Susan Boyle Ecclesiology


There was a programme on last night about talents shows in the UK and it reminded me all over again what a strange international super star Susan Boyle is. You remember the story from “Britain’s Got Talent”, Susan walks on to the stage and everyone sniggers because she is a bit of an “ugly duckling”, she is dressed in frumpy clothes, a bit socially awkward and worst of all for British audience admits she goes to church! Then she opens her mouth and sings everyone else’s jaw drops as she sings with the voice of an angel. I think Susan Boyle has been such a sensation because she is at one and the same time sort of “odd,” and yet attractive. She just doesn’t fit into our culture’s view of what “successful” should like. Yet at the same time there is something compulsively attractive about her when she sings.

I wonder what comes into your mind when you think about this slightly strange Scottish singer? It’s probably because I have spent too much of my life in bible colleges and seminaries but when I think about Susan Boyle I can’t help but think about 1 Peter. I hear an echo of Susan Boyle in Peter’s opening words “Greetings from Peter. This letter is from Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ. I am writing to God’s chosen people who are living as foreigners in the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. 2 God the Father knew you and chose you long ago, and his Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed him and have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:1-2 NLT.

I know what it is to live as foreigner. My strong West of Scotland accent meant I stood out like a sore thumb during my year in rural Kentucky. It wasn’t just my accent. In innumerable ways, almost every day, I was reminded that I wasn’t at home and that being a Scot in Kentucky meant I was a bit odd to those around me. Peter reminds these first generation Christians he is writing to that they are a bit of an oddity too. Despite probably most of them having been born in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, he says they are in reality strangers, foreigners in other words, oddities. What marks them out as odd is not slightly uncool clothing or last decade’s hair style. It’s their identity as a community that marks them out as distinctive. They are community whose identity is rooted in the Trinity having been chosen by the Father, made holy by the Spirit and cleansed by Christ. They are a community who are living out the values of the Kingdom of God in a foreign land, that is the here and now of history. At key points they live by different values from the culture that surrounds them. I love it when the old King Jimmy version describes them and us as God’s people as “a peculiar people” 1 Peter 2:9 That is exactly what most people in Scotland see the community of God’s people as, peculiar! Different, odd!

Now let’s be honest the church has often been marked out as peculiar for the wrong reasons. People have thought that the way Christians dress and talk has often been just a bit weird and avoided them as a result. The oddity that the churches Peter was writing to displayed didn’t alienate the people around them instead it intrigued and attracted them. We know that because Peter says “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, ..” 1 Peter 3:15 It seems from this that the people that rubbed shoulders with these 1st century Christian Susan Boyles wanted to find out why they were different, why they were misfits in their culture. Peter tells us that people were drawn to ask these first Jesus followers just what it was that inspired and motivated them to live the way they did. What I want to focus on is that the lifestyle of this community provoked questions. They lived the kind of lives that could only be explained by the presence of God inspiring and empowering them. This was in essence what I would call a provocative community; its life provoked those who came into contact with it to investigate it. Just like the world’s media flocking to Blackburn to find out more about Susan Boyle, people were drawn to these communities of faith, hope and love to find out more about what lay behind them.

There is no doubt that it is Susan’s Boyle’s voice which has drawn people to watch and listen to her performance millions of times on You Tube. But what was it exactly that provoked people to find out more about these 1st century Christian communities? I think with a little bit of detective work we can piece together the major parts of the oddly attractive lifestyle of Peter’s churches.

As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness.” … “you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart” … “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.” … “all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing.” … “It is God’s will that by doing good, you might cure the ignorance of the fools who think you’re a danger to society.” … “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others.” ”

Those verse from 1 Peter show that these people were living like Jesus. Their community was a sign post to the Kingdom of God and people will always find that attractive. Biblical Scholar Scot McKnight puts it more theologically like this, “The fellowship of the Christians created a community wherein true justice was worked out, wherein healthy, loving relationships were the norm, and where in the response to the society was one of benefaction and compassion.” However we describe it, this kind of community resonates with people’s souls because it is what we were created for and therefore have been subconsciously longing for. A community that loves God passionately and others practically in this way will always exert a magnetic influence in its culture.

Since I have been day dreaming about this every time I see and hear Susan Boyle it draws me to pray a slightly odd prayer. “Lord let us live a Susan Boyle ecclesiology! Make us as Your people as strangely attractive to our culture as Susan is and as Peter’s churches were to their’s.”

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