Church Now Conversations
with Richard Mouw
The current times have been difficult for pastors with polarization and deep divisions in congregations. One pastor stated that he feels like in any sermon he could set off a spark that can cause a major fire in his congregation.
Richard has done a lot of writing and speaking about convicted civility. “People these days with strong convictions aren’t very civil and people who are civil often don’t have very strong convictions.” (Martin Marty) How do we put that together with convicted civility?
People are very worried these days and are arguing about masks and how close to sit together; they’re not talking about politics in church because they want church to be a safe space. The question is, how do we deal with this when we know the tension is out there?
We need to admit that it is our problem--it is not a new problem. It is in all different churches in the Christian community. During times of Reformation, different religious groups killed each other over political alignments. What people in the past saw as uncrossable divides, we look back on and feel sorry for how we treated each other. In North America, we need to care about the shalom in the place God has placed us in during this time of exile. (see Jeremiah 29) We should be praying to God and seeking shalom. 1 Peter 2 gives several mandates: honor the well being of all human beings and at the same time fear the Lord and love the church. Always be ready to give an answer and stand up for the truth and know what you believe and do so with reverence and gentleness. We need to do this; especially with people with whom we disagree. We don’t need to just be polite or tolerate them; there needs to be a genuine learning that goes along with it.
When you’re talking with someone you disagree with, you don’t put the best thing you can say for your cause against the worst thing you can say for their case. You need to compare worst case vs. worst case or best vs. best case.
Our neighbor is the person God commands us to love--embrace the whole human race, w/o exception since all should be contemplated in God and not in themselves. (John Calvin) If we see people in God, we need to love them.
We need to be mindful of the hopes and fears of others when learning about what is driving their thoughts.
The local church should be a workshop in character formation to prepare the people of the church to be Christian citizens. (Ron Thieman)
Q & A:
- It seems to be we’re living out of the same Bible but we’re living out of a different story (the story some find in the Bible is not the story their opponents find there). I’m reminded of the division between pro and anti slavery people at the beginning of the Civil War; same Bible but different interpretations that they lived out of. How do we deal with living out of the same Bible but different stories?
A: Our stories begin in the same place. Begin with what we know we have in common. Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 1-that our comfort is that we belong to our faithful Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
- How should pastors and ministry leaders embrace their role of prophet while living into their role of convicted civility? In the balance of speaking grace and truth, we tend to be more comfortable with either grace or truth.
A: Richard is more convinced of the teaching ministry of the church. The role of prophet, priest, and king has come together in a wonderful way and we may not need to separate them out. What is the goal of being prophetic? Need to have spiritual discernment as to the motives of being prophetic. We have people that are called to be like Jesus--might not need to be a prophet.
- Have you read “Jesus and John Wayne” by Kristin Kobes du Mez? Curious as to your response to white evangelicalism and its harms. What is the best way to open others to a dialogue rather than a debate in our congregations and shedding light on what things we consider gospel that have been recent inventions?
A: Richard has read the book and feels there’s much in the book we can learn from. Richard talks about a time when he was told that men don’t cry. He later came across the passage that Jesus wept and realized that it’s ok for men to cry--the male being, who was also God, wept. Kristin is getting to the issue of “manliness” that has dominated a lot of gender spirituality in the evangelical movement and has shaped political activities. However you see the current elections, we have 2 very different men running. How we evaluate leaders is an important question. It’s more important to preach Jesus rather than to condemn certain patterns. What does it mean to be a leader who also washes the feet of his followers?
- Do we in the Reformed tradition still want to identify as Evangelical if we ever did?
A: Practical level--Label-what do you call yourself? There is something we have in common and it’s important to determine what has shaped that movement. There is a unique approach to spiritual and vocational areas that has brought together certain kinds of people and conversations. Important to not change a lot of the things evangelicalism has stood for. Is there a possibility that the name needs to change so that the youth will live a life committed to Jesus Christ and in obedience to the gospel? Is it a label that they want changed?
- How can we have robust conversations about kingdom values when those conversations are quickly identified as political persuasions?
A: We need to engage in serious planning about this after the election. It’s admitting failure on our part. We haven’t equipped people spiritually to engage in those conversations. We need to talk in ways we won’t regret later. Sermons won’t solve it--we need more time with people.
2nd part of discussion:
We need a more robust teaching ministry in the church. It should be more reassuring than condemning. We have a theological problem that people are thinking Jesus was a great teacher, not necessarily God.
We need to emphasize the authority of Jesus Christ.
- He is the faithful witness. God’s word is truth and it’s the word that comes to us under the authority of Jesus Christ and we have to trust in the word of God.
- He is the firstborn and conquered sin and death for me.
- He is the ruler of the kings of the earth. Go about telling people with reassuring comfort. Get to deeper issues of what other hopes and fears do people need to wrestle with?
We need to hear stories of real people.
We can bring the love of Jesus and the love of people together.
Richard has been part of the Evangelical Mormon Dialogue, where they talk about issues that divide us and explore those issues. There is friendly dialogue and it has helped them to understand each other better. The goal in dialogue should be to formulate what the other person believes and be able to put it into words where they feel that it’s correct-that you have understood.
More Q & A:
- Sometimes we get the critique that silence is complicity: how do you find the balance between the prophetic and that silence is complicity?
A: You don’t say everything you know right away. Help to lead people into clearer understanding. It’s a kind of silence--it’s not saying everything because you’re going to be alongside them and learn from them as well. Silence can be disobedience, but some silence can serve the purpose of truth.
- Are there any resources you’d recommend (along with Uncommon Decency)?
Work by Tim Keller, Oz Guinness, movements within Catholic Church-present pope has things to say to us, John Calvin, Abraham Kuyper, + more.