Thoughts on Resident Aliens

     Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony offers a transparent, often disturbing analysis of the condition of the ministry and purpose of the Church in the twentieth century. Ironically, perhaps sadly enough, few of the descriptions put forward by Stanly Hauerwas and William Willimon seem out of date or remotely antiquated by the twenty years passed since the book was first published. Together Hauerwas and Willimon contribute an all encompassing challenge to the Church to stand as the church it was meant to be. As the Church realizes its failed attempt to transform the world while coming to terms with the culture’s disinterest in all things church, this challenge comes at a most opportune time. Now, the authors assert, is the time to stand apart, aliens to a pagan world.

     For too long the Church has tried to maintain a relationship with society that has proven detrimental to the vitality and integrity of the way presented by Jesus. While preaching peace, love and mercy the Church has condoned, justified and supported war, injustice and oppression. These latter precepts do not reflect the communal practices of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, but have been employed by many who would call themselves followers of Christ. As an extension then of culture, and not of a redeemed remnant, and by a shallow inclusion of spiritual matters the work of the Church has withered to an odd, but not set apart, form of social practice. We have traded our participation in the ongoing story of God’s redemptive actions in history for a chance to be included in a temporal form of living.
     So then, how do we regain the life-giving purpose of the Church? The true answer has remained intact as recorded in Jesus sermon. Now, noting our insufficiencies, serious consideration must be given to every aspect of ministry. “We must get our vision right before we can get our actions right” (p102). Everything from the outcomes of youth confirmation, to the work of our committees and the purpose of the clergy must be reevaluated to determine the extent they add to the building of the Christian colony. No more can we allow individual interests, with all their far stretching implications, to overshadow the vision of ministry of the Church. In the constant renewal of this ministry approach we can be guided by the question posed throughout the reading: What sort of community would we have to be?
     How long does the ocean liner need to change its course? How long before these considerations and challenges penetrate the hearts of the faithful? While there is certainly a call to all Christians to recognize the true promises found in the Church, there seems to be a direct appeal to those in leadership, namely clergy, to stand in the forefront of this restoration. What has to happen before more clergy are convinced of the necessity to exemplify the characteristics of a community crafted and delivered by Jesus? Hauerwas and Willimon suggest this can be a lonely road to travel. On the surface it would appear to be exchanging lonely for lonely. However, the loneliness of unfulfilled purpose and unfaithfulness differs greatly from the decision to stand alone as God’s friend. As someone encouraged, convicted and inspired to be an alien I stand alone with those who stand alone.

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