Unmasking, if not Smashing, Idols in the Church
Today I am glad to have two guest bloggers, John Wilkinson and MaryAnn McKibben Dana. I have known MaryAnn since we were seminary classmates and John by name when he was in Chicago Presbytery before that, and then through mutual acquaintance (okay my dad) over the last several years. John and MaryAnn are candidates for Moderator and Vice-Moderator of the PC(USA).
Selecting our next Moderator and Vice-Moderator will be at the top of the agenda of the General Assembly when it meets in Detroit in June. All our candidates are capable leaders and voices for our church but I personally hope John and MaryAnn’s candidacy is advanced. I cannot sum them up in any tight phrase but their voices will be good leadership and vision for our church at this time: passion and patience, conviction and wonderful deep listening skills, pervade all their work.I am grateful they took time from their busy pre-Assembly writing and speaking, not to mention pastoring and parenting their particular worlds, to write this follow up to my last post in my series on the Holy Spirit section of the Brief Statement of Faith.
Stay tuned following their post for more ways to connect with their work. And without any more of my babbling, John and MaryAnn:
“to unmask idolatries in church and culture…”
Did you know that the original language in the Brief Statement of Faith was different than the final version? It’s true! According to theology professor George Stroup, the committee suggested this language to the church for use in its new confession:
“to smash idols in church and culture”
The church balked at the word “smash.” We Presbyterians are a polite and peaceable folk, it would seem—even when it comes to idolatry! However, the active word takes seriously the destructive potential of idols in our lives. Idols are those things that we construct or place our ultimate trust in, thinking they will bring us wholeness or security. But as Christians, we know that our only hope, joy, and comfort are in Jesus Christ, our Lord. (And Jesus does not promise us security, but abundant life, which is sometimes risky for the sake of the gospel.)
Still, the verb “unmask” is an intriguing compromise. We all wear masks from time to time, hiding our true selves from one another and from God. Perhaps part of this invitation is not only for us to remove masks in others – church AND culture – but to remove our own, so that we all appear as honestly and openly before God who already sees us as we are and as we are becoming.
Unmasking is both a pastoral and prophetic calling. It requires care, mindfulness, and tenderness. It also requires clarity, fierceness, and tenacity. Some masks go easily. Some don’t.
Andrew asked us to consider: what are some of the idols in the church? The fact is, anything can be an idol if we put our ultimate trust in it.
Consider this list:
- appealing to young families
- organ music
- praise bands
- the latest ministry fad
- the denomination itself
- stability—not wanting things to change
- change for novelty’s sake or to appear “relevant”
- growth in dollars, members and programs
Nothing on the preceding list is harmful in itself. In fact, God can and does work through them all. But all of them can become idols if we think they will save us.
We recently ran across this phrase: The foolish one says, “Not allowed,” The wise one asks, “Why am I uncomfortable?” Yes, sometimes in the midst of change, we’re uncomfortable because something essential to us is being threatened. But other times—probably more times than we’d care to admit—our discomfort is a signal that our idols are being threatened.
In the midst of these questions, we go back to the opening phrase of the Brief Statement of Faith: “In life and in death we belong to God.” What a comfort! The core idolatry is in believing that we don’t belong to God. Or, that we belong to something or someone else. Or, that we belong to ourselves. That unfolds in a million different ways, and is both cultural and social as well as intensely personal. And it’s the church’s job to help unmask those idolatries.
Find more vision from John and MaryAnn about the PC(USA), the calling of the Church, and the challenges and possibilities for those who follow in the way of Jesus Christ in these places: