Monday, March 24, 2008

on who gets it...

Here's a quote from John Wimber (central vineyard movement figure): “Oh, God.” I just cried, I couldn’t help it. I thought, “Oh Lord, they know. The world knows what it’s supposed to be like. The only ones that don’t know are the Church.” (thru MarkO thru ThinkChristian)

Okay, so it's an overstatement to say that nobody IN the church 'gets it' but what I have increasingly found is that the secular community DOES have a pretty clear/strong idea of what the church should be about. These notions, in my experience, vary a lot. Typically, there is some notion of how orthodoxy should be handled. I find even in the academic world that there is a level of respect shown toward religious expressions that display consistency in praxis and theology. I think we can thank our pluralistic society for that. But the issue of interpretation of Scripture and doctrine pales in importance to most compared to an evaluation of notions of praxis. In most conversations with non religious people there often is this inevitable disconnect between what the church is doing now and what it should be doing. This is where Wimber's comment is poignant.

Historically, the church has had to exercise some form of accommodation whenever it has sought to expand (more commonly known as evangelism today). The expansion of the Catholic church forced it to accept the reforms of various perspectives (St. Ignatius, Liberation Theology, etc). It is a common sentiment within a particular Christian community that  any sort of accommodation somehow hurts the church. There is a fear that its orthodoxy is somehow disrupted or cheapened. A common justifiable worry is that God will be remade to meet the conveniences of our own religious agendas - - in our own image (one that is accessible to new people who don't understand the cultural milieu that we have framed God in). And this is not just a concern that applies to foreign mission efforts - this is the same caution over accommodation is common in the demographic struggle within churches over control. There is this deep seated fear that faith will be dumbed-down and cheapened in the process of making it more accessible to youth. And if you look at many of our contemporary 'worship' songs aimed at young people, I would have to agree. This thinning of theology is a grave concern. but suggesting that accommodation in an inevitable move toward a lesser faith in any or every way presents an interesting dilemma especially for Christians.

The very nature of Jesus' life and the seeds of the Christian church are rooted in change. Passages like the one found in Matthew 23 give ample evidence to the interplay between Jesus' agenda and that of the spiritual and political elite of his day - the Pharisees. Jesus' words in this passage elicit a sense of hostility that is not present when you read Matthew 5-7. The famous curiosity of Nicodemus makes sense in light of the provocative, engaging rhetoric of Jesus words on the mount but it is doubtful that any even the most spiritually curious member of the Pharisees would have ventured to engage Jesus after hearing his words in Matt. 23. The progression in tone begs something profound. Is it possible to imagine that Jesus did not want to actually start a new religious sect? Is it possible that his intention was to seek to redefine Judaism to accommodate the realities of the era in which he lived? This is best left in the realm of speculation, especially in light of the fact that a new religion was born out of Jesus teachings. However, these questions do help us to see that accommodation, reformation, reorthodoxation, is a central motif in the Christian church. Of course this motif has influenced significant shifts in theology and praxis. So much so that there may actually be less doctrinal commonality between the early church and today's incarnations. That might seem like a detestable suggestion to some (especially with the prevalent current attempting to recapture the Acts 2 church).

Here's the proposal: Christianity is about adaptation and change - not rigidity and constancy. Not adaptation and change for its own sake. Instead Christianity flexes and morphs continually even in the content of its theology. Here are the assertions:

A:) although several guiding principles give direction to doctrine and theology, it is clear that we are ever renouncing the errors of our former reasoning in favour of better reasoning.

B:) Christian practice is valuable as a vehicle to access spirituality and provide a church cohesiveness but it carries not intrinsic value on its own. So Christian practice can both change or stay the same to meet the needs of its participants.

Most of the rest of what we have in the church is some form of control.

I think this is where Wimber's comment is really so ironic. Here we have the 'founding father' of a major reformative movement with the Christian church who arguably worked hard to bring about the significant changes he thought were critical to the future success of the church. Yet even he has to admit that he may well have missed the mark in large measure. Sounds a lot like the Willow Creek apology.

So there you go...

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