There was an article in last week's Washington Post about the challenges faced by The Church of the Savior in D.C. as it's founding pastor, Gordon Cosby, retires at 91.
Yes, you read it correctly. Retires at 91. When I'm 91 I'm hoping to have at least twenty years of retirement behind me, although the current state of my retirement fund might necessitate working a few years longer.
But 91? I've only met Gordon Cosby once so I don't claim to know him, but what I know about him leads me to guess that he could never really afford to retire. He doesn't strike me as the kind of person who saves a lot of money. He probably never made much money, and I'm guessing that he probably gave a lot away.
Cosby founded a church which never confused being the church with a building or with a gathering of people for worship. "I'm going to church" is a phrase that for most of us means we are either headed for the church building or it's Sunday morning and we're going to the worship service. For Cosby and the members of Church of the Savior, "going to church" meant going out into an impoverished community and helping people in the name of Jesus.
And they went to church a lot.
The writer of the article, Michelle Boorstein, captured the philosophy of the church well. "A commitment to serious, inward contemplation as well as ambitious social justice work. No spectators. Action over institution."
To be a member of Church of the Savior you have to commit to an inward journey of daily quiet prayer and meditation along with a curriculum of challenging courses on Christianity, and an outward journey of social justice work. You are held accountable for these commitments through your participation in a small group, with whom much of your service is done.
Notice the parallels between their philosophy and First Baptist's discipleship process of Grow in love for God and others (inward journey), Share life together with other Christians (small groups), and Serve others through missional action (outward journey). They just put teeth into their philosophy. We treat ours as kind of a suggestion. That's self-criticism, by the way.
Seriously, and we're no different from most churches in this regard, but we treat this kind of commitment as what the really serious followers of Jesus do. A few may reach this level, but if you don't, don't worry, you can still call yourself a follower of Jesus. As long as you believe the right things and you've been baptized and support the church, you're good.
By contrast, Church of the Savior treats this level of commitment as basic, fundamental, the minimum of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
Which sounds more like something that Jesus would say?
In his final sermon, Cosby said, "We've got to move from believing so deeply to doing. We've got to keep in mind the discrepancy between belief and embodiment."
When we define a Christian as someone who believes a certain way, we make it possible for people to be Christian spectators. They believe, but they don't do anything.
I believe that there should be spectators in our church, but they would be people who are investigating this Jesus-thing that we are involved in and trying to make up their mind whether this is something they want to give their lives to.
But once a person makes the decision to be a follower of Jesus, there's no spectating. You move from the stands and into the game, and you play to win. You don't root for others to win, you get on the field and become part of the winning. You get dirty, you get bruised, you suffer setbacks, and you get frustrated. And when there's a victory, you share in the victory.
That just seems basic, doesn't it?
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