From Pastor Dan's Blog

The Foundation of the Church

My favorite genre of literature is science fiction, which wasn’t even considered literature when it started in the 19th century.  A few works, like those of Mary Shelley, Jules Verne, and HG Wells, had to stand the test of time, and a few authors had to die first so that their objections to being classified as writers of the “scientific-marvelous” could be ignored.  By the mid-20th century, sci-fi was well established and gaining popularity as the space race accelerated.  “Star Trek” was beamed into homes.  And as readers re-read the classics, they wondered at how the authors could have foreseen the future.

            That makes me ponder the trajectory of, say, “graphic novels,” which were recently still only “comic books.”  Now Disney and others are making enough real money with merely virtual movie effects to make “quantitative easing” sound like their executives’ retirement plan.  In 50 years, blogging will be the origin of cultural touchstones, have a canon of classic works, and be the source for major entertainment productions.  Oh, wait, it almost already is.


          Ahem, anyway, my favorite story in my favorite genre is the “Foundation” series by Isaac Asimov.  Though for some of you the only thing worse than reading books is reading books about books (and in that case, the next time you feel guilty about something, atone by doing this to yourself:, consider the fascinating premises of the Foundation stories:

            1.  Humanity has become sufficiently numerous in the galaxy to be treated statistically. All us little wind bags taken together can be treated like a gas.  Individuals hardly matter at grand scales because the factors governing mass behavior win out.

           2.  A scientist has realized that understanding the mathematical laws of humanity gives some ability to influence inputs and outcomes, and that doing so will be required in order to avoid the coming barbaric age when his current civilization collapses.

           3.  The plan to save humanity requires that a seed group be sent to the edge of the galaxy and, for 1000 years, maintain two things: first, a shared sense of cosmic destiny to become the new galactic civilization, and second, that the masses cannot know the math behind why the plan works.

            Now, big jump, this is like the Church, a group of people certain of some nebulous destiny that also involves the restoration of all things to goodness.

            The world as we know it now is, despite all its successes and advances, slowly being hollowed out by sin and evil.[i]  Greatness will eventually be exposed as a husk.  Playing endless whac-a-mole with global issues will evidence the inevitability of decay.  Sin, a kind of spiritual entropy when considered in the closed system of human hearts, consistently leads to barbarism.  Without intervention from the outside, creation is lost.  And so someone with greater insight makes a plan involving a re-boot of humanity, starting with a group confident in being chosen to renew the world but shockingly ignorant, sometimes shamefully so, of the details of that plan.

            This way of thinking about the Church doesn’t appeal to me because I see myself as a uniquely-insightful religious socio-engineer.  Sure, I’ve fantasized as much as the next pastor about spiritual-ish heroism (“Oh, pastor, because you saved my cat from the oncoming street sweeper, I now believe in Jesus!” Ok, my spiritual fantasies are not that pathetic, but I’m not telling you a real one.), but the reality is that sometimes I don’t maintain a fix on what a pastor does, nor how what I try to do fits with what I ought to do in the grand scheme of salvation.  So the appeal for me is more because I count myself among the ignorant masses clinging by faith to a quaint notion of destiny.

            The Plan also appeals because, the longer I work with churches and experience and hear about the kinds of things churches and church people do, the more convinced I am that Christians don’t really know the plan (other than a sweeping notion of “Kingdom,” the eternity of which always gets complex when applied in real-time).  And when The Church actually works and people’s lives are changed and communities get grace and justice, it has much more to do with vast powers beyond our comprehension than with our strategies and insights.  No, the Church on its own is more often than not rather bumbling.  As an organization, it would get smoked by any number of shrewd business execs.  As a community, it often lacks the vitality of a strong enough culture to draw outsiders.  Its shared values are always a work in progress.  As a movement of people meant to change the world?  Let’s just say I wouldn’t pick almost any of us for a national magazine “top influencers” feature.

            And yet, somehow, the Church still works.  The foolishness of preaching actually does get to hearers in a way that is different than other oratory.  The long-shot ministries begun on a wing and a prayer somehow do take root.  There must be some necessity guiding it other than its own wisdom, its good leaders, and its apparent resources.  For all the ways The Church can erode faith, that erosion cuts away mere dirt to show the Rock behind it.

            That’s a good thing to remember after Easter.  The Kingdom was left in the hands of a bunch of really ordinary people who somehow were grabbed with a preposterous sense of destiny and a sudden boldness and a wholesale redirection of latent or epiphanous skills.  They and their successors were flawed, ignorant, fractious, and sometimes downright sinful.  But somehow the Church works.  The One who engineered it knows exactly why and how, and in fact one of the whys is that its people must not know many of the whys, because they must know Him.  When they do, salvation is worked out with fear and trembling.  And faith.

[i] Citation needed.