at the bottom of the bulletin at church this morning was a quote attributed to jimmy carter. 'we should live our lives as though christ was coming this afternoon.'
my immediate thought upon reading that was 'how long can we [as the church] maintain expectancy without a hint of the fulfilment of that expectation.' a couple of weeks ago, a comment was made in the sermon that many of today's ills are the result of 'the church not being the church.' as dangerous as it may be to try to connect these two thoughts, i think they need to be connected. expectation creates action, and if the expectation is unrealistic, any action will be ineffective.
if we look back to the first generation church, the church of the associates of jesus and the disciples who followed him, the church before the conversion of saul and his transformation into saint paul, we see a very different church from what we see anywhere today. this was a church that, for the most part, was still connected to the worship of the temple.
and all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. and they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart. [acts 2:44-46]
the preceding passage and those leading to it, not only lay the foundation for christian socialism, but paint a picture of a church very different from what we know today. the earliest church was an expectant church, a church that waited expectantly for the imminent return of it's founder. it is this expectation that led the earliest christians to disavow their possessions, possessions they would soon no longer need anyway, and share with each other as each had need.
as months turned into years and the expectancy waned, the developing doctrinal foundation of the church shifted to accommodate the modified expectations. the interpretation of who jesus was and what his teaching meant was revised and expanded to fit the emerging reality that the jesus who had been taken from them would not be returning to take them to be with him in the skies.
the fact that the message of the new testament is steeped in the three tiered cosmology of the pre-copernican ancient world presents a significant challenge to the modern believer. while some within the church have attempted to adjust to fit the modern mind, there is a considerable popular movement which embraces biblical literalism at the expense of any rational world-view.
to live 'as though christ was coming this afternoon' actually means to suspend any rational understanding of the universe in favour of a completely irrational expectation. which leads us back to the whole 'church failing to be the church' thread. the reality is, the church has not been 'the church' since the maturation of the first generation. currently the church is engaged in a struggle. either the church will represent the best of what we can be, embracing science and rationalism as part of god's continuing revelation and living as a community that embodies unity, peace, compassion, generosity and humility or the church will cling to doctrines that are anti-rational, stubbornly faithful to a closed, static view of revelation being wholly complete; doctrines which encourage division, strife, hatred, greed and pridefulness.