Consider who is celebrated in most churches. Typically it is the person who is engaged in “full time Christian work”--the pastor or missionary, or people who pursue social causes that result in a big and measurable impact. (Who isn’t talking about William Wilberforce these days?) Similarly, those who behave like pastors or missionaries periodically in their workplace, neighborhood, or perhaps on a short-term trip overseas are praised for these actions. But a church will rarely, if ever, celebrate a person’s “ordinary” life and work.
For example, Andy Crouch tells about a pastor he met in Boston. The pastor recounted the story of a woman in his congregation who was a lawyer for the Environmental Protection Agency. She played a vital role in the clean up of Boston Harbor--one of the most polluted waterways in the country. But the pastor said, “The only time we have ever recognized her in church was for her role in teaching second grade Sunday school. And of course we absolutely should celebrate Sunday school teachers, but why did we never celebrate her incredible contribution to our whole city as a Christian, taking care of God's creation?”
Here’s the problem--when we call people to radical Christian activism, we tend to define what qualifies as “radical” very narrowly. Radical is moving overseas to rescue orphans. Radical is not being an attorney for the EPA. Radical is leaving your medical practice to vaccinate refugees in Sudan. Radical is not taking care of young children at home in the suburbs. Radical is planting a church in Detroit. Radical is not working on an assembly line.
What we communicate, either explicitly or implicitly, by this call to radical activism is that experiencing the fullness of the Christian life depends upon one’s circumstances and actions. Sure, the man working on an assembly line for 50 years can be a faithful Christian, but he’s not going to experience the same sense of fulfillment and significance as the one who does something extreme--who cashes in his 401k and relocates to Madagascar to rescue slaves.
What I had neglected for too long, and what I feel is absent in many parts of the church today, is Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7. The believers in Corinth wanted to know what kind of life most honored God; what conditions and circumstances made a Christian life significant. Was it best to be married or unmarried? Circumcised or uncircumcised? Paul’s answer, which he calls his “rule in all the churches” and repeats three times, is for everyone to remain where they are “with God” (1 Cor. 7:24). That’s a message we don’t hear often at missions (or missional) conferences.
To read more, click here.
Read Part 1 of “Redefining Radical,” click here.