[I wrote this article in September 2009 as I was bringing pieces of the Love Paradigm together]
Over the last several years, I have been on an adventure like none other. I have been so captivated by a dream, a vision that I see in my mind’s eye. Some days it is clearer than others, but the adventure of discovery has proven thrilling and arduous at the same time. Thrilling because for me I am exploring “what could be” (I am admittedly very idealistic), and difficult because for the first time in my life I am not walking the road others have told me to; I am not following the money and the applause of my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and this leaves one open to misunderstanding, gossip and accusation. This post isn’t a “poor me”, as I knew fair well that the questions I would be asking would rock the proverbial boat. I have heard it described as the “Heretical Imperative” which simply means no question is out of bounds, that even the issues that have been seemingly settled are open again for examination in light of better hermeneutics, evolving cultures and world view all in an effort to discover what is constitutive Christianity – what is the essence, the basis of what it is to be Christian apart from the traditions and theological wrangling. In saying this, some things just are. For example, Jesus is Lord, the only way to the Father, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten not made. One substance with the Father. He lived, died and was raised to new life, is seated at the right hand of God the Father, and He is coming again in glory. This is certainly not exhaustive but only to ease your mind of where I am coming from.
Questions like: I believe the Bible to be authoritative but how exactly is it authoritative? I believe in the fellowship of believers, the body of Christ but what exactly does it look like and does it have to be the same always and forever? If so, where is the line in which it ceases to be Church and who decides? Does punishment satiate God's justice? If so how? Are there other historical views of the atonement that are just as orthodox? What do leadership, authority, and structure look like apart from the modern business models and Machiavellian, hierarchical, power based models? Can there really be another way? What are the goals of the Church? What is the big story of God and His creation? Is it about simply escaping the corrupt world or is it God’s faithfulness to redeem and heal it and what’s our part in it? These and many other questions are being examined by numerous people from many walks of life. All this to say, many of the ways in which we view certain things affect the way in which we structure, we build, the way we relate to one another, the way we relate to God and the way we represent God to others verbally but even more importantly, with the way we live our lives. These questions need to be asked from time to time simply to see if the presuppositions we are building upon are still the case in light of any new information or vantage point.
It is in a relationship with Jesus that I dare to dream of healthier and more dynamic ways of being the Church. Like all of us, hopefully, we are maturing through the work of the Holy Spirit being shaped and formed into the likeness of Jesus. So what makes us think that as we grow and mature the structures we use to facilitate community (aka the Church) can’t mature with us? The form is not sacred, and Jesus is. I think we often lose sight of the reality that Jesus is the Gospel, and He preached the Kingdom of God, and an example of the fruit of that is the Church. The Church is not the Gospel nor is it the Kingdom, rather it is a reflection of Kingdom, a manifestation as through a glass darkly. We forget that the Church is constituted by the people of God in Christ and not the forms and structures we utilize to facilitate that life! We forget that our God is much bigger than the Church, that God does indeed work through the Church (individuals and community) and is quite active independent of the Church. Jesus is the saving agent of the world, not the structure of the church. Why is this important? Because institutions are not self-aware while people can be, and organizations do not love, but people can! Organizations and buildings are not filled with the presence of God, people are; and while healthy structure can facilitate healthy faith, we run off the rails when we deify those structures as somehow God ordained or part of Kingdom proclamation itself. To do so misses the point, not unlike the Pharisees who could not recognize the living truth, the incarnate God, who came outside their structures. In the end, for many of them and for many of us we are blinded by the god we have forged out of our tradition and structures. I dare say we must allow those gods to die so that we can embrace God in Christ. This doesn’t mean we jettison all structure, but rather return it to the status of the tool!
Crispin Fletcher-Louis from Westminster Theological Centre in London, England, suggests the temple was God’s delivery system in the Old Testament. The delivery system in the New Testament is meant to be the expanding Kingdom of God as communities of believers take this life into business, education, the arts, all of life, etc. Unfortunately, the Church found it too difficult to make this leap and defaulted into something that looked very much like the temple. Or, perhaps one could say that the church of the past 2,000 years has been a transitional form (still based on the temple model but at least the buildings spread wherever the Church spread) but not yet exactly what it should be in terms of paradigm.
It is from this place I find myself immersed in the exploration, heck, maybe just a dream, a phantom of a paradigm in which the Church could be realized in greater fullness in the fuller revelation of the implications of the Gospel and the Kingdom. I wonder if the current goal of the local church is to build bigger buildings, have bigger budgets, and more people who in turn we equip to serve the very structure we are building? I wonder if Kingdom success and worldly paradigms of success are conducive? If not, then why do we insist on employing worldly, power-based leadership models and church growth schemes? Many are wrestling with this issue. Why do we as the Church with our structures consume and control our members by conscripting their time, gifts and money in the building of our individual box, and pietize it with a Jesus veneer and with scriptures violently ripped from their context to justify our tactics?
And the men who hold high places
Must be the ones to start
To mould a new reality
Closer to the heart*
So what if there really is another way? But what if it is so scandalous, so risky, so weak, so idealistic, so subversive that you could get crucified for it? What if there was a way of being human, a way of being Church that affords everyone a voice, that shared power together to forge a new community of people rooted in Jesus. It could be as diverse and creative as the collection of individuals who formed it. Where diversity is encouraged realizing that true unity is not in conformity to a structure or style, but rooted only in our relationship with Jesus.
What would it be like if we weren’t simply giving people a set of rules to abide by, but rather providing them opportunities to learn and experience healthy balanced love. Love as a deeply held value, a conviction of heart which provides Kingdom wisdom for every situation; a deeply held value that shapes choices and actions. A love which is perhaps best defined by laying down one's life for a friend, to put aside our rights and needs for the sake of someone else, to show mercy, to forgive, to lovingly confront. A love that is patient, kind, gentle, long-suffering and the rest of 1 Corinthians 13, and a love that chooses to love even when it reaps no benefit from doing so. A love that chooses to love even when it is not reciprocated. A relationship with the truth which even in the Valley of the Shadow of death, illness, business failure or betrayal remains intact, ever present, faithful, ever effectual, an overcoming love. A love that from out of the ashes affords us the freedom to say “blessed be the name of the Lord”, trusting that death has indeed lost it’s sting, and there is hope.
The blacksmith and the artist
Reflect it in their art
Forge their creativity
Closer to the heart*
I dream of a community where the lions lay down with the lambs – where the strong and the weak value the significant contributions and gifts of the other. A community that is lead by individuals who know to lead is to truly serve, to equip and encourage others for the call on their lives not to serve the vision and the ego of the leader. Craziness I know, but what about a people who genuinely care for one another, where there is no spiritual corporate ladder to climb, no need for politics and power brokering, where people are valued for being people made in the image of God, and not as commodities to be consumed. We share our gifts and talents not to get something in return, rather for love’s sake alone!
I am dreaming of communities which will facilitate and release every person into the God-given calling and purpose for their lives, including healthy marriages and families. One which values ministry in our workplaces, schools and places of play as a part of natural everyday life. I dream of communities that will not take on the responsibility of it’s members for their own relationship with Jesus.
Philosophers and ploughmen
Each must know his part
To sow a new mentality
Closer to the heart*
I dream of a community that is governed by love. I dream of communities of Christians who are known for the quality of the love each member lives in everyday life, rather than buildings, programs or slick presentations. Communities where people are safe to be honest, to come out from behind the masks we have hidden behind to operate in the world that values power, strength, performance, and perfection. Communities that embrace and bind up the broken hearted rather than affirming them in brokenness. Communities that emphasize and celebrate fidelity, integrity and character over winning at all cost. Ones who understand it’s message to the world is simply one of scandalous, indiscriminate love. A community centered and modeled upon the personification of love – Jesus.
And then I awake and at once I am confronted by the undeniable brokenness, and yet in it I see great signs of hope – that hope is everyday people who are awakening to the reality of Christ in them, the hope of glory. In this, we all begin to dream, and it is in this dream Holy Spirit meets us and begins His patient task of reforming us into authentic humanity, the very image of Jesus. You see I am coming to the place where I accept the reality of the way things are, but I am unwilling to accept they will always be that way. This is not the end, rather just the beginning and the Kingdom of God is indeed at hand! For those of you who have dared to dream the dream I have described and are feeling a little overwhelmed, I leave you with a thought from Thomas Merton:
“Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.”
And now I end this rather melodramatic post. The ranting of a mad man? I can’t say I haven’t wondered. The musings of an idealistic dreamer? Probably more accurate. Or perhaps, just possibly – prophetic?