"The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God." – Genesis 17:8
I’ve been reading through William Barclay’s book, Ethics in a Permissive Society, and have been struck by all that I’ve been missing by never reading anything substantial by William Barclay. Talk about quotable and thought-provoking! Although written in 1971, this is a book that is just as, if not more, relevant today as it was forty years ago. He lays out the framework for a Christian ethic (based on the Old Testament, the life of Christ, and the writings of Paul), describes the more ‘modern’ situational ethics (a form of relativism), and then contrasts the two. Barclay convincingly argues that Christianity will have a profound effect on every aspect of the individual Christian’s life: from his understanding of work to how he relates to others in community. There’s plenty of food for thought here.
As I read this morning, though, Barclay’s words resonated deeply with my vision for the Church. In the chapter entitled The Teaching of New Testament about Work, Barclay argues that man has traditionally found much of his worth in his work. “The New Testament is quite sure that there is no better test of a man than the way in which he works.” Certainly, it is through a man’s “works” that is faith in God is made alive and revealed (James 2:18). However, as society has progressed and the working man has become more specialized (as well as bored, Barclay might add), he must find value in other areas of life. In other words, before the industrial revolution, a man could take pride in the shoes that he made or the bridges he constructed. A certain joy and pleasure could be had from the creation of such things. But today, many working people spend day after day in jobs where there is no real passion for the work being done. As a result, satisfaction and enjoyment must be found elsewhere. The bulk of our culture has turned to things like movies, sports, and other forms of entertainment or hobbies for pleasure. Barclay argues, on the other hand, that the Church should be in the business of cultivating such enjoyments. He writes:
In the new world, in which the time after work matters so much, the church must become the centre of the community. Of course, a church is a place where men praise and pray, but a church should be far more than that; the church should be the place to which men turn to find the satisfaction of every honest need in life….The church with the seven-day open door must be part of the new era.
Can you imagine a church in this mold? On Monday night a class on job preparedness (creating a résumé, interview techniques, etc.) is taking place in the youth Sunday School classroom; meanwhile, another class on Biblical Greek is going on in the fellowship hall; oh, and there’s also a softball game going on in the field out back. Tuesday night is service night; that means one group of volunteers will be helping with a local soup kitchen while another does yard work for the church’s elderly and disabled neighbors. Thursday night sees a dramatic production being put on for the local community, written, acted, and produced by members of the congregation. Every fourth Friday night of the month, young people meet at the church and provide babysitting services free of charge so that married couples can go out and enjoy some quiet time together. Finally, Saturday mornings begin with a prayer group that eats breakfast together afterward and ends with several Bible studies that take place both in the church and in various homes. Every week is filled with fellowship, service, and most of all, Christian joy. Everyone doesn’t necessarily participate in every class or service project or ballgame. But the opportunity should be there. Like Barclay, I believe that must be the church of the “new era.” We can no longer be satisfied with two or three church services a week. If we don’t find our satisfaction, our pleasure, and our joy within the community of believers; we will find it outside.
I’ll close with a quick anecdote. When I was in college, I went to a Bible study / men’s accountability group that met every Monday night. One night we were talking about the potential spiritual drawbacks of secular entertainment and as our discussion progressed, one of the guys made a statement that has stuck with me. He said, “If I had this every night, I wouldn’t even want to watch TV.” Right now within many communities, secularism has a monopoly on entertainment, fun, and pleasure. It hasn’t always been that way though. And it doesn’t have to remain that way. But the Church must be intentional about providing it. It reminds me of a line from Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.” Let’s get to building.