Keeping Christianity in the Church


Well, I enjoyed reading Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity. It’s been especially interesting as I read about author Anne Rice saying that she was giving up on the church, but not Christ. What gives with established religion and how it’s turning people off? Maybe we can get at some of what’s going on by asking the question, “Why did Christianity flourish in the ancient world? What caused it to grow? Maybe a comparison of McLaren and Sociologist Rodney Stark In the Rise of Christianity will offer some insight to our current culture’s desire to be “spiritual” but not “churchy.” Stark said, “The simple phrase, ‘For God so loved the world,’ would have puzzled an educated pagan,” and “The notion that the gods care how we treat one another would have been dismissed as patently absurd.” To the Greco-Roman world, mercy was a character flaw; the ideal was justice. Stark continued, “Since mercy involves providing unearned help or relief, it was contrary to justice.” Then Stark added, “This was the moral climate in which Christianity taught that mercy is one of the primary virtues — that a merciful God requires humans to be merciful. Moreover, the corollary that because God loves humanity, Christians may not please God unless they love one another was something entirely new. Perhaps even more revolutionary was the principle that Christian love and charity must extend beyond the boundaries of family and tribe, indeed that it must even extend beyond the Christian community.” According to Rodney Stark, this is what made Christianity flourish. Maybe that’s the answer that we and Brian McLaren are looking for.

I bet most of us have witnessed this kind of loving Christianity. I know that I have. Since Cindy’s Dad has been on my mind, I’ll use him as an example. You use whoever comes to your mind. Anyway, nine years ago her father Guy Godwin died suddenly at age 66 of a heart attack. It wasn’t unexpected. Mr. Godwin, as most called him because of his years as a school principal, was a man whose family history was saturated with heart trouble. His father died at age 43 with a heart attack. His mother died with the same ailment at age 52. His next oldest brother Jack died at age 39 with a heart attack, and oldest brother Howard at age 66, also with a heart attack. The amazing thing about Mr. Godwin to me is not the horrific family history of heart disease. It is the way used that heart to love.

He had his first heart surgery and five bypasses at age 52. Five years later they were able to do four more bypasses. Nine years later he died, not as some invalid pent up without fanfare in a health-induced prison. Mr. Godwin loved people. He stayed busy, enjoyed travel, and worked his 400 acres of cotton on “Godwinized” machinery that only he could keep working with some homemade engineering. He was active in his church, served as Staff-Parish Chair in the Greeleyville UMC, had been Church Council Chair. He also taught Sunday School, including the Sunday before he died. He mentored countless young men and women through his life as an educator and through the farm. He was part father, friend, confidante, private investigator, and corrections officer. He didn’t love in a frumpy syrupy way. He didn’t even have to say the words. He simply loved.

A quiet man who despised fanfare, he lived the Christian life and its ideals as well as anyone I have ever known, except perhaps my mother. Certainly, he could be hard-headed, and was addicted to farming even when it was a money pit, but, all in all, Mr. Godwin lived life about as well as I could imagine. He married the woman he loved more than anything or anyone else in the world. He was a man of utmost integrity and unblemished character. He raised two of the smartest intelligent independent caring overachieving women I have ever known, and our daughter Narcie exhibits his handiwork and values, too. He also put up with me and another son-in-law, albeit the other one is a Baptist preacher/Missions Director for the C.B.F (Cooperative Baptist Fellowship). Indeed, he suffered fools with patience, a lot more than I have. He taught my daughter and sons the value of family, hard work, the stupidity of arrogance, and the honor in doing a job well without sympathy or accolades. He passed on to us all a grand appreciation for all people, especially those least likely to deserve it. It will forever be one of my greatest honors to have been under his tutelage.

It is people like Mr. Godwin that perpetuate the reason why the church has continued to grow. He loved beyond the boundaries of family and tribe, and did it well. There is a story that aptly illustrates the kind of man that Mr. Godwin was: An ancient rabbi once asked his pupils how they could tell when the night had ended and the day was on its way back. “Could it be,” asked one student, “when you can see an animal in the distance and tell whether it is a sheep or a dog?” “No,” answered the Rabbi. “Could it be,” asked another, “when you look at a tree in the distance and tell whether it is a fig tree or a peach tree?” “No,” said the Rabbi. “Well, then what is it?” his pupils demanded. “It is when you look on the face of any person and can see … your brother or sister. Because if you cannot do this, then no matter what time it is, it is still night.” Mr. Godwin saw a potential child of God everywhere he looked. Maybe that is the way forward for the church.

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