by Matt Erickson
We are in a crisis moment in our witness as the Church of Jesus Christ. All around us in North America, the grounds for our public witness is shaking, and quickly disappearing.
Most of us probably know that famous hymn: “On Christ, the Solid Rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand; all other ground is sinking sand.” Unfortunately, in our day the Church has built upon sinking sands and is facing the reality that our witness is no longer credible.
That hymn, “The Solid Rock,” draws from the Apostle Peter’s words about Jesus in his first letter, “Come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him” (1 Peter 2:4). We know that Jesus is the only solid rock for our faith and life. Of course, Peter’s words fit within a larger context:
As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4-5)
Not only is Jesus the solid rock for our faith, but He is also the Cornerstone upon which we are built together as spiritual stones into God’s majestic architectural wonder, the Church, which is both the locus of true worship and the living monument to God’s glory in the world.
The lyrics of “The Solid Rock” also echo Jesus’ words at the end of the Sermon on the Mount:
Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock…. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. (Matt. 7:24, 26)
He is the solid rock for our faith, but our faith is only strong and resilient as we build upon the foundation of His truth and not our own ways. The key phrase of Jesus most pertinent for us is: “puts them into practice.” It is not enough to simply hear the words of Jesus and to know them, but we must truly put them into practice.
About two months ago I received a message from a member of my church who reached out to me in deep angst. As a woman and a minority in the Evangelical Church, she was struggling with recent events that had left her feeling unheard, as if her brothers and sisters in the Church of Jesus Christ thought her concerns were of no consequence.
As we talked through the angst of her experiences, what boiled to the surface was her aching sense of alienation within evangelicalism. As a pastor of a multiethnic congregation in a beautiful, yet conflicted city, I have unfortunately heard this same sense of angst-ridden alienation in increasing measure over the past few years. I have heard it from immigrants and refugees, from women of all ages, from ethnic and sexual minorities, and others. This sense of alienation within the Church is eroding the ground beneath our feet. Even more, it is just a taste of the angst-ridden disconnect that the broader society feels in relation to a Church that talks quite a bit but often fails to show up in the difficult places at the edges of our culture.
In an increasingly fragmented society, a deeply fragmented Church has no ground on which to stand for public witness. No one wants to hear what a Church like this has to say. The Apostle Paul, when recounting the mystery of the gospel, highlights the power of the gospel as not only the truth that God in Christ has died and risen again (of course, ‘only’ is perhaps not the right word), but even more that through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection God has drawn people from all backgrounds and places together into His wonderful grace.
Ephesians 3:6 reads, “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.”
When the Church of Jesus Christ passively reflects the fault-lines of a politically and socially divided society, we have built on a different foundation than Jesus Christ and our witness will fall to the ground.
When the Church of Jesus Christ fails to show up in word and deed at the margins where modern-day lepers and Samaritans, misfits and rejects exist, we have built on sand, and our public witness will crumble.
Jesus’ Church is a beautiful mosaic of people from all walks of life and backgrounds now named as sons and daughters through Christ (no second-class citizens), built together as spiritual stones (no unimportant stones), and proclaiming His marvelous mystery of good news (all are welcome).
That is who we are in Christ and that is who we are becoming through Christ.
If the Church cannot be that sort of community together, then let us put aside any conversation about sharing the gospel. A Church like that will receive no hearing from others. If the Church will not enter into uncomfortable conversations in public spaces with those who are thirsty for God at the margins, then let us shut our mouths about a God of love. We are building upon the sand in safe places and no one will listen to what we have to say.