Mark 8.33 Get behind me,
Satan! For your thoughts are not those of God but of mankind.
Most of us belong to at least
one organisation. At work we are part of a business enterprise of some
sort. Some put their energies into a voluntary group. Others belong to a
club or association - or just a family. The fellowship we find in a
group is essential to our growth to maturity.
We are urged in Lent to examine ourselves as
individuals and to put right what's gone wrong in our lives. We are, as
it were, to put Satan behind us.
But seldom, if ever, is the Lenten focus on the
Church as an organisation. It is as though personal holiness is enough,
that good people make good organisations.
This outlook isn't surprising. The Church has been around for two
millennia. The tides of history have often swept hard against it, but it
has stood. Moreover, its members are convinced that God protects them
against Satan's blandishments - "Not even the gates of Hell will
prevail" (Matthew 16.18).
But will the Church always win? There are at
present worrying signs of deep-seated ills.
First, in the West the
Church is rapidly disappearing as a social force. Fewer and fewer people
grace it with their presence. Its structures are creaking and groaning -
and sometimes giving way as never before. Fundamentally, though, the
Church is failing mainly because so many perceive it as irrelevant.
Second, in some parts of the world the Church has set itself up as an
antidote to secular poisons. Its leaders urge Christians to resist
attacks on traditional values. Millions of unsettled people flock
through church doors. All are fleeing uncertainty for the haven of
absolute rectitude in morals and belief.
The Church has become a
policeman - and it was precisely against that which Jesus was reacting
when he told Peter, "Get behind me, Satan!"
The gospel author we call
Mark insists that something crucial was at stake here. He portrays Peter
as urging Jesus not to put his head into the lion's mouth by going to
Jerusalem. He was attempting to police Jesus. "Listen, Boss," he would
have said, "you're already on the list of dangerous subversives. It's
suicide to go there during a Passover Feast. You know how jumpy the
authorities get on such occasions."
But Jesus would have none of it.
That, he insisted, is the way people usually think about change and the
risks it brings. God's way is different. It's not about keeping God's
fellowship undefiled by heretics, gays and other disgusting sinners.
It's about trusting the way God does things.
Mark's story illustrates
that a deceiver will not beat down the door like a debt collector but
will sneak in dressed as a kind old lady. Just as Peter tells Jesus to
watch his step, so she tells us comfortingly that the old ways are
safer. Or perhaps a mitred bishop reassures us that we will be given new
life by the ancient treasures of the Church.
If this approach to life
prevails, a foundational truth is sabotaged - that we are to trust God's
creation. The passing of ancient traditions may seem like death. But
through change shines new life if we will see it.
The upshot is that
in Lent we can and should each try our best to be renewed. But unless
the fellowship is also renewed, it may be that the light of life will
shine only outside church walls.
To gain new life we have to think
God's thoughts, not man's.