Rereading a favorite book by a favorite professor brought me this provocative statement: “Suffering as a mark of the church’s chosenness is the suffering which we do willingly on behalf of others” (Hendricks/ A Theology for Aging Broadman/78, italics mine).
Earlier, another writer picked up on this theme of suffering and the church (Hudnut, The Sleeping Giant). Hudnut sees Jesus emptying Himself, Phil 2:7, like the suffering servant of Isaiah 53.12 and affirming others as he affirmed God. Hudnut suggested the church is a people who deny themselves, Jn 13:14; Mt. 16:24; Mt 20:27 Rom 1.1; James 12:1; 2 Peter 1; Jude 1:1; he concludes it is a community based on denying itself.
This view affirms the church as a people who affirm others; who wash one another’s feet in the spirit of Jesus who came to serve not be served. The church becomes a people that encourage one another; it is a people who come together for what they can give rather than receive; we follow Jesus to deny self rather than serve self. Thus, Hudnut agrees Christianity is the power of positive action of people called to freedom--to be slaves--Gal. 5:13.
The church is people who affirm God as the slave bows the head before the Master, prompting Peter to
write “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold
grace of God” (I Peter 4:10 NKJV). With this in mind, Hudnut asked, ““What have we done in this
country, that we hoard our gifts, that we put the private over the public, the national ahead of the
international—our national “self-interest” as we call it, ahead of half the world that goes to bed hungry.
‘Nowhere in the world’ de Toqueville wrote of us, ‘were there so many ambitious people with such low
ambitions? Why?” (Hudnut/118).
Returning to Professor Hendricks, he declares: “In my opinion, there is no point where average
American Church life and average American Christianity are so unlike ‘the true church’ as at this point of
Suffering (Hudnut/The Sleeping Giant/118).
“Self-inflicted and self-imposed suffering gives rise to false martyr and messianic complexes,” comments
Hendricks, noting that “suffering occasioned by others may not be on behalf of others.” Suffering
imposed by others is more Christlike than self-caused suffering, he believes, “but it is not necessarily a
benefit to others.”
“It was of benefit a generation ago when the stand of the confessing church of Germany and the heroic
efforts of individuals to save Jews from destruction were widely known in some churches. The recent
opening of the bamboo curtain in China has revealed stories of persecution and vicarious suffering
throughout the last forty years. Isolated and tragic examples of suffering and martyrdom behind the iron
curtain in Poland have won world admiration and possibly greater religious liberty for others. In America
we have not often or deeply been in the circumstance of suffering, the deepest mark of Christian
chosenness-suffering for others.”
In pondering the issue of whether or not American Christianity is to “entirely or permanently” avoid
such suffering, Hendricks offers this positive assertion: “We need to be faithful enough to Scripture to
recognize that suffering is a mark of the chosenness of the church” and that much of our “easy
triumphalism and rejoicing in our privilege is lopsided theology. It is also a poor witness to one of
the biblical identification marks of the church of Jesus whose sign is a cross” (78-79).
Hendricks leaves us with his question: “how do you carry your chosenness? As a privilege to be enjoyed,
a mark of divine favor to be exploited, a wonder to be amazed by, a gift to be shared, a service to be
fulfilled, [or] a possible cross to be carried when circumstances may make it necessary?”
While you wrestle for yourself with this question, I will re-examine my own experience -
at Warner’s World - walkingwithwarner.blogspot, com.