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We Have to Know Why
David Browder

The Christian church, as well-meaning and faithful as it can be, seems to continually miss the boat. I don’t mean miss the boat in now-repetitive ways people generally complain about the church. I mean miss the boat is another, and much more important, way. 

Let me give an example. I constantly hear Christian pastors and leaders exhorting people (especially young people) into some mode of behavior or ethics. I understand this since these leaders tend to be around my age or older and were formed in a time when people were more or less on the same page metaphysically. That time is long gone and, yet, we still act as if it is still here.

That’s what I mean by missing the boat. We Christian leaders are standing at the port of New York with our charges, grousing about how late the boat to London is. What we haven’t come to grips with yet is that the boat has long since left New York and has been in London for quite some time. Yet, our mode of being and tone of leadership is assuming the boat is just late. We have missed the boat.

What do I mean by this? I mean we exhort and exhort- with little to no overarching reason as to why. We are assuming we share some metaphysical framework with younger folks that simply no longer exists and then we grouse about how they won’t get it together. Actually, the lion’s share of the blame lies at the feet of people like me- Christian pastors and leaders. We have not been paying attention and we have not been listening. We have not done the hard work of exegeting the signs of the times, engaging with Scripture, and teaching the Christian Faith within the context of now as opposed to a time in which we would rather be.

This may seem like a screed or a lament but it really is not. This is an exciting opportunity- not just for the people we lead but for ourselves. If we cannot coherently express the “why” to our folks, it is profoundly possible that we have forgotten the “why” for ourselves. That’s probably why we feel disconnected, ineffectual, angry, fearful, listless- it’s probably why we feel like a relic that life has passed by. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Some folks may say, “Yes! That’s why you need to get up to speed with the times and shed the constraints of tradition!” That would be an unbelievably bad mistake. That would be losing the very essence of what the church is and capitulating to the tyranny of the immediate- another aimless and vacuous mode of being. It’s just as lazy and ineffectual as mere reaction. 

The answer is to return to first principles. It is to re-form to the contours of the ordered authority of the church. Scripture, tradition, and reason- in that order. It is not a three-legged stool but a one-legged stool, descending in importance. 

The question to ask, then, is not “How can I get people to do the right things?” The would be to wait in New York for a boat that is never going to come. The question, with gratitude to Wendell Berry, is “What are people for?” The question is “Why?” We need to go back to first principles and start at Question 1.

As a Reformed Anglican, I love the vast riches of Protestant wisdom. They take me away from the tyranny of the immediate and show the depth and sophistication of insightful, prophetic, faithful voices as they address issues throughout the centuries and across the spectrum. I will, thus, start at Question 1 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism:

What is the chief end of man?
Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.

What does this mean? Beginning to answer this question is a journey into Christian wisdom that will re-orient us to first principles and bring us to a place of Christian vitality- not only for those we lead but, maybe most importantly, for ourselves and for our flourishing.