This past week, my wife and I enjoyed several days at our denomination’s annual meeting. It was a wonderful time of worship, fellowship, making new friends, and discovering resources for church ministry. Embedded into the time was, of course, the matter of business that goes into any kind of church or denominational apparatus. At its best, church polity concerns itself with deep discernment, focused prayer, and intentional listening to God’s Spirit. At its worst, church political structures clunk along with loud opinion-making, the dysfunction of personal agendas, and an inability to understand what others are truly saying.
I appreciated the decorum of my denomination’s delegates and the leadership that went into ensuring that policy and procedure were carried out with decency and order. Yet, as critically vital as church polity is in carrying out the business of the church, policies and procedures alone cannot bring a total transformation of life – only the Holy Spirit of God can do that. As I sit and write today, a church shooting in South Carolina last night took the lives of nine black parishioners. It seems clear that the tragedy was racially motivated. Here is the point I am making: even though an Emancipation Proclamation was passed in this country 150 years ago; even though Jim Crow laws have been upended; even though African Americans have equal access and opportunity according to the laws of this country; none of those laws, political triumphs, and policy making we have experienced in the United States has the ability to do a thorough renovating of any person’s heart from one of malicious bigot to benevolent citizen.
We all desperately need faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to even begin addressing the profound brokenness of the human experience. Apart from the Spirit, there will be individuals who continue in soul crushing stances of justifying their racism, excluding the LGBTQ community from their list of acquaintances, and insisting that their ideas are the only decent ones worth hearing.
Jesus preached his Sermon on the Mount in order to upend such proud thinking. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Only those who are spiritual beggars recognizing they have nothing to stand on in and of themselves are worthy of Christ’s righteousness. In a world where pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps is hailed and validated, the biblical virtues of humility and meekness seem almost like concepts from some bygone era. Yet, like a church building devastated by a tornado, until we can come to the end ourselves and admit how much our hearts are in chaos and need Jesus in the presence of the Holy Spirit, there will continue to be an endless stream of posturing and positioning to get what we want so that the other who seems so different from us will not get what they want or even need. Indeed, there will be no mercy, purity, and peacemaking apart from identifying the deep depravity of our own hearts and inviting God to do an extreme makeover of our interior lives.
While I applaud and laud every policy and law that turns the tide away from injustice and puts a death nail into systemic evil, I am realistic enough to discern that only the gospel of grace can bring human hearts in line with the kind of society that will truly be characterized by peace. I hope that you will join me in praying for the shalom of God to takeover this broken world so that our hearts of stone are replaced by hearts of flesh by the Spirit who alone transforms both culture and church, society and self, law and life. Soli Deo Gloria.