Right now as I write, I am situated 30,000 feet above the U.S. flying through Denver to Sioux Falls. I have spent a lot of time this fall in planes, cars and trains visiting our churches and mission partners.
Actually, these moments often serve as time for reflection and prayerful musing. Much of my focus right now is on our Transformed by the Spirit initiative and the renewal of the church. One doesn’t have to be a prophet to see that the church is in the midst of huge shifts and a period of re-formation. I know how real the challenges are in every aspect of the life of the Church in our country. But we are not without hope!
Several years ago I gave up the fear that the church might not survive western materialism. While many of us feared that the church had been eradicated in China during the cultural revolution, the Spirit was at work imbedding the church more fully into the life of that culture through the courage and faithfulness of countless Christians who refused to abandon their faith and the practice of what Dallas Willard called “ordinary holiness.”
In many parts of the world, especially in the Middle East, the life of the church appears fragile. The threat of violence is requiring countless followers of Jesus to risk their very lives to follow him. Both there and here, it is by the Spirit alive and active in and through the witness of the church in worship, proclamation, service, peace, justice-making, and yes, even in martyrdom, that the missio dei advances against all odds.
As I participated in the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington representing American Baptists I was keenly aware of how the power of the movement lay in the gospel of Jesus. Ordinary folk who believed that a God of justice and mercy would not abandon them disarmed the threats of Klansmen with nonviolence, endured snarling dogs that ripped at their bodies, did not succumb to hate, and dared to dream that “we’ll walk hand in hand someday.” Ordinary holiness subverted extraordinary evil.
As American Baptists passionately yearn to be Transformed by the Spirit, to live lives of ordinary holiness that are transformative, we recognize that renewal springs not from technique but from the presence of Christ, crucified and risen, in our midst. Ordinary holiness expressed in sacrificial love of neighbor is sustained only through union with Christ. Our suffering drives us to Christ and to those practices that sustain our union with him: prayer, corporate worship, and meditation on scripture.
Even as many of the forms in which the church is clothed today are passing away, we do not live in fear and without hope. We await with anticipation the new forms in which we shall be clothed knowing the paradox of our faith is that in co-suffering with Christ we are born to new life and to renewed vocation as the body of Christ.
The above blog was written by A. Roy Medley, general secretary of American Baptist Churches USA. Blogs written by ABCUSA Leadership Team members will be published periodically on the website. Views expressed are the sole opinion of the author. (Would you like to submit a blog for publication? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.)