One of my greatest frustrations is watching nothing get done. Don’t you feel the same? Yet I’m not just talking about politicians and Washington. I am talking about life in general and not the least the life of the church. How can we afford to get so little done, when a credible book title reads: The American Church in Crisis?
What I would like to suggest is a process that goes back a ways,but that has a record of working. My professors in college referred to it as the cultural processes of language. I would like to expand it into the cultural processes of the church and also compare it to the processes of our American political system.
The Protestant Reformation (or Evangelical movement) had a cultural process that perhaps needs to be made more explicit, so that we know what process works rather than getting side-tracked by processes that claim that lineage, but get nothing comparable done. Let’s face it. Luther got things done. Calvin got things done. You know what I mean. Read the history books.
We are not getting it done in the same way. So let me outline my professor’s insights, then talk about what went awry and then talk about how the process applies to us.
My Professor outlined things this way (with a few modifications by yours truly):
I. Process and Non-Process (the whole)
A. Continuity and Change (the Amount)
B. Bond and Barrier/Liberty (the Relationship)
C. Rule and Freedom (the Action)
D. Sense and Nonsense (the Thing)
In the universe of multiple languages these apparently are the processes by which things get done. If you don’t follow these processes, you don’t get the job of communication done. Instead, communication fails. By analogy, I think these rules can be applied to the Christian Church.
I think there was a process that was whole and therefore healthy that allowed the Protestant Reformation to accomplish healthy things. They also where balanced in another sense besides being whole. They were balanced in how they saw the process of doing actions.
Their process was not all about change, or all about barrier (liberty), or all about freedom or all about nonsense (calling all present thinking that). It was instead a process that Luther saw as traveling a middle path between a rock on his right and a hard place on his left. So his process of Reformation also consisted of continuity, bond, rule and sense. He was no extreme radical by his own profession.
Likewise politically, in the United States, George Washington was no radical. He was very upset with Thomas Paine, the author of Common Sense, who later went to France and contributed to the French Revolution, for Paine’s later radical political processes that he supported in France.
Neither the Protestant Reformation nor the American Revolution were as radical in their cultural processes as they are sometimes portrayed in high school or college classes. Often you hear only the themes of change, liberty, freedom and non-sense (“that’s hogwash”) bantered about with no mention of the other aspects of the process. You don’t hear that Luther tried to establish continuity (w/Augustine, etc.), bond (w/the early church), rule (w/his concept of law) and sense (w/his views on science). He and other Protestants lapsed both ways without a doubt. They weren’t always balanced. Yet it was on the whole a middle path.
Our problems is that the middle path is often not explicit enough historically to avoid being mushy. First, it needs to be whole to be healthy; not just a middle path to be balanced. Second, because it is not clear enough the middle path has not been regularly strait or straight, but intermittedly distorted or windy.
I think my professor’s systematic approach is healthy, because it looks at the system of language as a whole. But it is also healthy in the area of action or process, because it is balanced and uses both of the parts of a process needed to get things accomplished.
I think we are stuck and getting nothing done, because our process is neither whole and healthy nor balanced and getting things done. I think the lack of a balanced system means not getting things done in the real world, just like the lack of a balanced process in language leads to no communication getting done. Is my meaning clear?
Let’s get things done again by using a balanced process that does things, rather than either an overly conventional or overly radical approach that either heads us into a rock or into a hard place. I can tell you from experience, neither one is pleasant.