There is a new kind of church in the making today. We are privileged to be living in an era of radical cultural change and upheaval in philosophy and spirituality. This is not anomalous blip on the radar of human events; rather, we are seeing the first ripples of a major quake on the order of Rome's acceptance of Christianity and the Protestant Reformation. Our position of privilege is that we are in a position to help fashion the church that will emerge from it.
Now, I'm not talking about the spiritual Church, the mystical Bride of Christ, the one commonly spelled with a capital C. That Church has Jesus Christ at its head, and we are totally incapable of messing with it. And I'm not talking about the Cultural Church of America--the one defined by hot music, the Christian publishing phenomenon, religious films, services that run like trade shows, and all the other trendy cultural trappings that are shrink-wrapped and FedEx'd all over the globe today. I am talking about the physical version of the church--all the little churches on the corner as well as the great cathedrals and megachurches. I am talking about the flesh-and-blood, brick-and-steel church that is supposed to serve as a gateway between this world and God's own kingdom. I am talking about the kind of church we are supposed to visit on Sunday mornings.
This is the church (little c) that is undergoing the traumatic upheaval these days. It is this church that will be reformed and emerge as a powerful and authentic representative of Jesus on earth today. Because this church has such a strong physical component, it is subject to the folly and genius of human beings who are chosen to tinker with it. It is of paramount importance, then, that we take this responsibility very seriously and approach our work with great care and impeccable preparation.
The formal study of how God would like to put together a body of believers is called ecclesiology. A lot of people today think this is a Greek word for church growth methodology and management, but that isn't so. It simply refers to a meeting or gathering of people. In our context, it refers to church meetings, or services.
"Do you mean there is a formal approach, a science if you will, for "doing church"? Yep. That's exactly what I am saying. Many people today think you can "do church" according to any little whim of doctrine, personal preference, or simple notion that happens to blow between the ears. Then others think it is important to "do church" the way the early church did it. Problem here is that the prevailing hip-hop interpretation of Sunday School Bible history doesn't serve that purpose very well.
A responsible study of ecclesiology, or doing church, begins with a search for God's mind and will in the matter. It isn't a question of whether or not He wants us to do church--the scriptures are very clear on the matter, and there is a built-in urge for committed Christians to fellowship and worship together. God's Word clearly states that we should not forsake the gathering of the saints. The really relevant question concerns how we should go about it--and that discussion must spring from an understanding of what God wants to accomplish through such gatherings.
We must do church to please God,--not ourselves, and not people in the pews. We must do what God really wants. If we do it right, we will one day find there is little discernable difference between the Church (capital C) and the church (little c). And when the Bridegroom finally calls, we will be ready--our lamps full of oil and our wicks trimmed. "Well done," He will say, "Well done, my good and faithful servant."
Judeo-Christian ecclesiology is an ancient study, dating back at least to the time of Moses, when God prescribed the physical details for the tabernacle. The classical ecclesiology of the Roman Catholic Church is a monumental tribute to human intelligence pursuing a spiritual reality.
But it appears to me, at least, that few people today are aware that any sort of discipline exists. Or if they do, it apparently isn't relevant for them. I don't think I am being too hasty, here. Not when I see some guy build a church from scratch that draws 20,000 people each week, based upon an informal market survey of what would make people go to a local church every Sunday morning. Not when I see people dropping out of established churches, thinking they can do a home church from half-baked notions that happen to pop into their heads. Not when I see and read about small-group "churches" that have no responsible leadership, a pablum-level spirituality, a list of WWJD doctrines, and a total confusion worship purpose and worship style. "Hey, gang. Let's get together and start our very own church! I'll get the crayons and you bring your drum set and guitar. Wheeeee!" You guys planted a hundred new churches last year? Awww, give me a break! God has given us brains and 4000 years of responsible ecclsiology, and we have people thinking they can blow it off and start their own little deal with nothing more solid and meaningful than the Sunday funnies. No wonder so many our unchurched brethren find more spiritual connections on a quiet Sunday morning at home over coffee and a bagel, or in the woods with the family dog.
It is essential that the 21st century reformed church respect the importance of a solid foundation of theology and ecclesiology. In other words, we have to carefully recast our basic concepts of how we learn about God, and then how we "do church" according to His revelation of Himself. So when this new church is embedded into future generations and various cultures, it will be able to accommodate and adapt to inevitable tensions and revisions. Home-brewed and mail-order churches cannot hope to survive the challenges and tensions caused by changing times and diverse cultures. Build on sand, and it will fall with the first wave of trials. But build on the rock, and it will withstand the onslaught of hell, itself.
Cutting to the Chase
I don't like making these blogs terribly long, so I'll leave out some stuff for the time being and cut to the chase.
We are not going to design the new reformation by committee. It is going to happen in bits and pieces that are scattered here and there. There will be no great leader that everyone will rally behind. It is going to be God's work, and it will work along His metaphor of a body--fingers doing their parts, ears doing their parts, knees and ankles doing their parts, and so on. It is not our business to design this body. We simply need to appreciate that it is happening and pay attention to our assigned tasks.
There will be voices, however. Some louder and more vital at one time than at another. It is like a quilt--a patch here, a patch there; and none more important than any other in the overall scheme. These voices are like trumpets that signal commands from a king to his army. When one trumpet sounds, certain soldiers react according to their training and understanding of their position in the army. Some are at rest. Some are in intense training programs. Some are doing battle with the enemy. Others are preparing to fill gaps in the line.
How will anyone know that this church is different from the one already in place? That's is still impossible to say with any meaningful level of detail. There will most likely be a very obvious emphases upon Kingdom Now theology, replacing the old banners of "Jesus Saves" and "God Loves You." I can also say with certainty that a postmodern epistemology will dominate the theology of the new church. The questions we ask about God, the way we pursue the answers, think about Him, and put together a meanful theology won't be apparent to the man on the street and the people in the pews, but these determine the things we teach and the way we conduct church. In the long run, people will know we are different by our authentic, abiding love of God and one another.
How will people know what they are supposed to do? People will know because they will be taught to hear from God. People talk a lot today about the importance of listening for God's voice, but pitifully few do it. Why not? Because their pastor's don't.
Those who have followed my recent blogs see a lot about "going to the mountain." You won't know what your are supposed to do for the Kingdom and you won't have any idea how to do it effectively until you learn to go to the mountain. And sometimes that takes years of Bible study, worship, and active fellowship with God's kids.
Oh, did you think this was going to be easy? Did you think this was just going to happen overnight? Watch out ... sploosh! There's a bucket of ice-cold water known as Kingdom reality. It's time to quit screwing around on the sidelines and get into the project that God is putting together. What better things do we have to do with our lives, anyway?