“Sign Broke - Message Inside” - What we have here is a crisis of ecclesiology.
As I drive toward my home there is a plastic sign by the road which smugly proclaims “Sign Broke - Message Inside.” Yet, as I lift my eyes to look beyond this garish example of failing modernity I see an empty gated parking lot - and beyond that a building sitting dark and void whose “sanctuary” is made safe indeed by the securely locked doors.
And less we might muddle along in confusion, this marquee also reminds us that this vacuous facade is a church. Yet, this myopia is not God’s plan for the Church of His Son - for that Church will be an overcoming Church against whom the seat of authority of hell itself shall not prevail.
How incongruous this site is with this truth: For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. 2 Cor. 4:6 These words of Paul at once give us both the modus (effect) and mission (motivation) of the Church.
While enjoying a Sunday afternoon lunch we overheard this comment, “We just got out of church.” This commonly heard expression suddenly struck us as very strange. Is it possible to go in and out of church? This statement shares equally with the term “going to church.” Are these just innocent statements or are they the tip of a malignance that is depriving the church of its very life?
What we have indeed is a crisis of ecclesiology - we do not understand the basic nature, function nor mission of the church. We have relegated it to certain places and specific times effectively insulating and isolating itself from a community that is desperately seeking answers to its quickly approaching plight. From Bishop N.T. Wright: “The thought of two or three Christians, or two or three hundred or thousand Christians, all trying to practice “love”–while remaining determinedly in their own hermetically sealed worlds of private spirituality and virtue!–is of course a contradiction in terms.
From a young postmodernist, “You have to be willing to lose something in order to gain.” There is no growth without change and there is no change without loss. Modernity’s unwillingness to embrace change has resulted in a fanciful interpretation of future events that allows it to escape its responsibilities in this present age. One has to wonder just who is being “left behind?”
As an “evangelical agnostic” I am totally committed to the Evangel or orthodoxy while I question our orthopraxy which must constantly change for relevancy’s sake. Confusing one with the other results in the paralysis of “We’ve never done it that way before.”
As I was on my way to city-wide prayer Wednesday evening I had my radio tuned to K-Love. I begun to hear them talk about Celtic Christianity. The point that they were making was that for the Celts, everything was worship. As they themselves were dedicated and consecrated to God all of their activities were expressions of worship whether they were giving aid to a neighbor or milking a cow. As John Wimber used to say, “Whether you are casting out a demon or taking a nap - the pay is the same.”
The church is the church no matter where she is or what time it is. A friend speaks of the church gathered - such as congregationally - and the church scattered (diaspora) throughout the community; it is still the church. I read recently in a national Christian magazine that they were still trying to decide if “para-church” ministries were part of the church. I could hardly believe that was still a question! So-called “para-church” ministries are not ancillary to the church they are part and parcel of it. They may very well be her hands and feet. Rick Warren once commented that the problem with the church today is that it is all mouth.
Much of Christianity has developed a dualism of sacred and secular that has unfortunate similarities to Gnosticism. In other words there are certain places, times and people that are more dedicated to God than others. As a result a plastic sign standing in front of a dark empty building could proclaim that the message was inside. Yes, the message is inside, but not inside a building - inside the community of faith and inside each individual member thereof. “We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure.” 2 Corinthians 4:7 NLT
Bishop Wright comments on the true dwelling place of God: “And that place is no longer a building, in Jerusalem or anywhere else. It is a family, the family of those who belong to the Messiah. They are the living expression of the fact that he is the world’s rightful sovereign: the royal community of the King.”
As our prayer gathering continued a pastor who is new to the area rose and came to the front of the assembly. (Just heard announcer say on the radio, “Some people will never darken the door of a church.” He went on to say the answer to this dilemma is Christian radio. Oh my, how far we have strayed.) He began to share how he had been unusually moved by the Holy Spirit over the past few days and that hope had been restored partly as a result of the Prayer Walk through our community. Then he said before he began to pray, “We have forgotten about Jesus. He didn’t do a lot of work in the synagogue - He did most of it in the street.” And then he prayed that God would give us strength to be bold about His Word. That He would be with us and use us to heal our community. He spoke forth a mandate to the Church in our City.
Once again from Bishop Wright: “When the Spirit of Jesus the Messiah comes to dwell in Christians, individually and corporately, this happens so that they can be–all together–the place where his genuinely human life actually and physically continues within the life of the present world.”
There are those who are “in step with the Spirit” and who have an ear to “Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the church.” Personally, I am grieved to the point of tears - seriously! But not without hope, for I am seeing harbingers that cause me to rejoice.
Leadership in our community that will not succumb to dysfunctional unilateralism - with godly deference they are eager to embrace the holism of the Gospel of the Kingdom.
Suburban congregations and ministries willingly committing their time, energy and money to ministry in the urban community.
Businessmen unhesitatingly making an annual pledge of $5,000.00 to address the pressing needs of our oft neglected youth.
A local inner-city community association that is lead by the pastor of a majority community congregation that resisted the urge to flee to suburbia choosing instead to commit its resource to the restoration of the society in which it found itself.
Minority community leadership arising in our city that knows revival is more than just numbering souls–it is community transformation. Our Alliance president who is bold enough to declare, “We have been doing the same thing for thirty years and getting no results, it is time we do something different.”
We are in desperate need of a New Reformation. The Reformation was a movement born out of religious frustration that was greatly aided by a need for social upheaval. The Reformers succeeded in their prime objective; they made the world a better place.
And from the words of the Reformers themselves:
Martin Luther, “We are not the church’s guardians, if it were up to us, the church would perish before our eyes, and we together with it...But it is another who obviously preserves both the church and us.”
John Calvin, “there is still some concealed energy, which, though it be not immediately manifest to our eyes, will at length yield its fruit...by the word of the Lord, by which alone the Church is sustained.”
And from the Word itself:
“Enduring, we with him shall reign.
Who him denies,
He will disclaim.
Our faith may fail,
his never wanes–
He cannot change!”
2 Timothy 2:12-13 ISV
And now just having returned from a major national conference of church leaders I am encouraged for the message was: word, works - and wonders. “For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit;” Romans 15:18-19 NASB A young member of the emergent generation would persuasively direct us toward an integrated holistic eschatology that would focus on the consummation of all things in Christ Jesus.
This too was the message brought to our own local community during six days of our Gathering for Revival!
Seek God for the City 2011 - “Enlarge our praying to match Your wonderful purpose. Bring massive, sudden changes to our families and our cities, far beyond what we have dared to ask, so that we shake our heads with grateful amazement. As You answer our feeble prayers, make a holy spectacle of Your tender, kingly power. Cause people, even the hard-hearted ones, to stand in jaw-dropping awe. Satisfy those who have waited patiently for Your goodness with tears of joy.”