Realistic expectations of what the church is and will be

Realistic expectations of what the church is and will be

In a really well written article in Themelios by Uche Anizor that draws together various ecclesiological strands of Colin Gunton’s thought from multiple sources, we see some really practical outworkings of what the church is and should be and will be in the light of a robust doctrine of the Trinity.  Anizor writes, “Gunton’s relentless attempt to root the nature and calling of the church in the being and action of the triune God opens up a way for a more concrete and realistic perspective on the church than is common, while offering a potentially more fruitful starting point for ecumenical dialogue regarding the nature of the church.”

“a more concrete and realistic perspective on the church than is common.”

We all know things could and should be better; some are disillusioned to the point of desertion; others remain but function in a spiritual wilderness akin to the effects of Ritalin; whilst yet many more recognise a “concrete and realistic perspective” is the only way to live in reality and eschew fantasy.

Thus Anizor opens with these words,

“Conflict in relationships is often rooted in inappropriate or unmet expectations. This commonplace wisdom regarding everyday relationships is no less true of one’s relationship to the church. Our conduct and feelings toward the church are governed largely by our expectations of what the church should be. These expectations, furthermore, are rooted in our understanding of the church’s nature. Ministers who weekly find themselves disappointed with the failings of their congregations would do well to attend to their understanding of what the church is. Laypeople who find themselves regularly frustrated with their community’s shortcomings are advised to do likewise. Disappointment (among other negative feelings) often flows from unrealistic expectations, which sometimes betray an unbalanced view of the church. Therefore, a healthy understanding of the nature of the church is of utmost practical import. Is the church the kingdom? If not, what is it? In what ways, if at all, is the church (and actual churches) a sign of the new Jerusalem? How can we theologically describe this imperfect reality we call the “church”? Colin Gunton provides one helpful response.”

The way forward is offered positively thus,

“First, we examine three related areas that contribute to a fuller understanding of the trinitarian heart of his ecclesiology: (1) the ontology of the church, (2) the place of pneumatology, and (3) the role of a proper Christology.  Then we provide a constructive appraisal. The hope here is that Gunton’s contribution might help free pastors, teachers, and congregants to live and serve in the church with a love and compassion rooted in realistic expectations of what the church is and will be.”

The essay really weaves a fantastic theological tapestry integrating the Pneumatological, Christological and Ecclesiological threads.  We need to know who this God is before we build on ecclesial foundations.  That is why I enjoyed the comments right at the end just before the conclusion, aimed at those pastors and lay people who are tempted to disillusionment at the ontology of the Church:

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The Church is a Mystery

The Church is a Mystery

Whilst I was digging around in some church history today, I came across this nugget of Eusebian observation:
“As the third century drew to a close, the tensions within the church were becoming more explosive.  Eusebius looking back on the situation as he had seen it as a young man could write,

maxresdefault‘But when as the result of greater freedom a change to pride and sloth came over our affairs, we fell to envy and fierce railing one against the other, warring upon ourselves so to speak as occasion offered with weapons and spears formed of words, and ruler attacked ruler and laity formed factions against laity, while unspeakable hypocrisy and pretense pursued their evil course to the furthest end.’ 


It was a grim picture of ecclesiastic strife at the moment of Christianity’s triumph.  Paganism had indeed been defeated.  The world was ripe for religious change, but not for religious peace.”
The Early Church by W. H. C. Frend, Page 114
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And this made me think!  The church had faced all sorts of external pressures and problems, persecutions and heresies.  When peace came, they turned on each other!  This is shocking!
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Nietzsche made a similar point when he observed a church that was brazenly hypocritical; living, as it were, with a great gulf between what she said she believed, and what she actually did.  I suppose this applies to both corporate and individual.  He said,
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“They would have to sing better songs to make me believe in the Redeemer:  his disciples would have to look more redeemed!”
Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke ZarathustraSICK-nietzsche
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I get what he means about the songs on some Sundays, but I don’t know what he means that those who follow Jesus should look “more redeemed”, I’ve tried to look more redeemed, and my wife asks me if I’m ill, or in pain!
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I suspect Nietzsche meant act more redeemed, although, acting righteously brings its own set of unholy problems;  all manner of good-deeds can mask insidious sin and self-serving righteousness.  Basically, the church has always struggled.  Struggled with what it claims and what it does; or what it believes and what it practices.  Sin could be most seductively and demonically at work under the guise of doing good.  Many a good intention is shipwrecked upon the rocks of slightly off-centre zeal!
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While Nietzsche is appalled at the church he observes (probably a limited observation anyway unless he really was Superman); Eusebius, on the other (and much earlier historically) hand, is quite shocked!  “OMG, they’re turning on…. themselves!”
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Baby Dedication

Baby Dedication

Our Father,

We lift baby Faye to you now,

In your presence and in the presence of your people.

 

We pray your divine ‘Yes’ over this beloved child’s life.

We pray for your purposes to be fulfilled in her life.

We pray, in anticipation of her responding to your love in Jesus Christ.

And dedicate her now in the hope of her baptism in years to come.

 

You have made her in your image.

She is a child of God.

And so she is loved from before the foundation of the world.

We pray on her behalf that in time and beyond, she will recognise her need of you, Father God.

 

We pray that you will not allow her to live cheaply towards you.

We entrust her to you Father.

That you would make her heart restless until it rests in you.

 

Enfold her family we pray Lord.

That they would be protected in Christ;

So that they would live for Christ.

Make theirs a happy home; a happy marriage; a happy family.

Teach them Father, to make Christ central in everything.

 

So, Faye,

I bless you in the Name of Holy Triune Name of God:

God the Father,

God the Son,

and God the Holy Spirit.

 

To live a fruitful, joyful, hopeful life in Christ.

Abide in Him little one,

Seek first His glorious Kingdom,

And everything in life shall be added unto you.

 

In the presence of God, and of his people in this church:

All God’s people said:  “Amen!”

Amen and amen.

babyfaye

This is my granddaughter Faye in 2013

Risk-Opoly-Chess-Battle-Scrabble

games

We set up the board as it should be set up.  A place for everything and for everything, a place.  You go first.  Ah, nice move.  The Knight advances.  My call:  A7…. That’s got to be a hit – the aircraft carrier I reckon, well….Eighteen points for that word?  How can that be?  Lead-piping in the Library is no match for an attack of infantry and cavalry – it’s going to be a blood bath.  Your move:  Rats!  A geography question – If a Lieutenant attacks the Spy, deep into enemy territory – who wins?  Draw a picture and I’ll try to guess who!  But do not pass go, there is no £200, but there is a jail.  Only three 6’s get you out of that, and you know what the fundamentalists think about that!

This is gibberish.

A Christendom model of Church is equally gibberish in a post-Christendom context, a bit like playing the rules of one game whilst playing another!  Trying to keep all these games going in some sort of super-human Robo-Cop-Christian kind of way, is demeaning and dehumanising, a bit like what Stanley Hauerwas in Resident Aliens calls being nibbled to death by ducks (p.126).

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Resistances to Mission from within the Church

A guest post by David Matcham

Resistances:

Why is it that significant numbers of people in a given church either passively or actively resist moves by that church to open itself up to being more missional in its dealings with the world? The first question that I would ask is, how does the church function as a body of people beyond how people say it functions as, say, a Spirit-filled church?
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I ask this because regardless of how people say they think both the church functions and what their own role is within that functioning, if mission is either passively or actively being resisted then something else is at play in the ‘how’ of that church’s functioning for those people at least. To say that, yes, the church is the body of Christ, is Christ’s hands and feet in this world, is the House of God, is a family of believers, or whatever, is to ignore what is actually going on when people think of church and their role within that particular body. What role then, does that church fulfill and how does it fulfill it for all the church members?
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The phrasing of this last question opens up here the way in which churches, the idea of ‘church’ acts upon the believing Christian. This is an inevitable part of the fact that the concept of ‘the Church’ functions as much as a socio-historical one as it does an eschatological realisation of the purposes of God for mankind. In a sense therefore, to be part of a church is to enter into a relationship with an already existing body of believers with already existing specific ways of being with each other and the world.
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In this sense to be a member of a church is an inherently passive experience for the believer who is not at liberty to tinker with the self-understanding of either the concept of ‘church’ or the particular body to which he or she belongs. Fundamentally, whether or not the believer goes to this church or that church, or any church, the contribution they are able to bring is already in advance mitigated. Not entirely, of course; at the micro personal level of normal interaction, individual believers will form relationships within a given church that hold significant importance, and are vital for the “spirit” (small “s”) of fellowship in that community – as indeed, in any community.
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At this point a further reflection comes to mind regarding the camaraderie described above: that there is a love which is natural to human beings, and a love which is unnatural. Fundamentally, therefore, the love which is unnatural is the love which is commanded. It is not at all that the one cancels out the other. In marriage, for instance, the paradox is entered into of a permanent vow to continue to lifelong fidelity of erotic love for one person; something which is inherently changeable is forced to submit to a binding legal vow. But, of course, erotic love wants this vow, against all the evidence of our experience, the lover wants to commit to the beloved.
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Fleshly love is not, then, in opposition to a binding contractual obligation to love, but, in its purest form, seeks it out. Likewise, the kind of love that Jesus commands his disciples to is not to be confused with buddiness or camaraderie. It does not exclude this kind of love – in fact we should encourage it so far as it doesn’t detract from God’s purposes – but natural human love and enjoyment of company must submit to a different, less natural love that is commanded.
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And here I come to a central point which I’d like to make, that if camaraderie, the kind which often develops through common activities and or purposes, then of course churches will not be outward looking. A collection or club of likeminded people who get on because they are all like-minded personable people is not going to be motivated to the kind of radical call to love the loveless that Christ commands and the Spirit makes possible.
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If “love” in a church setting does not mean the kind of commanded love for the loveless, but is in fact more like camaraderie or like-mindedness, outsiders not only won’t be invited in, but nor will they really fit in with their unlike-minded knobbliness if they do come. And this is the sense in which the usual, enjoyable, friendly love that grows amongst people of like mind, who like the same music, dress the same, read the same books, etc, and of which we all naturally want to be part, actually works against a church being missional.
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To join this kind of group, to want to be a part of it the “unbeliever” would already have to have submitted themselves in advance of joining to what it is that makes this group tick. In this case it cannot be said to be Christ, but rather a fleshly desire to be part of a larger whole, a mere sociable drive to have friends and be liked.
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How then can a church differentiate itself from any other group of people who more or less enjoy each other’s company and get along? This issue goes to the heart of what a church is, rather than what a church does. There is a sense in which what a church is is not independent from what a church does, but that is not here the point. There is though theological justification for seeing the church not just as a collection of geographically bound believers gathering together for worship and fellowship, but as an eschatological eucharistic community.
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What I mean by saying this is that the church as an eschatological eucharistic community draws attention to the ‘now and not yet’ of the Christian hope as it works itself out through the celebration of the dying and rising body of Christ, on whom we collectively feast and whose ‘body’ we collectively are. The ‘now and not yet’ refers to the church as an instance of the Kingdom of God here on earth, but also to the fact that the full revelation of the sons of God is yet to come.
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As a eucharistic community we are brought together in thanksgiving and acknowledgement of God’s grace for our salvation as a body, not our own efforts. Though this is extremely brief, these pointers suggest a reason for belonging that far transcends the merely natural desire for company. Not centered on its own ways of functioning, the church is in fact part of God’s radical call to love the loveless in the dispensation of his Kingdom on earth. Such a call is profoundly alien to the human concept of a group because mere friendship or fellowship may more often than not hinder such a call.
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Anyone can have friends or groups of trusted people, but not all are called by God in this way to be an eschatological eucharistic community. The point is that we are together not because we like each other or because we are all of a similar social class or intelligence level, but because we are committed to the working out of God’s eschatological purposes for the world of which we are each a part. That God’s purpose for the world is to become a eucharistic community centered on Christ’s body, and thus in a sense inward looking, is actually at the heart of the good news which we have to bring. The message is, don’t join the church if you could get what you want just as easily as you could from joining the Freemasons, or the W.I., or the Rotary, or whatever.
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The church does not exist to pander to perfectly normal but essentially fleshly desires or a fear of loneliness. That the broken body and spilt blood of Christ are what joins us together as a ‘body’, and not our mere likes and dislikes, is what makes us, drives us outward into the world.
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The problem of resistance then seems to have taken a distinctly theological turn, as I would have expected. The more churches establish their common unity upon team-building activities, whether it be soup-runs, sports, music groups, theology discussion groups, evangelism, etc, (and yes, I agree that it sounds odd to include such evangelical projects, except when you consider to what kind of church are these evangelical projects calling people in for) the less motivated people will be to actually see the Father’s Kingdom come.
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That is, insofar as evangelism is calling the lost, the lonely, and the disposed to a group that is essentially a christianised club of like-minded people, not only will that evangelism lack lustre (why would you really want outsiders to join and potentially disrupt the group anyway), but also why would you, as a disposed, lonely and lost individual want to join a group which would inherently desire you to become like-minded (christianised) before integration can even begin. Nor is this a back-handed way of saying that communion must take on a more elaborate style for evangelism to become more effective and more motivated.
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Where communion (or Mass or the Eucharust, or whatever you want to call it) as a point of non-individualistically realised transcendental unity in the Body is sidelined, the church is in danger of descending into a Jesusclub, welcoming new-comers with one hand, whilst sticking two fingers up to them with the other if they don’t fit in well enough. And communion is just the start of this process of de-naturalising our relations with each other, because our unity is not in liking each other (which is great when we do) but in the broken body of Christ; just as our fellowship is not in our enjoyment of each other’s company, but in the impossible command of God to love one another.

 

Written by David Matcham at Swivel Chair Theology

Despite Local Imperfections and Dullness

“Surely, if ever there was one who might justly plead that the common worship of the community had nothing to offer him it was the Lord Jesus Christ. But every Sabbath found him seated in his place among the worshipping people, and there was no act of stated worship which he felt himself entitled to discard.

Even in his most exalted moods, and after his most elevating experiences, he quietly took his place with the rest of God’s people, sharing with them in the common worship of the community. Returning from that great baptismal scene, when the heavens themselves were rent to bear him witness that he was well pleasing to God; from the searching trials of the wilderness, and from that first great tour in Galilee, prosecuted, as we are expressly told, “in the power of the Spirit”; he came back, as the record tells, “to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and”—so proceeds the amazing narrative—”he entered, as his custom was, into the synagogue, on the Sabbath day.” “As his custom was!”

Jesus Christ made it his habitual practice to be found in his place on the Sabbath day at the stated place of worship to which he belonged. “It is a reminder,” as Sir William Robertson Nicoll well insists, “of the truth which, in our fancied spirituality, we are apt to forget—that the holiest personal life can scarcely afford to dispense with stated forms of devotion, and that the regular public worship of the church, for all its local imperfections and dullness, is a divine provision for sustaining the individual soul.”

“We cannot afford to be wiser than our Lord in this matter. If any one could have pled that his spiritual experience was so lofty that it did not require public worship, if any one might have felt that the consecration and communion of his personal life exempted him from what ordinary mortals needed, it was Jesus. But he made no such plea.

Sabbath by Sabbath even he was found in the place of worship, side by side with God’s people, not for the mere sake of setting a good example, but for deeper reasons. Is it reasonable, then, that any of us should think we can safely afford to dispense with the pious custom of regular participation with the common worship of our locality?” Is it necessary for me to exhort those who would fain be like Christ, to see to it that they are imitators of him in this?”

 

This is part of an exhortation by Benjamin Breckinridge (B. B.) Warfield (1851 – 1921), who was professor of theology at Princeton Seminary in New Jersey, USA.

The complete article can be found here.

Let-us-not-give-up-meeting-together.Heb-10-25

‘Thin Soup’ Church

Jesus said, “I will build My church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it!”  But because we live in a global business age of organisation, efficiency and profit, there are thousands of books on growth.  If you are more organised, more efficient and more profitable, you will grow….if you stick to our new-fangled formula!

The Western church has been swallowing this bitter pill for decades.  We’ve put down our Bibles, and picked up secular ideas and initiatives – why?  church numbers are declining, people are leaving the church, pews and seats are becoming empty, coffers are down, bills are up, and then someone said, “Hang on a minute, if we just branded ourselves like Nike, or glamorised ourselves like L’Oreal, or popularised ourselves like celebrities, we too can achieve what they achieve!  And should the gates of hell get too close, we’ll just sloganeer them out of town with a TV ad campaign!

What does it mean to be a growing church in this context?  In fact, what does it mean to be a growing church and be faithful?  Can the Church ever be faithful and successful?  Can we do sexy marketing, or shall we just stick with cheesy slogans to do with baby’s and mangers, bunnies and daffodils?  How can we claim to proclaim something better, something the world needs, something unknown and un-buyable?  Can the church compete with a world that clamours for everything but Christ and him crucified?

Can we ever be faithful and successful?  What does it mean to be a Growing Church?

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