Sunday, June 17, 2012

God's Economy and Church Renewal : The Acton Institute Series

This is the final blog in the Acton series, which were based on my presentation to Acton University, 2012. Acton's website contains countless opportunities to educate oneself in economic life. 

( )

The Acton Institute asked me to speak today about some of the opportunities and challenges faced by America's mega churches. I have tried to do that.

I have also listed what I believe are crucial principles that orthodox Christianity offers to the art and science of economics. I hope I have made it clear that Christian spirituality is not a detachment from the world; it is rather a deep engagement with the world on behalf of Christ, the incarnate God, who came to save us both as individuals and as nations.

St. John called this Christ the Eternal Logos, by which he meant that Christ is that which holds all reality together. This implies that the Church, which is Christ's body, exists to offer to all humanity those things already tacitly known by the people of God through revelation. As the church goes about this work, the life of Christ within the church works to draw all creation Godward that it may be redeemed and transformed. This includes the economic structures of nations and households.

St. Paul calls this process the economia theu: that is to say, the economy of God. In other words, the deep structures that uphold creation are revealed through the Word made Flesh, through the principles of Holy Scripture, and through the living enactments of those structures by believers through sacrament, habits of piety and the vocations that God’s people live out within human culture. That is what God's economy looks like.

Because God's economy is based upon how reality really works -- designed as it is by the very One who created everything -- it causes individuals and nations to flourish. When we meet a people whose God is the Lord, we ought to see in that people an increase inscience, art, medicine and so forth. And, we ought to see in them the means by which these advances of human life are made possible -- healthy financial management and growth. 

The church is not directly responsible for all of this, of course. A church exists to lead the people of God in worship, provide community through which they may learn His ways , and care for the soul as we journey through life toward eternity. As a part of this soul care however, the church helps God's people discover their vocation. It teaches them to see themselves as stewards of the resources around them. The church does not regulate or control the vocation of its people. That is the responsibility of other divinely sanctioned spheres of human authority. However, it does offer guidance about how to discover the values, purpose and means through which individuals flourish in God.

This is what St. Paul means by his striking phrase, economia theu. He means that the church offers divine insight for a fallen world; wisdom from above that reveals the way life really works. It does not exist to entertain people nor even merely to comfort them. It exists to teach people "those things you have heard from me."

A mega church plays a critical part in this work of grace.  It deserves our concern and care for that reason. Because the mega church must maintain its spiritual health if it is to play the part it has been called to play in these challenging times, we must do what we can to maintain its health and focus.

In the end though, no church, however large, exists as an isolated unit. All churches, regardless of denomination or location, find their reason and means of existence in the communion of saints. Churches exists to be witnesses of that which has at all times and in all places been believed by the whole people of God. They make God’s presence known in the communities around them. They lead unbelievers to God. They train believers in God's ways. They prepare the next generations to perpetuate the eternal mysteries of God. They prepare the soul for eternity. They enrich the soil of the human heart to grow fruit that enriches human society.

Local churches, like individual Christians, manifest these unique gifts in different ways and to various degrees of capacity. However, some measure of the glory of God is always revealed through the symphony performed by these instruments when they are in harmony one with the other. The theme of this divine symphony is human redemption from the effects of sin and evil. We are called to manifest the first fruits of a universe that one day will, as a whole and in all its parts, reflect the manifest wisdom of God. We do this together; as individuals, as denominations, and as local churches of all different kinds and sizes.

So I thank you for this opportunity to give witness to the power of the economia theu -- the economy of God. I am grateful for the opportunity because I truly believe this to be the source of life, the origin and aim of human flourishing, and the central meaning of all economia everywhere, a word which means, after all, the ways of the household.

Mega churches are large households which, like all individuals and institutions claiming to represent Jesus Christ, are obligated to keep the economia theu as their actual, and not merely their professed core of existence. To the extend they do, they are partners in grace and reflections of God's charitable care for humankind.

No comments: