In this increasingly shrill age – when activism merges with clicktivism and everyone has something to not even protest about, but to be shocked/horrified/disgusted/outraged at or by -, I have a confession to make.
I have never been to an actual protest – ever. Not once. Haven’t attended a rally against this, that or the other. Haven’t stridden the streets stridently against stringency measures. Never once marched alongside someone, rallied under some banner, shouted vocally outside some clinic. I haven’t even come close to being arrested by those nice kind policemen who think we’re doing a good job and are only doing their job, and the judge is gonna let you off anyway (running red lights to evade traffic cops doesn’t count, right? – Ed).
And to make matters worse, I am a middle aged, middle class, white, Anglo Saxon Protestant pastor. It’s not so much I who should be protesting in this day and age, as the one who should be the protested about. I’d hate myself right about now, but I’ve even outsourced that particular emotional response to a variety of dissidents and malcontents. “Haven’t got time to hate yourself? We’ll do it for you” said the ad. Best fifty bucks I ever spent.
No, I haven’t attended a protest. Except perhaps for the protest I attend every Sunday – usually in the morning – (and often reprising it in a variety of settings and with different flavours during the week).
You see, church – the gathered community of God’s people – IS the ultimate protest. It is the ultimate protest against the idea that Caesar is Lord. It is God’s way, by the power of the resurrected Jesus, of planting his flag visibly on the planet on a consistent basis. God’s way of buying poster paint, cardboard and paintbrushes. Each week that I gather with God’s people I am declaring in the face of an entrenched power that Caesar is NOT Lord and that Jesus Is.
Who do we want? Jesus!
When do we want him? Now!
A Protest of Love
First of all Sunday church is – for me – a protest of love in an world that hates. A world that hates truth and purity. A world that hates people. Hates them enough to give them the category “non-person” if they don’t fit the bill for whatever reason. Hates sin enough to rejoice that Jesus died to deal with it in me, in you, in the cosmos.
It’s a protest against the hate that drives humans apart. A world whose only solution to terrible evil is to put a caged fence around it or to ignore it, or even give it licence. A protest against the hatred in the world that is seemingly deaf to injustice and cries out “How long oh Lord!”
So when we get together to hear Word and take Sacrament on Sundays we are involved in a protest of love.
A Protest of Holiness
Church is also a protest of holiness in the face of an unholy world. In the face of a world that will worship and serve the created thing rather than the Creator who is forever blessed – Amen. The world’s unholiness against the Creator takes many forms, unholy idolatries are shaped and fashioned around sex, money, self, pleasure, experiences. As Miroslav Volf says, our idea of human flourishing has withered to the satisfied self.
The protest of church says no. We gather together to recognise the dreadful majesty of our God, who yet, allows us into his presence as his adopted children on the basis of a righteousness not our own. That reality flows out into our everyday lives as we seek to live the sort of people we ought to be in “lives of holiness and godliness” (2Peter3:11).
Let’s face it – no other group in the week is going to encourage you to holiness and godliness, and if the church does not, then the church is not doing its job.
A Protest of Hope
And leading on from this, our gathered community is a protest of hope. Remember the words in Hebrews 10:
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Lives of holiness are not aiming at nothing. They are aiming at the hope of the Day drawing near. We meet together to protest that our hopes are neither met in this age, nor are they dashed in this age. Our hopes are gathered up into King Jesus who will again appear to bring our hope to fruition.
When we stop meeting together – or when people stop coming to gather with God’s people on a regular basis – one primary reason is that they realigned their hope. Their hope is now in something else other than the approaching Day.
A Protest of Faith
We meet to protest that we are enamoured with what we cannot see, not with what we can. As such our very meeting is cocking a snoot at the world’s belief that if it can be seen (and bought on credit) it is tangible. Everything else is not.
We protest that what we see now in our ageing bodies is not the end, but is going to be taken up into what is unseen.
Protest does not, however, simply start and finish with what we do as a gathered community. We are sent out into a world not to merely march or placard, but to bring the protest of faith hope, love and holiness in word and deed. Sure that may see some people actually protest, but protest movements are not a dime a dozen. For most people announcing Jesus is Lord will take more, dare I say, mundane, directions.
The small, bite-sized protests of our community will take all sorts of guises, ranging from a refusal to be comforted by sexual sin; a knock-back to selfishness when it comes to spending money; a decision to identify with the down-trodden and the marginalised (not on Facebook, but actually with them); a determination to work in the office or at home as unto the Lord.
The church IS a protest movement and her protest song will one day be transformed into a song of joy when Jesus is pronounced Lord, with no protest allowed.