When Lent begins on March 1, I will join other Christians in giving something up.

When we abstain from certain activities or deny ourselves certain pleasures during Lent, we join with believers across the centuries who have given up things as a form of penance. For some, penance is a sacramental rite. For others, it’s a confession—a confession that involves repenting of our sins before the Lord. For still others, the lenten tradition of giving something up is a way to spiritually fast in order to focus our attention on Christ’s sacrifice for us.

Some people may look at what we seek to give up and smile. Giving up chocolate for Lent? How sweet! Giving up Facebook? Hope you have some friends left! But whatever we give up for Lent is personal. If missing chocolate or shutting down Facebook connects us more meaningfully to God during this season, none of us need criticize.

I’ve given up many things during Lent in previous years. This year’s fast, however, is a bit different. To explain it well, I need to back up a number of years.

While I was a college student, I encountered H. Richard Niebuhr’s book Christ and Culture. In it Niebuhr explains so nicely how believers tend to take different paths to understand faithful living in response to the culture or society in which we find ourselves.

Some believers adopt the posture of Christ against culture. Others embrace the Christ of culture. Still others see Christ above culture or Christ and culture in paradox.

I, as a young Calvinist already aware of Abraham Kuyper’s assertion that every square inch belongs to God, found Christ transforming culture to be a perfect fit. This approach looks for God’s actions between the Kingdom “now and yet coming,” in order that we may join in God’s transforming work through Christ and the power of the Spirit.

While still staunchly Reformed and Kuyperian, I feel called this Lent to give up my certainty about my role in “Christ transforming culture.” I’m doing this as a way of saying, “I’m sorry, God, for all those times when I assumed I knew your plan and was busily at work in it but ignored others who may have understood your plan differently.

“I’m sorry for all the times when I voted for people or policies that I assumed would put me on your transforming side but didn’t consider transformation that could happen in other ways; all those times when I put my faith in educational systems that I assumed would help to bring about a new generation of transformationalists who thought and acted like me.”

Giving up this assumption that my own decisions and way of seeing things is right, leaves me feeling a bit naked, vulnerable. It means a loss of certainty; a loss of confidence in myself. It acknowledges an error for which I need to repent.

For these 40 days of Lent I’m going to simply seek to be in the church, within the body of Christ. Not acting on a belief that God has called me to be part of his transformationalist troops, but to be one of many parts of Christ’s body yearning to become more Christ-like.

I trust that in the coming days many of us will remained focused with phrases like restoring God’s world or transforming for shalom. Some will still voice that candidate A or B, legislation X or Y will best accomplish God’s transforming purposes. Some will even be called to work toward those ends. Yet I will notice, I suspect, that many times there will not be unity of strategy even among the transformationalists.

As I give up this certainty for Lent, I’ll turn instead toward the Beatitudes. And maybe, just maybe, by the end of Lent I’ll be able to refine and restart my understanding of Christ and culture and be used mightily by him.
The Beatitudes end, after all, where we find ourselves on resurrection morning: Rejoice and be glad!

About the Author

Steven Timmermans is executive director of the Christian Reformed Church in North America.

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Comments

I appreciate this article.
I appreciate your confession. Me too, to repent of thinking I know the right way while being somewhat annoyed at those who disagee because they know a different 'right way'

Quote:

"For these 40 days of Lent I’m going to simply seek to be in the church, within the body of Christ. Not acting on a belief that God has called me to be part of his transformationalist troops, but to be one of many parts of Christ’s body yearning to become more Christ-like."

Please Lord, may You enable many of us choose this.....

 

 

This attitude is the kind of humility I think we should all have, at least being willing to listen to another point of view. More and more we hear of individuals and groups that self-righteously, and sometimes violently, prevent those with whom they disagree from being heard. I am right and you are wrong, so shut up!

Lately, I've been looking back on history with this in mind. Many of the historic wrongs that we deplore, and some of our friends are even apologizing for now (although they did not commit the wrongs and their audience was not the victim of them), were committed by people who thought they were right.

While there may have been some economic and political factors involved, the brutality of the inquisition and other cruelty that accompanied the Protestant Reformation was perpetrated by people who thought they were right. Perhaps we would have agreed, had we been Catholics of that time.

When the conquistadores came to the new world they carried banners emblazoned with the cross of Christ. They thought they were right, and would we have disagreed if we had been contemporaries?

During pre-Civil War days in the U.S., founding fathers and others had slaves, the very thought of which is repulsive. Many slave owners were respected church members who presumably believed it was right to participate in slavery. Would we have declined to participate, or at least treat a slave like a family member, as occasionally happened?

When the Dutch, British, French, Spanish, and others colonized Africa, South America, and other places, we can be certain that economics and national dominion played a role, but they thought they were right and may have believed they were bringing civilization to these regions. Would we have concurred? (As an aside, when I was a volunteer lecturer at a Christian university in Kenya, some of my Kenyan colleagues, disappointed with disrepair in the roads and utilities, noted that "things were better when the British were here".)

And then we come to our CRC missionaries. Foreign missionaries have been accused by some of destroying the culture of the people to whom they brought education, medical care, and the love of Christ. Missionaries to Canadian First Nations and our American "Indian Cousins" likewise went to help, and they believed they were doing right. While there have been rare reports of actual abuse, presumably the uniforms (which many schools use today) and other practices were done with only good intentions. I know that members of my family who served or contributed to Indian missions had only love in their hearts.

Now we haughtily speak about how bad once-revered explorers, patriots, and missionaries were as if we would never have done any of these things. Maybe we wouldn't have, but we would have been in times when the curse of Ham was misinterpreted or when Europeans tended to view most other peoples as "primitive" or when the Roman church was THE church (with a nod to the Eastern church) or when various other factors would have affected our belief system in ways that would have made it difficult to view these "perfectly reasonable and normal" things as not right.

I wonder how many of our beliefs and behaviors of today that we think are right will be judged as not right a century from now. We see some of them being challenged now, as gender issues, same-sex marriage, abortion, immigration policies, and other hot-button topics are being argued, with both sides claiming to be right.

Can we count on our pastors, theological scholars, and Christian lay members to give us good guidance? Or will they be swayed by a political orientation and use that to determine what is right, really right? I think I'm right, but I'm willing to listen, rather than sticking fingers in my ears and shouting, "I don't want to hear what you're saying!"