“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.”
Just as Christ came as a servant, service is the role of the church. And yet, the church is constantly tempted to be a triumphant and victorious community that aligns itself with power, privilege, and place rather than finding itself in the places of service. There is a fine line between the the “victorious Christian life” and the assumption that privilege and rights belong to us irrespective of others. An indicator of when we have crossed that line is when we expect to be served by the powers in society, to be at the head of the table, to be respectable and honored – to be socially advantaged.
History shows that the people of God usually do not voluntarily move toward service. Rather, service is forced on us via humiliation, loss, and exile. Quite possibly the American church is at the brink of such loss. The Christendom arrangement within the American context (particularly in the South) has run its course, and Christianity is being disestablished in school, by government, in polite society, and within the wider popular culture. Many Christian leaders act as though it is still 1950 and that society still cares about what they have to say or is looking for them to determine what is right or wrong. However, the year is 2009 and society is not listening, nor does it care what we think. At best, the wider culture only wants to manipulate and corrupt Christianity for its ends.
The need for the gospel to be at home in its context (contextualization) must be balanced by the necessity of critical self-examination. Christianity becomes un-Christian when its essence is severely diluted by societal forces. Patriotism and gospel, consumerism and gospel, entertainment and gospel, sports and gospel, wealth and gospel are dangerous mixtures that can and will mute the church’s voice and disengage it from mission. Thus, the church constantly needs are reminder; a means to assist it in strking the right balance.
Service is the means through which we remember who Jesus is and are reminded who we are to be. Jesus was in the world, for the world, and serving the world. Our renewal as the people of God will not come through accumulating more power, or recapturing a golden era, or re-inventing ourselves. Rather, renewal comes as we realign our mission to that of the Suffering Servant by taking up a towel, kneeling before the maimed and marginalized-washing feet, dressing wounds, and loving without conditions.
Service is not resignation from or a forfeiting of the church’s role in society. It is the means through which it actually is salt and light, permeating the whole of society. The power of the gospel is made real not in our alliance with the state or in political maneuvers but in our service.
Jesus came to serve; we are called to serve. Either we freely pick up the towel or circumstances may force it on us.