Friday, 9 July 2010

The KGB, the Incarnation and Christian Mission - and why we need Victorian preachers to tell the story

Spy stories aren't what they used to be. They used to be some of the hottest action of the cold war. But those days are gone and ten Russian spies exposed in the U.S. is more of an embarrassment than anything else.

The Russians, it appears, however, do take their spying more seriously than western nations. "Sleepers" is what they call people who are planted deep into the society for the purpose of gathering information.

The story of one such sleeper I found quite amazing. He was a talented young Russian. A brilliant linguist and a gifted musician. Somehow he ended up being recruited by the KGB and embarked on a mission to spy on America.

It is quite remarkable what he did. He moved to East Germany to enable him to become more like a German. He then pretended to be a refugee who had come to the West.

His next move was to develop a career as a piano tuner and move to America. Having moved across the Atlantic, he managed to land the job of piano tuner to Nelson Rockefeller, then Governor of New York.

Such a story demands the kind of rhetorical flourish that would have been second nature to one of the great Victorian preachers: "Consider what lengths this man went to in service of his country. Should not the zeal of the Christian exceed that of the communistic (I know that would be anachronistic for a Victorian preacher - but I am sure the -ic suffix would have been stuck on at the end) type of man in service of his Lord and Master? Consider the self abnegation of one so graced with such gifts and of such a sensible temper, who loved the cause of his motherland more than his own life. Should not the servants of Christ esteem the loss of all that is theirs by grace and nature a small thing, perchance one should advance the cause of Christ's kingdom?

Or indeed, "Consider Him who emptied Himself of the splendours of a life greater than that of the Bolshevist for the sake of poor lost sinners."

I am sure that if anyone ever does read this post, they will be tempted to think that I am flippantly sending up a stereotyped Christianity which we love to poke fun.

Well I'm not. There are a couple of serious points here.

Firstly, this is some illustration of both the incarnation and what singleminded discipleship might look like.

Phillippians 2 has been a bit of a hot potato for theologians for a while. What does it mean that Christ emptied Himself? Did he lose His divine attributes when he took on flesh? Or were they merely veiled, hidden for a while? Perhaps our KGB man can help us. He didn't lose his gifts in becoming a German refugee and then a piano tuner. He simply, for the sake of the Soviet Union, chose not to utilise them - at least not to the extent that he could have used them. They were hidden in the guise of a refugee turned piano tuner.

In this same chapter in Phillippians, Paul presents Christ in His becoming a servant as a kind of template for Christian servanthood. If you've ever heard anyone talking about "having a servant heart" your hearing about something rooted in this passage of scripture.

Christian growth and Christian ministry is about becoming. Becoming more like Christ. And to begin to minister like Jesus ministered we have to leave our worlds and enter into the worlds of those whom God has called us to serve. It might not be a geographical movement. And it certainly won't be anything as dramatic as the movement of Christ from heaven to earth. But it will challenge our thinking and affect our will and emotions.

So why not just say all this in plain, 21st century English? Why the faux Victorian speak? Perhaps, because these things deserve better than the blandness of much contemporary speech. Misguided communist or not, you can't help but admire and be challenged by such commitment to a cause. And to simply present it as "If we were as committed as some of those commies were, the world would be a better place" has limited emotional punch. We need something that at least tries to make us feel the grandeur of the gospel and the sheer romance of serving the King.

The KGB illustrating the incarnation and inspiring to Christian mission. Marx and Lenin must be spinning in their graves.

No comments: