It’s the existential question of humanity. But I’m not going for that here. I’m asking a different question – why do we exist as a nation? Why do we exist as a church? It’s the organizational existential question. It’s the core of any group. If you can’t answer this question then at some point you shouldn’t be surprised when the organization collapses completely.
Why do we exist as a nation? Good question. Not an easy answer. And actually, there have been several answers to this question throughout our history. The answer to that question changes as circumstances change. I would posit what since the Berlin Wall came down, we have lacked an answer to this fundamental question as a nation. From WWII until the end of the Cold War, we existed as an alternative to Communism as lived out in the Soviet Union. We became a super power to counteract the other super power. We represented political freedom and democracy and capitalism. They represented other things.
And then the wall came down. And the Soviet Union collapsed. Our reason for being a super power collapsed with it. Our reason, the core foundation of why we exist as a country ceased to exist. And we have been struggling with this question for approximately three decades now. In the place of a solid core foundation to the question of why we exist – a shared answer and belief held by the majority of the country – there is a vacuum.
There have always been factions and ideas that draw people. These attempt to give people a sense of identity and purpose. The core foundation of the nation offered that as well. The beauty of that was that it crossed over and through other loyalties and beliefs. It was the core foundation of the nation – all other political identities and beliefs sat on top of this foundation. But when there is a vacuum and nothing to sit as the foundation, then these sub-identities attempt to fill the void. Only they aren’t big enough. They aren’t expansive enough. They aren’t big enough visions.
In the void of a common solid foundation, we end up with sub identities that compete. We end up with identities that speak different languages. We end up with identities that see nothing in common with others of different identities. We end up with two political parties which share no common foundation or values. It’s not a matter of disagreeing over the means of how we fulfill our common core foundation – instead it is now a fight over the ends and what they are. The means aren’t important if you can’t agree to the ends at all. The way you get somewhere is not important if you can’t agree on where you are going.
Until we, as a nation, agree what our core foundation is, we will continue to diverge, to divide. We will continue to see those that disagree with us as “others” to be defeated.
What is the role of the church in such a society? Good question. The same core question exists for the church as it does for the nation – why does the church exist? Each denomination believes it has an answer to that question. Some answers are clearer than others. Some individual congregations can answer that better than their denomination can. And the same fate awaits churches and denominations that can’t answer the question of why it exists.
A church that doesn’t know why it exists in a nation that doesn’t know why it exists is not a pleasant thing. It offers no moral compass. It offers no vision of the future. It offers no hope. Is only offers lip service to God, but is void of any action to live out what it claims to believe.
The church exists in this age to proclaim the Good News, to make disciples of Jesus. To share how encounters with Jesus change people’s lives. To share the vision of the kingdom of God as it unfolds in our midst. If it doesn’t exist for that, then it is pointless.
Why do we exist? To love and serve God and our neighbors is the more direct answer. It is only in being this that the church should exist. It is in living this out that the world changes for the better.