home. One was a revitalized idea of progress, straight from the pages of the Old Testament, all about the coming of a new covenant and better days ahead. Another was the seemingly brand new idea that every human being, beloved of God, was a thing of inestimable worth. In the following centuries, movements like the Enlightenment ripped off those fine ideas and re-invented them within a world which was conceived as godless. In our time, we had just begun to rediscover God’s plan to redeem creation and God’s call to his people to work together toward all the ways the plan gets worked out in practical living. Still, our enlightenment notion of individualism was well-established and a really hard nut to crack without much prayer and fasting (and we were not into fasting). I have a feeling, by the time I left the scene, we were still living isolated lives like so many discrete atoms and broken little nuclear families, mostly cut off from each other most of the time, making the biblical disciplines of guidance, submission, simplicity and service next to impossible to work out in practice, with fear and trembling. So, what about it? We knew better than we did. Have you begun to break free and rediscover every day what Christian community was always meant to be?

6) Have you re-internationalized and thus “de-nationalized” the body of Christ?

After the dissolution of the nation of Israel and the internationalization of the people of God, there was no Greek, no Parthian, no Jew. By my time, North American Christianity had traveled a long way the other direction, even as I and many others were learning better. It was not at all hard in my day to find people who had so confused the United States of America and its goals, policies and objectives – the good, the bad and the truly ugly – with the kingdom of God! Such folks might have been accused of blasphemy and heresy were there any agency left within the Christian community with the capacity to level such a charge and make it stick. We were just beginning to reach out to Christians all around the world as partners rather than as the recipients of our aid. Have you begun to listen to what the rest of the Christian world is saying and has been saying for a long time about the true priorities of the kingdom?

7) Have you rediscovered yet that war is good for absolutely nothing?

The early Christians got it right. War is evil and God no-longer calls his people to fight. Good God, no! For centuries after that, we dithered and argued about theories and just wars and their criteria. Then we allowed that some things are worse than war and that answer was supposed to excuse us when we fought. Yet, when it came to it, we went to war for reasons which had nothing to do with anything just: international and imperial adventures. Have you become arms and legs and a clear voice for peace, doing the kind of international justice that makes war an unnecessary relic of a more violent time?

8) Have you stopped, as a general rule, sticking to your own kind?

Back in the beginning, the apostle Paul could crow to an Asian church or two all about how the wall of separation had come down and the whole world was abuzz because Jews were eating with Gentiles, were inviting them into their homes and they were even giving each other subversive, holy hugs. It was a mark of the early church. Curious people flocked to their meetings to see if it was true.

Stand-offish Jews had never had anything to do with other people. Herodotus, the Greek historian, had been told by the Egyptians that the Jews were like that because they had some sort of skin disease and they did not want to infect others – it was the same excuse the Egyptians gave him for why they had tossed the Jews out way back when: a skin disease. Anyway, the Greeks had known no better and so they had bought it. But now, all over the world, at these Nazarene meetings, Jews were kibitzing and noshing with the nations: and the people said,“Wow! This, I gotta see!”

They went to the Christian meetings curious and they stayed when they discovered why…

In my day, Sunday was the most segregated day of the week. Have you figured out how, because of love, to make a circle and draw everybody in, because God has done the same for you? Or to use that old phrase from Tony Campolo’s apocryphal parable, are you throwing birthday parties yet for prostitutes in the middle of the night? We used to smile at that story and we gave each other knowing looks.

Have you started living like that yet?

In sum, has anything actually emerged? Have you become the new kind of Christian, the people of the living Word, the barbarians who practice everyday justice, the ones who draw everyone to you that Phyllis and Brian and Rob and Erwin and Julie and Tony and Rachel and so many others hoped and prayed you would be? Did we point the way? Did anything good come of us? I really want to know.

Your curious Christian friend from across the decades,

Trace James

Afterward

So, are any of these questions worth asking? Why?

Anyone have another question they want to add?

How might we live differently (small steps) so that questions like these need not be asked of a future generation?

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