Rankin File

Ruminations, fulminations, and cogitations on the spiritual life

A Church Leader’s Job

Here’s a thought that should terrorize every person who calls himself or herself a minister. Saint Augustine, toward the end of his Confessions, says, “To all officers of your ministry, who are necessary for perfecting the fathful in this life, you willed that by those same faithful, works fruitful for the life to come should be offered for their temporal usage,” (Book 13, ch. 34).

Like Glenn Beck, here’s what I think I know:
1. The “officers of the church” (pastors and other such leaders) are the instrumental cause for the perfecting (maturing) of church members. God has ordained that pastors and teachers are the means of growth for the church. If we don’t do our jobs, the church doesn’t grow, i.e. Christians don’t grow.
2. The “faithful” (Christians, the church) are the instrumental cause of good works that produce eternal life. They are offered to the world for the sake of the world’s salvation. If the church doesn’t do its job, the world goes hungry.
3. If pastors and other leaders don’t do their job, the church can’t do its job. The result is not a happy one for the world.

In case someone may think I’m slipping into “works righteousness,” (i.e. that we earn our salvation by good works), you need not waste time going down that path. My line of thinking does not at all call into question God’s grace for our salvation. It does, on the other hand, make me think that the church – at least most of what we call the church in the United States – is doing a cruddy job.

I’ve been thinking recently about the connection between my personal spiritual growth and the calling of Jesus to serve the neighbor. Most of the time when we focus on spiritual growth and the relevant practices (i.e. Bible reading, prayer, fasting, worship), we don’t connect it to other people. The closest we get is some notion of accountability; that is, I recognize I need other believers to help me grow.

More importantly, we Christians need to grow toward maturity for other people. Our spiritual life is not our own. It’s for the other.

When I start to think of how self-absorbed most of our church activity is, I am embarrassed. I am a “religious leader,” an “officer of the ministry” as Augustine put it. What am I doing to help the church do its job? If you’re in ministry, what are you doing? Honestly, how much of your time is spent in activity that aims at blessing, healing, growing the other? I’m asking myself this question more and more.

February 10, 2007 Posted by | Ministry, The Church | Leave a comment

Religion and Science: Friends or Enemies?

I just read a book by the guy who directs the Human Genome Project. Francis Collins is a scientist of the highest order and he’s been working on one of the biggest and most important projects the world has seen in awhile. He has been a major player in mapping our DNA, which is encoded with somewhere around 3 billion bits of information. That’s amazing.

Collins is also a very dedicated and transparent Christian. He’s a biologist–and a Christian. For some people, these two terms in the same sentence mean conflict. It’s like pushing the positive (or negative) poles of a magnet together. It just won’t happen. Collins disagrees. His book, The Language of God tells the story of his own journey from atheism to Christianity. He also wants Christians to stop fighting non-Christians (or other Christians) over evolution. He argues that evolution is, so to speak, the language of God for creating life. More importantly, science and religion really are partners in the revelation of truth. As he puts it in the conclusion, “The God of the Bible is also the God of the genome. He can be worshiped in the cathedral or in the laboratory. His creation is majestic.”

I know this kind of language is troubling to some people. Atheists probably don’t like it any better than Christians who are convinced that evolution is false – a lie from the Devil. Still, I recommend the book. Collins is a very clear writer. If you want a peek at the science of the genome project, he does a great job of describing it to people who, like myself, can only speak the ABC’s of science. He also shares his personal story without a lot of “drama.” It’s just real. And it’s compelling.

The book reminds me that Christians ought to take the lead in asking hard questions and facing them honestly, especially about science and religion. These two fields of knowledge are not mortal enemies. God is big–and powerful. He doesn’t really need me to protect his reputation from the relatively few people who are convinced that science disproves Christianity. But I certainly need God to guide me to truth. And I need people like Francis Collins–as God’s instrument– to show me the better way.

February 1, 2007 Posted by | Pop Culture, Religion | 2 Comments