loren Eric Swanson: Churches Must First Transform Themselves

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Churches Must First Transform Themselves

This is another excerpt regarding recommendations for churches.

Churches Must First be Transformed if They Hope to Transform Anyone Else

In spite of all the need for change and transformation that is needed in cities and communities, the area over which pastors and church leaders have the most influence, and the area that is perhaps in the most desperate need of change, is the church. Historically, it is my observation that Christian leaders are fairly adroit at informing other domains of society (media, education, entertainment, technology, etc.) of their need to change, while ignoring the changes the church can make. Christian leaders are often impotent in getting the adherents of our faith to follow God’s precepts but often demand that secular society live by them. If the church could be changed and her people transformed and infused with kingdom values lived out through kingdom actions, these changed lives would perhaps be the most powerful catalyst for transformation. Professor of Theology at Notre Dame, Richard McBrien, suggests a balanced role for religion in a pluralistic America.
First every religious community may demand conformity to its beliefs on the part of its own members. Second, no group in a pluralist society may demand that government legislate a moral conviction for which support in society at large is lacking. Third, any group, including any church, has the right to work toward a change in society’s standards through persuasion and argument. Finally, no group may legitimately impose its religious or moral convictions on others through the use of force, coercion, or violence.[1]

McBrien’s words, in most cases, are in stark contrast to the church’s de facto strategy for influence. Christian leaders often ask those outside the church to adhere to Christian standards while ignoring the behavior of those inside their domain of influence, the church. Communities can only be transformed as the church itself is transformed.
Robert Linthicum’s exhorts the church:
How far has the kingdom of God become embodied and made real in the city’s people of God? God’s primary intention for the city is to bring God’s kingdom into that city—to permeate its political, economic, and religious structures, to transform the lives of its inhabitants, to exorcise evil and unrepentant principalities and powers, and to place over that city, not a brooding angel but a Christ who would gather the city to himself…. God would seek to do this in every city by creating in that city a new community: the church. The community would be the very embodiment of God’s kingdom in the city…. Through its witness, the church would call the city to participate in God’s kingdom….That is why [Colin] Marchant insists that the underlying question to every church in every city is this: How far has the kingdom of God become embodied and made real in the life, witness, and social action of your church in this city?[2]
To the extent that the church is transformed the community has the potential for transformation.

[1]David Hollenbach , SJ., The Global Face of Public Faith: Politics, Human Rights, and Christian Ethic, (Washington D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2003), 92.
[2] Linthicum, City of God, City of Satan, 105.


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