Claiborne tells Christians to suffer with the suffering

The love Christians are called to show the world is not the love of fairytales and storybooks, says Christian activist Shane Claiborne, but rather “harsh love” that causes us to suffer and be with others in their suffering.

Claiborne is the co-pioneer of faith community The Simple Way, which is helping to transform inner city Philadelphia in the US. The community is underpinned by the principles of seeking first the Kingdom of God over and above personal wellbeing and material comfort, and living out the Gospel where it is needed.

Speaking to around 1,000 Christians last night, he said it was time to rethink the church and what it meant to be followers of Christ in today’s world.

He encouraged Christians to be counter cultural and join in the suffering of the people living in their communities.

“The love [of the Bible] is not the love of storybooks and fairytales but it is the harsh love that keeps us up all night,” he said.

Claiborne pointed to the lesson of Jesus’ parable about the rich man and Lazarus – the rich man may have been rich during his life on earth but in the end he robbed himself of compassion and died lonely and separated from God.

“[Love] is something that first begins with us connecting with the suffering of the world when everything in this world teaches us to move away from suffering, to move way from neighbourhoods where there’s high crime, to move away from people who don’t look like us. But Jesus moved into the neighbourhood,” he said.

“So many of us find that as we buy into the values of our culture that teach us to separate ourselves from suffering we find ourselves lonely cos we are made for compassion, we are made for justice, we are made for love.”

He argued that building community among believers was the key to forming disciples, as he joked about the irony that the number one priority of megachurches today was to get members of their congregations into small groups.

He contended, however, that the unity God wanted did not necessarily come through doing the big things, like the tower of Babel built by human hands, but rather through the small things done Christians living like salt and yeast in the world.

He said: “If we lose a generation in the church it’s not going to be because we didn’t entertain them. We need to raise up a new generation in the church who don’t just ask ‘Am I going to be a teacher or lawyer or doctor?’, but ‘What kind of teacher or lawyer or doctor am I going to be?’ We need to make space in the church for those kinds of questions.”

Claiborne was speaking as part Pentecost Festival, a five day festival across London celebrating the birth of the church.