Thursday, September 17, 2009

Who Was More Popular, "The Good Shepherd" or "The Walrus"?

The first section of Dual Citizens focuses on the corporate nature of the believer's life as a pilgrim caught in the overlap of the ages, with my attention being given primarily to the issue of the church's worship. Chapter 1 is called "Corporate Worship: Covenantal Assembly of a Peculiar People," and in it I state the chapter's aim thusly:

My aim in this chapter... is to call into question the American church’s desire to avoid the obscurity and lack of popular appeal with which Jesus Himself was seemingly plagued. In place of the flashy, high-octane wor­ship experience, I will commend faithful attendance on the simple means of grace that Christ has instituted for His people’s growth, unremarkable though they may be.
There's an interesting contrast (at least it's interesting to me) between John Lennon and Jesus that I draw the reader's attention to here. When Lennon made his famous proclamation in the mid-1960s that "The Beatles are more popular than Jesus," the American public went absolutely ballistic, with our displays of disapproval including public burnings of Beatles albums as well as crushing them with streamrollers. Freedom of religion was one thing, but questioning Jesus' popularity? That was a no-no.

But when you think about it, Lennon was kind of right, on one level anyway. The mourners who gathered at the vigil after his shooting far outnumbered the measly 120 that Jesus managed to attract (Acts 1:15).

The question I pose in this chapter concerns whether we as Christians are OK with following an unpopular Savior whose church is characterized by rather unremarkable means for growth and the edification of her members, means as mundane as the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments. We Americans, driven as we are by a theology of glory, are so consumed with success (as defined by the culture) that we don't really know what to do with the fact that Jesus spent a good deal of his time asking his friends not to be embarrassed by him (Matt. 10:32-33; 26:34; Mark 8:38). Paul followed suit, pleading with his young protege not to be "ashamed of the testimony of Jesus, or of me, his prosoner" (II Tim. 1:8).

Hardly the kind of rousing rhetoric that rallies the rabble for revolution....

Our Lord made it clear that the servant is not greater than his master. If we want to follow Jesus (the real one, I mean), we simply have no other choice than to identify ourselves with his own unpopularity, together with what the world sees as the weak and beggarly elements of the church that he founded. Balking at such divine foolishness is noting short of shirking the cross, as if it was fine for Jesus to die on, but not us.