On my trip to Bolivia, I was fortunate to visit Emmanuel Church, our partner in Cochabamba, where our team from St. Paul's Youth has been serving this month. My memories are of it as a place alive!
Spiritual vitality. Children everywhere. Committed adults. A rich spiritual life amidst many communal challenges. Their faith was acute, very easy to identify--and the fruits of their life were evident before us--as we moved about the Emmanuel Church. Their witness of faith was palpable.
How apparent is our faith in speech and action?
Their ministries were very real for me. Whether through sewing or study, each was understood as an outgrowth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
This reminds me to always understand that the roots of our work at St. Paul’s are from this same gospel. In contrast, a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer is helpful here. He writes his observations about a church in New York City he visited in the 1920s:
"They preach about virtually everything; only one thing is not addressed, or is addressed so rarely that I have as yet been unable to hear it, namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ... So what stands in place of the Christian message? An ethical and social idealism borne by a faith in progress that--who knows how?--claims the right to call itself 'Christian'. And in the place of the church as the congregation of believers in Christ there stands the church as a social corporation. Anyone who has seen the weekly program of one of the large New York churches, with their daily, indeed almost hourly events, teas, lectures, concerts, charity events, opportunities for sports, games, bowling, dancing for every age group...
[Bonhoeffer continues] ... anyone who has become acquainted with the embarrassing nervousness with which the pastor lobbies for membership--that person can well assess the character of such a church... In order to balance out the feeling of inner emptiness that arises now and then (and partly also to refill the church's treasury), some congregations will if possible engage an evangelist for a 'revival' once a year. The church is really no longer the place where the congregation hears and preaches God's word, but rather the place where one acquires secondary significance as a social entity for this or that purpose" (Barcelona, Berlin, New York: 1928-1931, pg. 313-14).