Simple Faith

Simple Faith

“Things are a wreck, violence is everywhere, morality is at an all-time low and the Church of Jesus is more problem than solution.” One way or another, I hear some version of this every week. Most of the time, I have to just nod and agree. Are things worse than at other times in history? I’m not sure about that, but at the very least the sheer velocity of negative things has increased. American churches are closing doors or becoming social service agencies only, pastors are leaving their vocations and young people are increasingly finding community elsewhere and faith nowhere. Division, vitriol and a blatant lack of care for other human beings are rampant. All this was running through my mind this week, causing my head to spin and my hope to dim. Then I remembered an experience from 2005.

I had a sabbatical and our family was in London for a few weeks. One Sunday morning, we spontaneously made our way up to Langham Place, to All Souls Church to worship.  Much to my delighted surprise, when it came time for the sermon, two young men helped a visibly frail 84-year-old man up into the high pulpit, where he gave a very reasoned and coherent sermon on Ephesians. It was John Stott, the rector at All Souls for many decades and a legendary leader among evangelical Christians.  Maybe you know him as the author of books like Basic Christianity or The Preacher’s Portrait or The Cross of Christ, or any number of Bible commentaries. Or for his work with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, or Langham Partnership or Billy Graham. We were able to meet him and chat with him briefly after the service. It was a real highlight.

Five years later, in 2010, when Stott was 89 years old, he put out one last book called “The Radical Disciple.”  In it, he talked about the major question he wrestled with as a young Christian, and revisited many times over the course of his life–What is God’s purpose for his people?  He wrote, “I want to share with you where my mind has come to rest (on this) as I approach the end of my pilgrimage on earth.”  When John Stott writes that, I lean forward.  “It is this: “God wants his people to become like Christ.  Christlikeness is the will of God for the people of God.”

My spinning head slows, the complexities of post-modern America fade and I feel terra firma once more. Deep sigh. I don’t have to solve either culture or Church. Stott didn’t offer a formula, a curriculum, a how-to book on saving the Church or highlight the five easy steps to a happy life. He just put out the foundational insight of his whole long, rich, faithful life in seven words–God wants us to become like Christ.

Why is that such a peace-inducing thought?  It’s not original or electrifying. Just centering. The core of my being leaps up and says “Yes, I want that!”  I want to want that. If God’s people were to become more like Christ…well, what was he like?  What would happen? We’d see hundreds of millions of people across the globe living faith-fully, loving sacrificially, reaching out, distributing resources selflessly, listening to others, acting kindly and compassionately, giving respect, offering forgiveness. There would be hundreds of millions of little Christs (see Martin Luther and C.S. Lewis) walking for and towards the kingdom. You and me included.

Is it possible to get so bogged down with issues, problems, trends and predictions that we lose track of both our core conviction, and our imagination? God wants us to become like Christ.  In his book You Are What You Love, James K.A. Smith reminds us of the wisdom of The Little Prince  (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry): If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

I like that. Who wants to recruit people for drudgery? Who wants to try and sign people up to win back the culture or fix the Church or prop up evangelicalism?  But inviting others to become like Christ, to teach them to long for the endless immensity of a loving God…I’ll get on that boat.

Peace of Christ,

Dan Baumgartner

Dan Baumgartner is the senior pastor at The Cove in Santa Rosa CA and serves as Secretary on The Fellowship Community Board.