Friday, September 12, 2008

Part 4: Closer Look at the UCC's God Is Still Speaking Ads

The United Church of Christ is putting itself on television again and thereby launching a new phase of its "God Is Still Speaking" (GISS) advertising campaign. What is the theology behind the campaign and its three commercials, "Steeple," "Bouncer," and "Ejector"? That's the subject of this 5-part series. These observations are taken from a paper I presented at the 2006 National Gathering of Faithful & Welcoming Churches and again at a 2007 regional meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society.

The phrase, "God is still speaking" warrants the UCC's extravagant welcome in the local church, but in doing so, it distorts the purpose for including people in the local assembly.

Dr. Walter Brueggmann, in an ad reflection for the "Ejector" commercial, explains how the inclusive nature of God should be applied in the local church: "There is no doubt…that the deepest impulse of the Bible is toward inclusion, that all of God’s creatures be accorded dignity, respect, safety, and a sense of belonging." Meditating on Isaiah 56, Acts 10, and especially Ephesians 4, Brueggmann argues that out of God’s inclusive nature, "We [the church] are offered…a new characterization of holiness that is not related to race, ethnicity, or any other category of uncleanness, but rather to participation in a community of grace, tenderness, forgiveness, and generosity."

One wonders what Brueggmann makes of Paul’s charge to the Ephesians that "among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person--such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God" (Ephesians 5:3-5). Or, Paul’s charge to the Corinthians where "you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat" (1 Corinthians 5:11).

Just as diamonds look best on a black background, we contend that holiness commands are necessary in order to precisely characterize the local church's community of faith, one that is marked by (in Brueggmann’s words) grace, tenderness, forgiveness, and generosity. In short, we declare that righteous distinctions in the church matter. This point—Robert Gagnon argues—is exemplified in the ministry of Jesus:
For liberals who think that an aggressive outreach to those on the margins of society entails acceptance with transformation and diminishment of the church’s moral standards, Jesus’ ministry provides incontrovertible proof that the church can practice radical love without sacrificing “one iota or one letter stroke” from God’s demands for righteous conduct. For conservatives who think that upholding holiness means complete separation from and contempt for the wicked of the world, Jesus’ ministry demonstrates that righteousness can be wed with love. When either love or righteousness is sacrificed, the church proclaims a truncated gospel.
--Robert Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexuality, p. 213.
Holiness is an essential component of the local church, for it reflects the character of God. "Anything goes" simply doesn't go for those who call Jesus Savior and Lord.

No comments: