I’ve been writing lately about what I see as the problem with the liberal/mainline/progressive church. I’ve talked about Liberal Vs. Progressive, why we’re not growing, and said that I think Mark Driscoll is right. Then I shifted a bit and raised the question “Why Christianity?” and offered my reasons as to “Why I Am A Christian.”. My next question was about a “Salvation Moment” and my answer. Then I asked What does a Christian Look Like? and gave my answer. Last week I asked about Discipleship and Accountability http://is.gd/kwtmGi and then gave my answer. http://is.gd/e27NnO I want to continue in that vein of raising a question and then offering my answer on a variety of different topics. I’m not trying to provide definitive answers, but rather to raise what I see as the provocative and/or essential questions that the church needs to be able to have answer for (even if that answer is to say that this isn’t an idea we need).
Yesterday I asked: Why do we have church? What should church be for/about? What elements are most important?
I loved the conversation that is beginning yesterday in the comments. It highlighted the tension of the church being both for outreach and service, but also for being a community.
When I think about the early Christians (at least the picture we get from the book of Acts and from some of Paul’s letters) I get this sense that the reason people were attracted to joining the community was because of the way they took care of one another. Being a member of the community had actual physical benefits. People shared meals together and those who didn’t have food were fed. Rodney Stark, a Christian scholar, talks about the fact the Christian communities adopted abandoned female infants and raised them. He says that there were real benefits to becoming a Christian, especially for women.
The early church was about both meeting together for worship, education, and ritual acts (baptism, Eucharist, etc.) and about actual change in the community. That change, though, was grounded in their spiritual lives. It’s this both/and that I feel is missing in a lot of churches that I have been a part of.
The reality is that most churches aren’t equipped to do large scale social service work. So when I think about wanting to effect real change in my community I would probably be better off to do it outside of a church. A social service organization dedicated to, for instance, running a shelter or providing emergency housing is going to be able to utilize resources more effectively. The money they get from grants goes directly to the work, the people they hire are trained for that specific work, etc. By becoming a part of a church community I am saying that there is something more than just doing the work.
Here’s how I understand church: It’s a place for a community to gather to talk about following Jesus. It’s a place where we can learn together, challenge one another, support one another, and make ritual space. It’s a place that strengthens us for following Jesus every day. Now, I understand following Jesus to be about radical social change and so when I think about being equipped and strengthened for that journey, I’m looking for serious encouragement and support. I need people to remind me that I am living in an Empire and I need to not capitulate. I need people to challenge me on how I am spending my money and if I am caring for my neighbor. I need to be encouraged to seek justice.
And then, when people see Christians living together, challenging the Empire, confronting injustice, then maybe they’ll want to know more.
This Christian life is counter-cultural. It goes against everything the American empire values. We need encouragement and support to walk the way of the cross. We need to support one another in our confrontation with injustice. And it needs to be rooted in worship of a God of justice who calls us to a path of love and non-violent resistance.
I’m going to spend the next several weeks teasing out more of these ideas, but this gets us started. What do you think? Agree or disagree?