Back in March, The Acts 8 Moment did a BLOGFORCE series on the mission of the Church beginning at the congregational level and moving upward through the diocese to the church-wide structure. In her final post in the series, my friend and co-conspirator, Susan Brown Snook pointed out a distinct difference in understanding when it comes to the telos of Christianity. On the one hand was The Rt. Rev. Stacy Sauls, COO of The Episcopal Church, who said that the mission of the Church was “to serve the poor and create servants of the poor.” On the other hands was the Most Reverend Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, who suggested this as the mission of the Church: “First, the church exists to worship God in Jesus Christ. Second, the Church exists to make new disciples of Jesus Christ. Everything else is decoration. Some of it may be very necessary, useful, or wonderful decoration – but it’s decoration.”
It seems to me that these two definitions show the crux of the problem with the Church today. Bishop Sauls has a good and noble mission, but it is merely a small part of the much larger Gospel of Jesus to which Archbishop Welby seems to be calling us.
This conversation comes to mind for several reasons. First, I heard Bishop Sauls speak over the weekend and was reminded of his somewhat myopic view of the Gospel. More importantly, I read the lesson from 2 Corinthians appointed for Sunday and was immediately drawn to Paul’s understanding of the goal of the Christian life.
“We make it our aim to please [God].”
Caring for the poor certainly pleases God. There can be no doubt about that, but there is much more that we can do to please God in this life. The authors of “A Memorial to the Church,” a list on which I’m proud to be listed, gave us several suggestions including daily prayer, Bible study, corporate worship, giving to the Kingdom, evangelism, discipleship, and, of course, service to the least and the lost.
This too is not an exhaustive list. If our aim is to please God, then everything we do is a means to that end. Pleasing God is a lot about the religious life, but it is also a lot about everyday life. Pleasing God means treating the cashier at the Piggly Wiggly or the server at Big Daddy’s or the service tech at Bebo’s with the respect due every human being. Pleasing God means keeping your word and refusing to engage in improper business practices. Pleasing God means forgiving that jackass that cut you off on the interstate. Pleasing God is a full-time job, as you well know, but the rewards are most certainly worth it. As the Psalmist writes:
“The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, and shall spread abroad like a cedar of Lebanon.”