Thursday, September 17, 2009

In The Fear of the LORD

Perhaps the most difficult challenge for those who claim allegiance to Jesus is how to take what happens on Sunday -- the liturgy, the worship, the teaching -- and bring it with force into Monday.

That is, how are we to genuinely, and in reality follow Jesus when we are not surrounded by the cocoon of the church walls and the plausibility structure and social network of church people?

This challenge is not new, of course, but it has become all the more acute as we have seen the institutions of Christendom falter and lose social face and place. This has meant, as one recent study shows:

"Congregations in general are losing ground in attendance, financial health and overall vitality." (go here & here)

There is deep trouble here (I've written on this before: here & here), trouble that we will not easily survive. But, if the Western Church were to survive, or even if we seek to remain faithful to the calling of the Christ in our congregations, the importance of Monday morning discipleship is really the key.

As Os Guinness has said, the faith of Christians today is "privately engaging and socially irrelevant." We check our faith at the door of the office or the factory, except for that quasi-personal part of "Jesus in my heart" or "bowing to pray before meals."

Is this what following Jesus really means?

To hear the political right tell it, the faith is meant to bolster the State and stand for the American way, while the left calls us to a prophetic stance that critiques the State and equates the Gospel with good works. These are caricatures, but more or less accurate.

I have no good answer, but I wonder if we are not left with what the old-timers called, the fear of the LORD. Think of St. Augustine who writes about Psalm 19:9 & the fear of the LORD as:

“that chaste fear wherewith the Church, the more ardently she loves her Spouse, the more carefully does she take heed of offending Him, and therefore, ‘perfect love casts’ not out this ‘fear,’ (1 John 4:18) but it endures forever.”

This fear, then, is not the groveling of a worm before the boot, but rather the sigh of release before the embrace of a friend. This kind of fear finds foundation in the love for God, the one who continues to change us and lead us to wholeness in spite of ourselves, for what the Christ offers supremely is not just new life, but ultimately a new way for us to live, together.

Sadly, I know I do not fear the LORD; my life and attitudes betray this truth far too often, for true fear of the LORD is seen in obedience to His calling and life-standards (the Jesus-way). I can look good on one day a week, but come Monday I know I am still me, still with the same struggles and the same challenges.

This is why people church hop -- looking for the new and different contexts & experiences, which actually allow them to hide and to sweep under cover the reality of their own spiritual shallowness, and this is why the only way spiritual maturity and the fear of the LORD grows is staying put in a local congregation where accountability and encouragement can blossom. And, this may also mean that a once-a-week meeting may not be enough to allow us to withstand the onslaught of post-modernity and the disintegration of Christendom.

Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. Acts 2:43-47