The other day, an atheist friend tried to discredit Christianity to me based on its many sins. I listened politely to the same conversation I’ve entertained so many times: Crusades, Inquisition, sex scandals, racism, slavery, etc. After a while he looked at me and asked, “Well, how do you defend all that?”
“You know,” I said, “I am not half as frustrated at the church for the evil she’s committed as I am with the good she continues to leave undone.”
God has leveraged a lot on the work of the church—work that none of us are exempt from. In fact, Peter encourages us with this fact:
You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter. 2:9)
This isn’t some future promise. This is a declaration of a present reality. Those who belong to Jesus are a royal priesthood.
Around the third century, this royal priesthood was formalized into a vocational priesthood and separated from the common people—the laity. It was a young Martin Luther who rediscovered Scripture’s claims of the commissioned priesthood of all believers.
“All Christians are priests, and all priests are Christians. Worthy of anathema is any assertion that a priest is anything else than a Christian.”—Martin Luther
The issue really comes down to how this priesthood should be occupied. Is the church a cruise ship or a battleship?
The Cruise Ship
When you get on a cruise ship there’s a professional crew doing the work. I mean, that’s why you go on a cruise, right? You want to relax, to feel good and take a break from the rote, mundane issues of life. We go on a cruise to be entertained (if you find Kathie Lee Gifford’s singing style entertaining). Cruise-ship passengers look good don’t they? Well tanned, relaxed, care-free . . .
In the end, how do you judge whether a cruise was good or not? Maybe you judge it by the entertainment value. Was it adequately captivating and distracting? Maybe you judge it by the food, or the programs created to occupy, delight, and inform. Did the other people on the cruise contribute or detract from your enjoyment? Were their kids good? Were they annoying? You judge a cruise based entirely on consumer related merits. Did this cruise meet my needs?
The Battle Ship
The frame of reference on a battle ship is life or death. There’s a mission involved. Every individual has a job they must perform, and every other individual is counting on that job getting done. It doesn’t matter if the person next to you shares your opinions, whether you have a lot in common, or even if you like them. What matters is the success of the mission. Your mutual survival rest entirely on whether you can work together.
You judge a battleship based on preparedness. You judge a battleship on productivity. You judge a battleship on how well the crew works together towards the same ends. Life on a battleship isn’t a vacation—it’s a sacrifice. The crew of a battleship doesn’t look like the people on a cruise ship. They’re tired, haggard, grungy, and edgy, driven by a larger cause.
If you count yourself as a member of the church universal, you should constantly be asking yourself questions like:
- Am I allowing myself to be part of God’s strategy of redeeming the world to himself? How?
- Am I sensitive to the call of the Holy Spirit to live missionally?
- Where might I be denying the church my resources, gifts, or abilities?
I’d love to hear some of your answers in the comments.