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Grand Rapids, MI

Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Conversations on the Church 3


Here's an exerpt from an email exchange (modified a tad...):   "Please don’t hear what I’m not saying.  I’m not bashing the church of the past, pastors of the past, or past attempts to make a difference in the world... Does saying the church needs make changes indicate that what was done in the past was wrong?  Not in my mind. It merely means that what might have engaged the culture at one time is probably not the same as today because culture shifts.   I just think it’s true that culture constantly shifts and the church needs to both hold to its moorings and constantly shift its ability to influence culture by being incarnational and transforming.   Driscoll uses the idea of an open hand and a closed hand.  The closed hand is theology and the open hand is form, or cultural expression.  I like that.  The problem is that we have way too many things that belong in the open hand that we have moved to the closed hand.  And, we might need to present the closed hand differently through the means of the open hand, but to many people when we do that, it sounds like we changed the closed hand.  Sometimes we have, and I don’t think that’s good.  Othertimes we haven’t.  However, the work of figuring out what is in the closed hand and what is in the open hand, and then changes in the open hand affect the closed hand are really important.  Those are the questions that many people in the emerging church (and the Emergent church) are asking.  Now here is, though, where I disagree with the Emergent Church and I think you and I agree.  They would like to move some things to the open hand that belong in the closed hand.  So, I’m somewhere in between the Emergent Church and the Established Church asking that we clarify the essentials, and then radically engage culture at  a highly influential level that shows the power of the incarnated Jesus in a multiplicity of cultures (and what I would call micro-cultures within larger cultures).  And the one thing I think hits me the most from our conversation is that I don’t want to leave the church behind, either.  But the reality is that if our congregations are not on or about the mission of God in the world, then they are not the church.  Or at least not disciples.  (One quote I heard recently said, “There are far more Christians than disciples.”) 

If we favor the fellowship over the mission, then we have gotten our priorities out of whack.  To use a Tolkien example, if the Fellowship stays together and never gets the rings to Mordor, then the Fellowship is relatively worthless.  God’s people are called out to be a) different from the world and b) influencing the world so that c) the world might know that He is God.  You're right when you say that the church is not just an evangelism agency, but a people called together in life and purpose.  True, but I would say the purpose of the church is to be on the mission of evangelism (which is a wide concept involving the reign of God, not just saving souls) so that if we are not on our purpose, then we are not the church.  The fellowship without the mission is just a gathering. 

And here’s where the form comes in again.  If we tell ourselves we are “faithful” but a clear analysis shows us to be “fruitless” (in terms of the transformation of people to God’s kingdom) then something has to be radically reordered.  Again, the practicalities boggle my mind.  How can we spend millions of dollars on ministry for so few changed lives?  Without fruitfulness, how can we not have our priorities mixed up?  Something radical has to happen to change that."

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