SEABROOK SAYS: Let your imagination run wild! Can you predict the results if 800 churches collaborated on one service to our community? Read on please.
For many of us in Christian traditions, some fascination develops about the ways our particular strains express the life of faith in the world. The conscious interaction of Reformed Protestants with the world in transformational ways is perhaps peculiar to its roots in medieval Europe. The rise of cottage industry (particularly textiles), the emerging middle class, the printing press (with its incumbent effect on literacy), and the decay of feudal society led toward the questioning of existing authority and empowerment of people for a new level of engagement with the formation of their world. This capacity is ingrained in the DNA of those traditions.
Ultimately, those traditions appealed to interests in educational opportunity, technological advances, increased social mobility, and other developments that had served to benefit those adherents. Subsequently, the intersection of faith and action was manifest in dramatic ways. Perhaps in part it was a response to the admonition of scripture (that they could now read and study). Christ said in the Sermon on the Mount, “by their fruits you will know them,” and the Book of Acts describes the early Christians as people “who turned the world upside down.” Perhaps it was a reflection of the belief Walter Brueggemann accords to the Hebrew prophets that “justice and righteousness could be done in the world.” Or perhaps, it emerges from the broad understanding of “calling” or vocation as being how one lives out God’s plan or destiny for ones life in ways no longer confined simply to ecclesiastical practice. Faith, thus understood, was always more than simply a private affair between an individual and God, but more dramatically a public responsibility. Thus, a John Calvin does more than simply pastor a congregation in Geneva, but also works with the city council on legislation and within society to establish hospitals, etc.
Richard Niebuhr in his classic work, Christ and Culture, explored the complex relationships and understandings of different traditions between faith and society, Christ and culture. For instance, the Christ against culture tendencies expressed by someone like Tolstoy might be manifest radically in communities that withdraw dramatically from society (like the Amish). On the other end of the spectrum are traditions that represent the Christ of Culture represented by traditions like the high medieval scholasticism of Aquinas. Between the two poles are varying intermediate positions among which is the Christ transforming position descriptive of traditions, like the Calvinists. Endeavoring to transform society invited active intervention on behalf of people of faith. Thus, it comes as no surprise that 19 Calvinists were signers of our own Declaration of Independence. For God’s expectation of God’s people to be that service to their calling required attending society’s ills for the glory if God.
In the Presbyterian Church, our Book of Order affirms the principle that “God alone is Lord of the Conscience.” A God-given and God-expectant conscience demands the conviction of action. Further, its exercise is more than merely a private response to the life of faith, it is a public requirement. The faith confessed privately becomes the faith professed in its public expression. It is never enough to “talk the talk” without “walking the walk.” If the study of scripture reveals God’s concern for human well-being, then the life of faith demands action supporting that concern in the arenas of education, politics, health, the justice system, the business community, and all structures that influence the general welfare of others.
It is this relationship between God’s concern for the well-being of human society that informs people of faith in the forging of partnerships and relationships for the purpose of undertaking transformational tasks. Thus we see the work of foundations, civic organizations, faith communities, and other entities as indelibly linked to the rendering of God’s compassionate will in the world.
First Presbyterian Church, Gastonia