Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The Conversion of the Church...Again

A couple weeks ago, I gave a copy of "The Church Inside Out" to a friend whose ideas I've always really admired and who is one of the best thinkers I know. He had never heard of Hoekendijk before but he eagerly read the book overnight. In the morning, my friend said with a smile: "I just kept thinking, as I read it, 'Hey, I thought those were my ideas!'" Have you ever noticed how, really, nothing is new under the sun? For example, Darrell Guder is an influential participant in the missional church conversation. I have been especially influenced by his 2000 book, "The Continuing Conversion of the Church" in which he argues that we have to repent of the ways in which we have tried to "reduce" the gospel to individual salvation and trivialized God in order to make God "manageable." This has led, naturally, to a reductionist understanding of the church and its mission. Instead of a movement that God has set loose in the world to bear witness to the inbreaking kingdom, the church has taken shape as an institution, "its focus...more and more on the administration of salvation. Its worship centered on the message of individual salvation; its sacraments established and regulated the status of salvation; its doctrines sought to define and delimit salvation. The questions it asked and anwered were these: Who is saved? Who is not? How can one be sure? How can salvation be lost? How can it be guaranteed?...More and more the clergy became the special caste of Christians who managed everyone else's individual salvation...[and] the overriding problem repeatedly has been a control-driven combination of concerns for public order, institutional security, and the protection of power" (chapter 6). Just for fun, I made a list of the things Guder recommends for the conversion (i.e. renewal or transformation) of the church in this new century: 1. Start With Scripture: Ask The Right Questions, Expect Something To Happen, Act Like Christians 2. Order The Ministry For Mission: Redefine The Office (i.e. the job of a pastor is to make sure people are equipped for mission & ministry in their daily lives), Expect More, Catch Up With The Spirit 3. Call People To Mission: Keep The “So That” Front And Center (i.e. the gift of salvation is a call to discipleship), Be Clear about what God has done and is calling us to do 4. Conduct Evangelizing Worship: Expect Jesus To Show Up, Be Open To Change, Worship Is A Public Witness (not a private club), Let The Good News Happen (i.e. we should experience it not just hear about it when we gather) 5. Disagree Christianly: Expect Conflict, Remember That Jesus Is Lord 6. Let Mission Shape The Community: Move Away From Membership, Reverse The Flow - not gathering but sending - not in but out Want to know more? Read Guder's book. Or, you could read a little tract written in 1675 by Philipp Jakob Spener (another voice that deserves a new hearing) called "Pia Desideria." Here's his list: 1. Start With Scripture: Make This The Most Important Thing (for laity, too!), Read It In Context, Read It Together in Small Groups 2. Reform The Leaders: Leadership Begins With The Heart, Reform The Process of Shaping Leaders (i.e. seminaries...because the system we have instills arrogance and know-it-allism in them), Tear Off The Masks 3. Exercise The Universal Priesthood: Unmask The Devil (i.e. clericalism), Call People To Action 4. Deliver Evangelizing Preaching: Make It Real, Preach To Save People 5. Disagree Christianly: Stand Firm, But Love 6. Put Faith Into Action: Practice Love, Practice Accountability Separated by over 300 years of history, these two theologians (prophets?) were saying essentially the same things about what is needed to pull Christianity out of Christendom in order to rescue the followers of Jesus from bondage to hierarcy/clericalism/traditionalism/etc. and set them free to participate in God's loving mission in the world. The point is: Nothing's new. The question is: Why would we expect it to be? Each generation, in its own way, tries to put God into a little box so that we can take control of the gospel. And in each generation God raises up voices that call us to repentance. God raises up people who pray/work/hope/cry out for our conversion. This has been happening since Paul called Peter on the carpet for putting institutional concerns, church polity, and personal security ahead of gospel freedom (Galatians 2:11ff). It is happening today. I hope that, if you are one of those people who has been praying and working and hoping and crying out for the conversion of the church for the sake of God's loving mission in this world, you will know that you are not alone. Not by a long shot.

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The Bottom Line

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love becomes slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." - Galatians 5:13-14