Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Discipleship and Loyalty, part two

The things we'll trade our souls for...

Hello faithful readers! Last week I suggested that if we considered discipleship through the lens of the resurrection of Jesus we’d see that it is essentially about our loyalty and allegiance to (King) Jesus and to his mission. As promised, today I’d like us to consider a few places where I believe that our discipleship is regularly compromised by virtue of our uncritical allegiance to other “rulers" and missions. Please note, I will not be dealing with the obvious idols of money, power and sex… not because we’ve got them under control now but because I’m taking them for granted here. Today’s blog is about the overlooked or unrecognized challenges to Jesus’ authority that are pervasive in our corner of the world today. So, drum roll please….

#1: Economic Growth and The Market
Okay, I said we weren’t going to deal with money… but I was talking about how individuals accrue or spend money. When I say “ Economic Growth and The Market” I am referring to national and global commercial systems. For the record, there is nothing inherently wrong with economic growth and market systems. The issue is that many disciples of Jesus accept purely secular reasoning and goals when it comes to these things. They go right along with arguments that:

… economic development and growth is ALWAYS good,
… what makes for economic development is therefore always good,
… what’s good for “The Market” is good for the country/state/city,
… profit is the only goal of commercial enterprise,
… a thriving economy means people are happy and flourishing,
… consumer desire should be the engine that drives what a society produces.

Rather than get into any economic or political arguments here or take on small issues, I’d like to propose that we simply ask different questions regarding The Market, like:

How does this business or economic policy affect my neighbors?
How does it affect disciples of Jesus in other parts of the world?
What is the human cost of development and growth?
Am I more concerned about getting large quantities of cheap goods than the lives of the people who produce them? (Who produces them? Under what conditions?)
As a disciple of Christ am I selling, advertising or investing in a worthwhile product/company?
What does God think of an economy that thrives off consumer debt?
How do my patterns of consumption point to my love of neighbor?

Some of these questions are very complex, and there are multiple, valid viewpoints. The goal for me though, or at least a good starting point, is for us to begin considering how our role in the marketplace (as consumers, producers, and politically active citizens) is connected to our allegiance to Jesus. Do we just go along with “more and cheaper is better” without any other questions asked? Do we accept the theology of the market which tells us that the satisfaction of human desire via consumer goods is the highest good? Do the ways we consume and spend money and invest point to a belief in this theology of consumption?

#2: My Child's Success

This is a tough one. I am a father of two and I love my children dearly, and cannot (or don’t want to) imagine my life without them now. However, as much as I love my boys, children cannot be the center of life or the organizing principle of life for a disciple of Jesus. Those places belong to Jesus and his mission. As a parent, I believe it is my task to invite my child along on this journey of following Jesus; to allow my child to participate in the work and worship that is at the center of my life. I don’t consider myself anything close to an expert on parenting- just trying and struggling to not screw up my kids- so I will not dispense any advice here. My goal is to get us questioning the narratives and entities that compete with Jesus for our allegiance, and specifically, to take on the cultural assumptions that our children's "success and fulfillment" are the most important goals in life for parents. So we might gently ask:

… Am I more concerned about my child’s desires, success or fulfillment, or the mission Christ
     has called my family to?
… Do I trust God to protect my child if (when) I am called to engage in risky mission?
… Do I measure myself as a parent by society’s standards, or Jesus’ standards?
… How does my child’s calendar- or our family calendar- reveal our family’s Kingdom values?
… When I dream about my child’s future do I dream about their faithfulness or their success?
...  Does my value or my "success" depend on my children "doing well?"

Some of the most heart-wrenching things I have seen as a pastor/missionary/youth worker are parents who love Jesus, but never questioned our society’s idolization of children. Because of this they did all they could to help their children succeed… endless sports, art, music, special academic programs, and the rest, and Jesus and his mission were entirely lost in the process. Their commitment to their child’s “success” prevented them from joining the community of faith and from meaningfully engaging with Jesus. The children learned from their parents that their success was the mission, and that was the end of the story.

#3: The Nation
If the two preceding issues haven’t stirred the pot this one is a good contender. Again, this is a complex topic with multiple valid viewpoints, and I don’t intend to go into much detail (though perhaps I will share my views in depth down the road). In general, I believe that for disciples of Christ our love of country should function as a sub-category of loving our neighbors. Our love for our country should manifest itself in loving service that benefits the PEOPLE of our country. It should not manifest itself in uncritical allegiance to a national ideal or flag or government or political principle. Our allegiance is given to God alone and his anointed King, Jesus. Therefore, all our obedience and participation in national and political life must be held against his commands and the mission that he’s given us. However, there are powerful narratives at work in America that suggest that we can give complete loyalty to our nation and that God approves of this. Here are a few questions we might ask to get at these competing loyalties:

Do we consider what’s in our nation’s interest before we consider what’s in the best interest of Jesus’ mission? Or the body of Christ?
Do we see our country as special or sacred or exceptional in God’s eyes?
Does the world's hope depend on my country?
Do we identify more with members of our nation than with foreign disciples of Christ?
Is dying for one’s country “holy?” Is that true for all countries, or just mine?
Do we discourage mission work because it’s dangerous but celebrate those who join the army?
Do we remember our brothers and sisters who are martyred around the world with the same vigor and reverence that we remember soldiers killed in combat?

There is much to say here, and the historical record of Christians giving uncritical allegiance to their government and nation is very bleak, to put it mildly. Somehow we turned the Apostle Paul’s admonition to pay taxes and be law-abiding citizens in Romans 13:1-7 into a belief that disciples of Christ can give their full and unquestioning allegiance to their political rulers and nations, and that serving the nation was the equivalent of serving God. May we relearn the meaning of Deuteronomy 6:4, "Hear O Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD alone," and be done with "God and Country" theology. Let's give our sole allegiance the One who created us, redeemed us and sustains us, and let His love flow through us to to our fellow citizens and neighbors in whatever country we find ourselves in.

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