The church’s waning power and privilege…

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1 Peter 2:4 Come to (Jesus), a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5 like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in scripture: “See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” 7 To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,” 8 and “A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Imagine a house built out of stones. The stone at the bottom corner upon which all the other stones are laid is the cornerstone. In this metaphor the Christian believers (living stones) are the stones added to the cornerstone (Jesus) to form the rest of the structure. Here’s an excerpt from the New Interpreter’s Bible commentary:

“The two verses make a stunning claim. To unbelievers it seems that the Christian believers have been rejected, as Christ was rejected; they are aliens and exiles, foolish and straying. To the eyes of faith it is clear that Christians are chosen exactly as Christ the cornerstone is chosen, precious and beloved of God. From the perspective of faith, the world is turned upside down. Pagan unbelievers, who seem secure in their positions and their prestige, are stumbling and falling. Christian believers, who seem foolish and useless, are God’s own people—holy, blessed, royal.”

Of course this passage was written at a time when Christianity did not occupy a place of power or prestige in the local culture, but were outsiders – often persecuted by others. This would change when the Roman emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of Western Europe in the 4th century. From that point in history through the 20th century the Church help a position of immense political influence and wealth. It had a seat at the tables of power for hundreds of years, including in America (despite the official separation of church and state).

Times have changed.

Today the church’s influence in Western culture is a shadow of what it once was. The % of Americans self identifying as Christian continues to decrease at a rapid pace. Lots of churches are shrinking and/or outright disappearing. In a broader sense the Church is having to learn what it means to function as a people of little power or privilege in the wider culture. It’s not a lesson most of us would choose, but it is increasingly our reality. This morning I’m praying for the Lord to show me what that could look like for me and the church I lead. Lord, have mercy. Amen.

 

 

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