Observation: Just as Israel was called out from Babylonian exile to re-establish itself as the visible people of God, the church of Christ is, in today's secular culture, also being called out to be more visible. It will be those who want to be faithful to Scripture. “Plow new ground for yourselves, plant righteousness, and reap the blessings that your devotion to me will produce. It is time for you to turn to me, your Lord, and I will come and pour out blessings upon you.” (Hosea 10:12 GNT)
Remember that classic Farside cartoon of the huge flock of perfectly identical black and white penguins standing crowded together as penguins do? The unity of this mass was broken by one who stood above all the rest in the back centre of the frame and gloriously sang at the top of his lungs, “I just gotta be me!” Funny? Only if you had twigged to the fact that the uniformity our culture shapes in us produces a de-humanizing anonymity that drives us to want to somehow glory in a unique identity. Sure, no one can be heard actually singing, “I just gotta be me”, but the hunger for visibility, to feel and be special, to be heard, to have your “fifteen minutes of fame”, to feel valued in a mass culture is very real. This hunger for visibility is currently expressed in a plethora of new mediums and contexts, i.e. selfies, tattoos, Facebook, Internet postings, risk-taking feats guaranteed to get your video posted or better yet go viral, or parents giving unique names or spellings to their children to insulate them from a fearsome anonymity, etc.
Scattered within our society's crowded frame stands the church now struggling with its loss of status and relegated to anonymity and irrelevancy. Yet we are still called to be a visible witness, not for self but for Christ. (i.e. Isaiah 43:10, 12; Matthew 24:14; Acts 1:8) Having to make ourselves a visible witness to Christ is new ground for us. We are used to the church being welcomed and visible and relevant within a mostly Christianized culture, but this is no longer the case. The church fell asleep in that culture and is now waking up to find itself in Babylon and discovering that the values and gods of Babylon have quietly been adopted into the church.
In this new context, how can the church of Jesus Christ stand out and be a visible witness – assuming that we want to be? We know that, in spite of the hat of tolerance being doffed towards us “religious people”, our Christian witness to the person, work, and exclusivity of Jesus is no longer welcomed – or even tolerated. Thus, we are tempted to just go along with the spirit of the age and culture. We claim “spirituality” in our pews, give innocuous messages about God's love in our pulpits, and leave it at that. We keep our faith for Sunday in church but live according to the values of the culture the rest of the week. We hide our witness to Christ with the cloak of invisibility and head for those recently vacated closets. While “don't ask, don't tell” may keep us comfortable in church and out of the hot-seat in public, will it give us a seat at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb in the Kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ? This is the invisible church of the comfortable but unconverted. It is a church that takes its cues from a culture that has redefined reality to fit its desires and therefore has redefined the Gospel accordingly. It is this redefining of the Good News that is at the heart of the current division within the PCC.
Only love for the person and the work of Christ can help us to overcome our fear of being a more visible witness within our church and culture. Love for Christ does not mean that we have to attack anyone or even any false ideology, but it will inspire us to fearlessly and clearly proclaim the person and work of Jesus as a candle in a darkness that is now so foolishly called “light”. It is to give all people the opportunity to see their life as God sees it and be challenged to live it visibly God's way. It begins with proclaiming this Scriptural reality: We are loved in spite of our sin. The proof of whether we have actually let the depth of this truth into our hearts and minds is when the Holy Spirit uses it to transform us from the inside out. We will then want to become visible. If the task of the church is to be just another “do gooder” social agency blending into the values of a godless mass culture, frankly there are less costly and more attractive choices out there. Hosea's words (10:12) were addressed to a people who assumed that they were God's people but who in reality had not “turned to him”. Bud and blossom are a necessary start and stage, but they are not fruit. Jesus knows who His children are by the fruit they bear (John 15:2-16). The budding and blossoming of faith are but the beginning of a visible spiritual and lifestyle transformation.
The person whose life is being transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit through Christ has discovered, among other wonders, that, unlike that happy but narcissistic penguin, “our true identity is received, not achieved.” (Timothy Keller, Preaching, p.136) If we are not personally seeking the Holy Spirit's gift of transformation that gives us our new identity, then we are only going through the motions of church. Psalt believes that God has better for us and for our church, and so calls the PCC to re-establish itself within a foreign land as the visible people of God.