Compromising About Compromise

“Every single congregation in America must ask itself if it has compromised so much with the world that it has been compromised in its faithfulness.”*

No, this is not a question every church in America (or anywhere) should ask itself. Its assumptions are simplistic and its perspective is one of someone who cannot ever have had responsibility for congregational decision making.

Compromise is not the enemy. Jesus fiercest opponents loathed his compromise more than anything. “Pay taxes to the emperor or no, Jesus?”

“Sure. But don’t forget to give God everything else.”

Compromise.

Viewing congregational decisions as either compromises with the world or exercises in faithfulness seems really fruitless. In the contemporary obstacle course of work, school, family, church, and every other important and beneficial thing people want to do, the church ought to be the thing that backs down, the one activity that does not demand 100% compromise-free commitment. Because it is a living community whose calling extends beyond the time its members spend with one another.

My ministry is up to its neck in compromise–with family vacation, with school entrance exams, with band, with theater, with soccer and football and softball and volleyball. If my congregation didn’t compromise about the use of its’ members time, it would be denying participation to about half the people who want the church to have a role in their life.

We’re all compromising all the time. The church was born of compromise. People forget this when they denounce the contemporary church as hopelessly compromised in comparison to the early church. They forget that the early church was led disciples who abandoned or denied Jesus and who fought amongst themselves to keep gentiles out of their ranks. Even the stories the early church told about its founder and savior were compromises–approximations and adaptations shot through in every telling with failures of memory, the constraints of their genre, and the muddled context of their hearers.

The cry of “No compromise!” is the cry of the zealot who strives to build a rigorous moral gymnasium walled off from the corrupting influences of the city and the state. It leaves no room for God to act through the compromised motives and abilities of disciples, for Jesus’ “Feed my sheep” to the Peter who’d denied him or for the Council of Jerusalem.

Instead of “Are we compromised or faithful?”, a better question for the church to ask is “are we growing in faithfulness?”

More on that tomorrow.

*Dreher, Rod. The Benedict Option

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