Truth is suspicious. We suspect it like we suspect a person bringing a parachute on an airplane. When truth comes around in a conversation it most likely means that something or someone is getting blown up. The truth: always a sword, never a scalpel.
So I would understand if a pastor starting a church that leads with truth is a real threat, or a real snooze.
The Book of John in the Bible begins with “In the beginning was the Word”. Not merely a long time ago in a land far away. First. And by first the Bible also means only: the only Word, the only Truth, the only voice in a void. That sounds like a traditional narrow-minded truth claim, and I suppose to some degree it is. But every significant truth is like that, narrow and exclusive of other possibilities. In the end it isn’t the claim of exclusivity that hurts, but the false claim of exclusivity.
We want exclusivity. We trust in institutions that promise to protect our exclusive privileges: to our own money or our civil rights or our political priorities. But perhaps the greatest longing we have for exclusive truth is to be loved exclusively, above all others. The Christian claim to truth says that to turn away from the truth of Jesus because it is exclusive is to miss the one true claim to exclusivity. The truth of Jesus is so powerful that believing in it is like going from death to life. To miss it is to watch your one true love walk away. The false claim to exclusivity is what hurts – just as betrayed or neglected or unemployed person will tell you.
The exclusive truth of Jesus is that God loves us and that love is light and life in a dark world. Despite our greatest advances in medicine and civil rights and societal connectivity, despite setting our eyes on the horizon of stars billions of light-years away we find that the gravity of loss and suffering is resilient. Despite greater knowledge of our world we are still subject to our world. Despite the greatest illuminations borne of our humanity there remains a stunning condition of degradation that stalks the dark alleyways of nations the world over.
So then why should we believe, in a world of professional truth-tellers, that the truth of Jesus is exclusively true? The answer is this: every other truth for which we live our lives says trust me and then I’ll show you. Every other truth says you have to pay up front, you have to give your life to me and then you will reap the benefits. We all trust some sort of truth that promises to pay later. Buy this and you will look and feel better. Sacrifice everything for this career, for this house, for these things and you will be happier. Give everything for complete freedom financially, ethically, sexually. Live for yourself and you will be finally content. Jesus says I’ll show you. I’ll show you and then you trust me.
This is the great problem with truth-tellers: they rarely venture into the messy world beyond proclamation
There is no break between Jesus' claim of truth and Jesus showing us that truth in action. He “put on flesh and dwelt among us.” In doing so he placed immeasurable distance between himself and every other truth-teller. This is the great problem with truth-tellers: they rarely venture into the messy world beyond proclamation. Not so with Jesus. The telling of the truth that Jesus brings carries with it the showing of what theologians call the incarnation (lit “in flesh”). God himself came to us. This is also the single greatest difference in orthodox Christian truth and every other religious truth. Instead of approaching God by pristine morality or by good works, Christianity says that God approaches us. God dwells with us. God loves us with particular, exclusive love.
Jesus shows first, loves first, gives first. For the sick he is true health, for the blind he is true sight. For the marginalized and ignored he is true justice and mercy. For the poor little faiths he is true belief. He is all of these things by wearing, in the flesh, the truth he tells.
Who can blame the average person who finds this picture of Christianity to be completely out-of-step with their experience of actual Christians? This notion of truth-telling is troubling for a religious person because Jesus tells his followers to do what he does. He does not allow them to be professional truth-tellers. He insists that they tell the truth his way.
There are no professional truth-tellers, just truth-tellers hanging on for dear life
Any community committed to exclusive truth must be committed to exclusive love. Commitment to exclusive truth means adopting that truth viscerally in the same way Jesus does. Not some lesser love that is convenient, tidy, a part of our leftovers - love we find in the cushions of the couch or deep in our pockets, previously forgotten. Jesus' example of truth-telling demands love that gives of resources it cannot spare. Love that bleeds; this is Jesus' way, and Christians are called to emulate it. Claiming the truth of Jesus is grabbing the tail of the tiger: what it demands of you in the flesh is a dangerous allegiance to ferocious love that may well rip your pride and superiority and resources to shreds. There are no professional truth-tellers, just truth-tellers hanging on for dear life.
We are trying to build a church on this sort of Truth. Who knows if it will work? But we know it is the only way worth building it. We want to cultivate a truth that does not stop with proclamation; a truth that puts on flesh.
A couple of weeks ago we launched our first monthly worship service and the truth of Jesus was accompanied by love through the songs we sang and experiencing communion together, through conversations in the hallway and prayer for each other; just by opening our doors to anyone we spoke Jesus’ kind of truth. Today we begin partnering with a local organization that provides food for children and families that typically receive free or reduced lunches during the school year but not during the summer. All we will do is show up and help serve so they can open new food sites in new places. It is a small thing, but a true thing.
We hope it will be the kind of truth people expect from us.