Sometimes I wonder that the Church hasn’t collapsed under the weight of its own artifice. Granted, I don’t believe that the Church has become willfully self-deceptive, but I think it has become so absorbed in the politics of relevance, the neuralgia of post-modernism, that it has lost all trust in its own proclamation. We have become so consumed with the institution and edifice of the Church, that we have nearly forgotten the mystical Body of which we are but a part, and what it means to inhabit the Good News of Jesus Christ that we are called to proclaim along side all of those faithful past, present, and future.
It doesn’t take but a deeper look to see the Church’s discomfort with its responsibility to steward the Gospel message - a message that is not simply about social justice, but also deep repentance, lively personal faith and trust in God, and individual engagement with the call to follow Christ. We have become so captivated by social politics and our institutional response, that we have ceased to reflect on the Gospel’s importance for each of us as individuals called to embody Christ’s love and compassion. We have, in short, substituted institutional mission for personal discipleship and so opportunities for transformative faith are lost. And that makes our future look grim.
In practice and proclamation, the Church too easily diminishes an important truth. What we do now matters - not merely for the survival of the institution—which will fail if it ceases to fulfill the Gospel Proclamation—but for the call to discipleship of its members. We seem to have lain down any sense of the mystical Body in which every person called to follow Christ has a place and a vocation to answer for - versus the institution where we preoccupy ourselves with membership that is contingent on financial contributions, location, convenience, political and social affirmations, and the aesthetics of worship. The Church doesn’t belong just to us here and now. It belongs to those who have inhabited it in the past and also those who will do so in the future. And while we consume ourselves with issues of polity, authority, structure, and relevance based on the transient models so fashionable in today’s world, we run the risk of neglecting the creation of disciples to take up the Church’s mission tomorrow.
The Church proclaims peace, but is at war with itself. The Church proclaims love, but has not yet learned to love itself, nor does it — if action is any indication - trust in its own message of redemption. And the Church is so eager to apologize for itself, that those who come looking for God’s comforting Spirit to anchor themselves in an unruly world of moral complexities and ambiguities are merely left with bread that doesn’t ease their hunger. In an age where social pressures and anxieties threaten to pull apart so many things that once cohered, the Church’s willingness to invest so deeply in its own angst to be socially acceptable makes it ever less likely that we will effectively proclaim the Good News until we act as if we believe it.