Missional Church thought related to social action
Everist, Norma Cook, ed. The Difficult But Indispensable Church . Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002.
Hunsberger, George R. and Craig Van Gelder, eds. The Church Between Gospel and Culture: The Emerging Mission in North America (Gospel & Our Culture). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996.
Shenk, Wilbert R. Write the Vision: The Church Renewed. Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1995.
Community Service Block Grant Act (1998), Subtitle B--Community Services Block Grant Program, Sec 675. Establishment of Block Grant Program.
Dionne, E. J. and Ming Hsu Chen, eds. Sacred Places, Civic Purposes: Should Government Help Faith-Based Charity? Washington DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2001.
Guinness, Os. The Gravedigger File: Papers on the Subversion of the Modern Church. Chicago: Intervarsity Press, July 1983.
“Widows in Our Temple Courts” The Audio The paper
Christian Theology, History & Thought related to Social Action
Conchran, Clark E. “Sacramental Theology, Catholic Political Thought, and the Crisis of Institutions” a paper for the American Religious Seminar, University of Notre Dame, February 17, 1999.
Davey, Andrew. Urban Christianity and Global Order: Theological Resources for an Urban Future . Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002.
Kahl, Sigrun. “The Religious Roots of Modern Poverty Policy: Catholic, Lutheran, and Reformed Protestant Traditions Compared” [draft copy]. Max Planck Institute for Study of Societies (2004).
Knighton, J. Raymond. “The Social Responsible of Evangelization Report” inLet the Earth Hear His Voice, ed. J. D. Douglas. Minneapolis: World Wide Publications, 1975: 710-712.
Olasky, Marvin. The Tragedy of American Compassion . Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 1992.
Guinness, Os. “Evangelicals Among Thinking People” in Let the Earth Hear His Voice, ed. J. D. Douglas. Minneapolis: World Wide Publications, 1975: 713-715.
Salamon, Lester M. Partners in Public Service: Government-Nonprofit Relations in the Modern Welfare State. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995.
Sider, Ronald J. The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience: Why Are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World? Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005.
Stockwell, Clinton, “Cathedrals of Power: Engaging the Powers in Urban North America”(80-93) in Confident Witness--Changing World: Rediscovering the Gospel in North America (Gospel and Our Culture Series), Craig Van Gelder, ed., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999.
Sugirtharajah, R. S., ed. Voices from the Margin: Interpreting the Bible in the Third World . 2nd ed. Maryknoll: Orbis, 1995.
Van Til, Kent. “A Biblical/Theological Case for Basic Sustenance for All.” Journal of Markets & Morality 7/2 (Fall, 2004): 441-466.
“Widows in Our Temple Courts” The Audio The paper
The Church and Social Action
Clinton Stockwell, “Cathedrals of Power: Engaging the Powers in Urban North America,” in Confident Witness--Changing World: Rediscovering the Gospel in North America, Craig Van Gelder, ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999: 80-93.
Cnaan, Ram A. The Invisible Caring Hand: American Congregations and the Provision of Welfare. New York: New York University Press, 2002.
Cnaan, Ram A. The Newer Deal . New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.
Christian, Jayakumar. God of the Empty-Handed: Poverty, Power & the Kingdom of God. California: MARC (World Vision), 1999.
Myers, Bryant L. Walking With the Poor: Principles and Practices of Transformational Development. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2006.
Sider, Ronald J. Just Generosity,: A New Vision for Overcoming Poverty in America . Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999.
Sider, Ronald J. Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: Moving from Affluence to Generosity . W. Publishing Group, 1997.
Unruh, Heidi Rolland, and Ronald J. Sider. Saving Souls, Serving Society: Understanding the Faith Factor in Church-Based Social Ministry. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
“Widows in Our Temple Courts” The Audio The paper
Bibliography for “Widows in our Temple Courts (Mark 12:38-44) continued
Church-State and the Public Square
Baggett, Jerome P. “Congregations and Civil Society: A Double-Edged Connection.” Journal of Church and State 44/3 (2002): 425-454.
Budziszewski, J. Evangelicals in the Public Square: Four Formative Voices on Political Thought and Action. Grand Rapids: Baker 2006.
Kramnick, Isaac. “Can the Churches Save the Cities?: Faith-Based Services and the Constitution.” The American Prospect, online ed. 11/1/97 <> (accessed 10/10/06).
Neuhaus, Richard John. The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America, 2nd edition. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986.
Guinness, Os. The American Hour: A Time of Reckoning and the Once and Future Role of Faith . New York: Free Press, 1992.
“Widows in Our Temple Courts” The Audio The paper
A year ago I was writing a paper to present at the Evangelical Theological Society’s annual conference in Washington D.C. I lived in works describing the historical setting of Mark’s gospel narrative, especially Jesus’ temple discourses. As well, I read and read books and papers on the history of how religion and state sponsored social action interrelated and progressed (or digressed) through the last few centuries, as well as the religious and theological underpinnings of even our “secular” understanding of “charity” and social action. I also plowed through numerous books and articles on how faith and social action interrelate (or don’t interrelate). The result was a paper entitled “Widows in our Temple Courts (Mk 12:38-44): The Public Advocacy Role of the Local Congregation as Christian Discipleship.” I finally am posting the recorded presentation for those who’d rather listen than read. Also, in the following I have posted my bibliography from the paper by area. Since the bibliography is somewhat long, I will split it up in sections. I hope some of this interests you. (A summary.)
“Widows in Our Temple Courts” The Audio The paper
The Gospel of Mark
Anderson, Chip. “Fishers of Men reconsidered: first significance, the application (Mark 1:17)” (wordsntone.com, 3/19/06).
Anderson, Chip. “Move beyond just words: God inspired structure (Mark 13)” (wordsntone.com, 3/31/05).
Anderson, Chip. “The parable of the Sower who sows: hearing more accurately (Mark 4)” (wordsntone.com, 6/13/04).
Best, Ernest. Following Jesus: Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark. JSNT Sup 4. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1981.
Danker, F. W. “Double-entendre in Mark XII 9.” Novum Testamentum 10/2 (1968): 162-163.
Derrett, J. Duncan M. “‘Eating Up the Houses of Widows’: Jesus’ Comments on Lawyers?” Novum Testamentum 14/1 (1972): 1-9.
DiCicco, Mario. “What Can One Give in Exchange for One’s Life? A Narrative-Critical Study of the Widow and Her Offering, Mark 12:41-44.” Currents in Theology and Mission 25/6 (1998): 441-449.
Evans, Craig A. Mark 8:27-16:20 (evans). Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 34b. Columbia: Thomas Nelson, 2001.
Fast, Lesley. “Rejection and Reinstatement (Mark 12:1-11): The Rhetoric of Represented Speech in Mark.” Neotestamentica 39/1 (2005): 111-126.
France, R. T. The Gospel of Mark: New International Commentary on the Greek Testament . Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.
Gundry, Robert. Mark: A Commentary On His Apology For The Cross, Chapters 1 - 8. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993.
Hamilton, Neill Q. “Temple Cleansing and the Temple Bank.” Journal of Biblical Literature 83 (1964): 365-72.
Jensen, Darcy D. “The Widow’s Mite.” Word & World 17/3 (1997): 282-288.
Juel, Donald H. A Master of Surprise: Mark Interpreted. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994.
Juel, Donald H. The Gospel of Mark. Nashville: Abington Press, 1999.
Malbon, Elizabeth Struthers. “Fallible Followers: Women and Men in the Gospel of Mark” in In the Company of Jesus: Characters in Mark’s Gospel. Louisville: Knox Press, 2000: 41-69.
Malbon, Elizabeth Struthers. “The Poor Widow in Mark and Her Poor Rich Readers” in In the Company of Jesus: Characters in Mark’s Gospel. Louisville: Knox Press, 2000: 131-165.
Myers, Ched. Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1989.
Smith, Geoffrey. “A Closer Look at the Widow’s Offering: Mark 12:41-44.” JETS 40/1 (March 1997): 27-36.
Sugirtharajah, R. S., “The Widow’s Mite Revisited.” Expository Times 103/2 (1991): 42-43.
Swartley, Willard M. “The Role of Women in Mark’s Gospel: A Narrative Analysis.” Biblical Theology Bulletin, Vol. 27/1 (1997): 16-22.
Waetjen , Herman C. A Reordering of Power: A Sociopolitical Reading of Mark’s Gospel. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989.
Watts, Rikki E. Isaiahs New Exodus in Mark (Biblical Studies Library) . Grand Rapids: Baker, 1977.
Wright, Addison G. “The Widow’s Mite: Praise or Lament?—A Matter of Context.” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 44/2 (1982): 256-265.
“Widows in Our Temple Courts” The Audio The paper
“‘Liberal intellectuals are always top candidates for the role of the fall guy, for the simple reason that it is of the essence of liberalism to be contemporaneous and of the essence of being an intellectual to know what is contemporaneous.’ [Peter Berger] need not have wasted his sympathy, for the wounds are all self-inflicted. These intellectuals must have been the people W.R. Inge had in mind when he made his famous remark that he who marries the spirit of an age soon finds himself a widower.” ~Herbert Schlossberg, in Idols for Destruction
I am amazed at the capacity of my kids to grasp the importance of things. When we watch TV, the news, or even a movie together, I like asking them questions. After a scene, or news item, or some choice words from the actors, I will often ask my kids: “What just happened?” Or, “What is significant about that?” I ask some question that taxes their observation and critical thinking skills. And, more often than not, they have good answers, and even sometimes “out think” me, catching something I had missed!
I am on the United Way of Norwalk & Wilton Board of Directors. Over the last few years, our United Way has been undergoing a shift in its approach to serving the surrounding community. The Chief Executive Officer utilized a story to remind us of this new direction. It is called The Ogre Story. The story had an impact at one of our annual meetings, but it was later, at home, when I read the story to my kids that moved me.
The three youngest were sitting on the couch, all ready for school. I turned off the morning cartoons and asked them to listed to the story and tell me what is the point. Here’s what I read to them:
A villager is walking by the river early one morning. The villager looks out into the water and sees a baby floating down the river. Horrified, the villager races into the water, grabs the baby, and brings the baby to shore. The baby is fine.
Relieved, the villager looks back into the water and sees another baby floating down the water. The villager again dives into the water and rescues this baby as well. Once more, the villager looks into the water . . . and sees dozens of babies floating down the river.
The villager calls out an alarm, and the entire village comes running to the river to rescue as many babies as they can before the water carries them away.
This is a village that is mobilized. Every villager is at the river, trying to save the babies from the
water. This is a village that is improving lives. Many of the babies are being saved.
But the babies keep on coming . . . because no one is going upstream to put a stop to the ogre that is throwing the babies into the water in the first place.
I asked, “Ok, what’s the point?” Robert, at the time was eight, said, “You have to go up stream and stop the ogre.” Amanda, who was eleven and more accustomed to Daddy’s little mind-games, replied, “If you don’t solve the problem you will continue to have to save babies, or whatever the problem does.” I was impressed. Not only were they willing to sit and listen, they got it.
Our United Way’s new approach is attractive to me: looking for the Ogres, that is, the causes
of our community’s social issues and problems. If we don’t, as our United Way CEO said, “Otherwise, we will be pulling babies out of the water forever.” Yes, pulling babies out of the water—that is, addressing the results of the causes—is still a good thing. But, in order to make “lasting changes,” substantial changes in our community, we must identify the causes and spend our energy is changing them.
This is also what attracts me to Community Action. As many of you know, I am the Director of Finance & Planning Services for a mid-sized Community Action Agency in Southwestern Connecticut. Some of my more conservative friends are suspect, not so much of me, but of the social service world. Of course, there are wasteful spending and dead end programs, but like any business, there is always need for such things to be corrected and changed. Nonetheless, in the big picture, Community Action is a good investment. Like The Ogre Story, Community Action’s thirty-eight plus years of existence and purpose are validated by its mission:
to alleviate the causes of poverty in distressed communities with special emphasis on community and economic development activities.
Indeed, this is a good investment, namely supporting an endeavor that seeks to alleviate the causes of poverty—stopping the Ogre. A few years back one of the national leaders of Community Action asked, “Does God care about community action?” This question pointed me back to my relationship with God, His Church, and His Gospel. Of course I believe that God cares about the goals and mission of community action, for they are, indeed, redemptive and biblical—even if the philosophy and activities are produced by the state. I am moved to wonder why the church—even the conservative Evangelical wing of the church—isn’t characterized and known by its own community action? In light of God’s redemption and the cross of Christ, we of all people should understand the need to get at the causes poverty, to receive grace undeserved and un-worked for.
The martyred leader of the Nicaraguan church, Bishop Oscar Romero, once observed: “When I feed the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor are poor, they call me a communist.” Perhaps this is why we would rather “save babies” than deal with the causes, that is, the ogres. As someone has asked, “What would Jesus do to help the homeless and the hungry?” I would add: and not only just through you personally and through the direct assistance of your church, but what is the church—your church—actively doing to try to alleviate the causes of poverty?
William Sloane Coffin, who served for eighteen years as Chaplain of Yale University, pointed out that “A person’s mortal character, sterling though it may be, is insufficient to serve the cause of justice, which is to challenge the status quo, to try to make what’s legal more moral, and to take personal or concerted action against evil, whether in personal or systemic form.” In other words the “theological individualism” (read our propensity for privatized faith) that under girds much of the conservative Christian community is unbiblical, namely that “public good doesn’t automatically follow from private virtue.”
It seems Christian love or charity is somewhat comfortable with “saving babies.” But as a Christian community we should be harnessing our capacity (our earthly talents and resources) and our “riches in heavenly places” to eliminate the causes of poverty, to discover the Ogres in our communities and stop them. This would force our churches to think past themselves, past their buildings and budgets, beyond the numbers and the comfort. This would make churches redemptive communities, displays of God’s purpose in Christ. My kids get it. I am hoping our churches will, too.
© Chip M. Anderson (July 2004)
Words’nTone, Habits of the Mind
“Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:16-17).
I had held off seeing Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ for almost six months after it actually came out. I even refrained from writing about this before, so I won’t belabor why, but simply to say two things 1) I don’t like following and being caught up in hype (of any kind) and 2) I resist image-ology, my made up word for one’s need for an image to foster belief. Even though the Passionfilm provoked sensitivity toward Christ’s passion, the image on screen adds or subtracts from the Words of Scripture simply by the nature of the medium itself. Enough said on that…
I saw the film (video) on for a Psalm Sunday service at church. The scene most powerful for me was one in which Gibson took license on the actual story, but conveyed a most powerful biblical truth: Jesus has been flogged and beaten and ridiculed, leaving him bloodied and physically weak. He is bearing His cross through the streets of Jerusalem. The scene goes back and forth between this death walk, His mother trying to catch up to him, and a childhood scene where Jesus falls and His mother comforts her son. Jesus then falls under the weight of His pain, weakness, and His cross. His mother sees Him and runs to comfort Him. She pushes through the crowd, reaches down to show her presence. Jesus raises His head and says to His her, “Mother, behold, I make all things new.” I lost it right there. Whatever the intention (and theology) Gibson was attempting for that visual moment…it was all true. What my eyes (Mary’s eyes) saw wasn’t the total truth; it wasn’t the real story, the whole story; it wasn’t the end of the story.
I gave my wife a CD of a compilation of songs that various Christian artists put together based on Gibson’s Passion movie. One of the songs, most likely based on this scene, brought the emotions and vivid truth back. Sara Evans and Brad Paisley sang the words:
Whatever happens...whatever you see…
Whatever your eyes tell you has become of me
This is not…
Not the end…
I am making all things new again
Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians are the theological statement of this reality. Paul most likely, when he was a young Saul, rabbi-in-training, heard of or even saw the spectacle of Jesus’ death walk and crucifixion. I believe these words imply that he did. What his eyes of flesh saw only gave a partial and even deceiving view of a man covered in blood, a blasphemer who made himself out to be God in the flesh, a traitor of the Jewish faith. The earthly, fleshly scene before Saul’s eyes—and the host of onlookers—affirmed the lies of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and the lies we prefer over the truth of God’s Word. The scene in the real Passion event and the song on the CD re-imprinted Paul’s words and the truth that God’s highest redemptive move—putting His Son on a cross—offered the ultimate truth and paved the way to “make all things new.” We should never take what our eyes see over what God wants us to hear. Another reason I don’t like image-ology. In Scriptural, biblical world, it is hearing that matters.
The American Hour: A Time of Reckoning and the Once and Future Role of Faith by Os Guinness. Free Press (May 30, 1993)
This book put my faith under judgment: does my faith lead to transforming the culture that surrounds me, or does it add to the culture’s corruption? Guinness pinned me against the wall of my self-centeredness and privatized faith and challenged me on how well my faith interacts, reacts, and enlightens my time, my moment in history—and how well my faith is open to God’s work of revival and renewal.
I know I am getting in trouble here; especially if I want to go back into church ministry. Who’s going to want to call someone who doesn’t believe or emphasize church-growth (well, growth the way its normally defined today)? And I feel I’d be in good company: Paul and Jesus certainly won’t be on a list of top pastor positions either. At least not if one takes what they teach seriously. In my reflections on the missional church, as well as, reflecting on the founding of the Christian and Missionary Alliance by A. B. Simpson, I believe our mistaken understanding of church and our sometime misguided notion that the church’s mission is to design a church-building centered growth program has moved us far away from our call to discipleship. One of my top ten books is one written by David Watson, Called and Committed: World-Changing Discipleship, my thoughts returned there as I think about discipleship.
“Discipleship sums up Christ’s plan for the world. Yet for all its brilliant simplicity, it is the one approach that most Western churches have ignored or neglected. With all our reports, committees, conferences, seminars, missions, crusades, ecumenism, and liturgical reforms, little attention has been given to the mean of discipleship” (p 4).
How does this fit into our modern and post-modern, trendy and hip forms of outreach, evangelism, and church-growth models?
“’When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die,’ declared Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In this startling statement we see the radical nature of Christian discipleship. There are different ways in which we may die; not every Christian is called to literal martyrdom, as was Bonhoeffer. But every Christian is called to clear, dedicated discipleship, whatever the personal cost may be” (p 5).
Words like this scare the living day lights out of me. Stuff like this will not play well in calling our unchurched, “seeker” guests at church to join us. Rather we emphasize living well, feeling better about ourselves. We lower the threshold. It is hard to call Christians to this level of commitment and radical (biblical, really) discipleship and make visitors and guests at church comfortable. This is why outreach and evangelism is built on a business-marking model rather than the more biblical model of discipleship. Maybe we do need to return to a more cave/catacomb model after all. Man! Musings like this aren’t going to go well for church position interview calls. Oh, well....
“Imagine selling your church building and canceling your Sunday meetings. Would your church survive? Would it maintain a positive and unifying identity?”
“…the church building is a powerful icon in our evangelical religious experience” (by Mark Naylor in The Missional Church: Swimming in the rapids).
I knew the author, Mark Naylor, was serious when he shocked me with these words. How we typically measure growth at church (or church growth) is a far cry from any implied measurements or benchmarks alluded to in the New Testament. And, personally I can’t stand it when the New Testament is forced to be understood as a church growth manual, rather than what it is, namely, a discipleship and mission manual. Then Naylor asks could we survive without our freedom and ability to gather on Sunday mornings? How dare him? Can our church—not the Church—survive without a church building? Come on, such a question isn’t even in our vocabulary. We know that there are many places in this world where the church exists, but does not have the freedom to have budgets, buildings, and parking lots. Don’t get me wrong. I know the advantages of a church building (as well as budgets and parking lots). Once in our own American society, on a social level, the church building functioned in a way that had impact on the whole of a community. But not anymore. Certainly not to the degree. Given the fact we have the freedom to meet in a building, I am not suggesting abandoning them—just yet. I just think that we should recognize how powerful an icon our church building is and how it governs our mission and controls our resources. It seems to me that good church leadership would recognize the temporary blessings of a church building (and I underscore temporary), and especially understand the barriers a building creates for one’s church (the local church) to accomplish its mission.
And its worth noting two more quotes Naylor pens:
“The traditional Sunday morning service, not only competes with other churches, but with many community activities. Instead of expecting people to change their way of life to conform to church culture such as attending Sunday morning service the missional church seeks to adapt to the life of its community.”
“The missional church crosses social and cultural boundaries. It changes to become like others and so represent Christ in new ways by relating to situations outside the traditional church culture.”
“The true goal of the church is to join Jesus in bringing God’s kingdom into the world. This missional church does not exist primarily for the sake of its members, but for the sake of those outside the fold. The goal is not to build up the church either by strengthen the members or through bringing people in but to make a transforming impact in the world. The means to accomplish this will undoubtedly require equipping people for the task. The result of followers of Christ integrating their life in Christ with their relationships outside the church will naturally be a hunger for fellowship, prayer and corporate worship. But the essence of the missional church begins by looking outward. When the goal is transformation in the world, then Christ will build his church.”
“The missional church does not insist on maintaining control of the programs. Instead of having alternate ministries which parallel programs in the community, members of a missional church will seek to be involved in existing community programs so they can be an influence for Christ from the inside.”
“The missional church moves outside the walls of the building. Rather than lowering the threshold of the church to draw seekers in, the missional church attempts to communicate the love of Christ in the community” (by Mark Naylor in “The Missional Church: Swimming in the rapids”).
Have you ever noticed that Jesus never interacted with the Qumran community of Essenes? This group of Jewish people makes the legalistic Pharisees seem liberal in comparison. The Essenes were a small, but very vocal and prolific (writing) group of Jews that separated themselves from Jerusalem, living out in the Qumran valley. Nestled, as one writer put it, ten miles south of Jericho on a “dead-end street,” Qumran provided the perfect location for this isolationist sect of Jews we know as the Essenes. They believed that even the Pharisees had abandoned both orthodoxy and exchanged the holiness of worship for a political and self-righteous standing before their fellow Jews. So they moved out to the Dead Sea area and waited for the messiah. But they missed Him. The Messiah showed up in Jerusalem, and even in the worse of places like the gentile territory of Galilee. It has always struck me that Jesus didn’t even go to say “hello” (at least in the written record) and say, “I am here guys; thanks for waiting.” Anyone who has taken the time to read some of the Essene writing or the Dead Sea Scrolls will be impressed with their orthodoxy and insight on the messiah—and the end of days. They had their eschatology done well. Their righteousness was impeccable. But they missed the inauguration. It seems to me that much of the evangelical church is like the Essenes—the Dead Sea Church. Naylor hits the nail on the head—the church is to exist for those outside the church and exist to have impact in the community. Not to have a parallel universe. Jesus didn’t build a new temple and ask His followers to figure out ways to get people in, how best to be attractive to draw “seekers.” No, he brought his disciples with Him into the world. (Again, that’s why the mode of church growth and outreach is a result of discipleship, not seeker sensitive church-building planning.) In fact when His people wouldn’t leave the temple (Acts 2 & 8), God sent persecution to spread them out (in the world). We can debate how much the evangelical church is “of the world,” but there is no debate that we tend not to be “in the world.” Can you imagine if we took all the dollars we spend on making our Sunday morning and church-centered ministries attractive to the unchurched and funneled them into serving the community and joining—yes, joining—existing programs and activities, the impact and change agents we could become, the leverage and capacity we’d bring in addressing and changing our community? If we did that, Jesus would build His Church. But we like being the Dead Sea Church, located on a dead-end street.
“Through the appearance of the Messiah, as the great representative figure of the coming aeon, this new age has begun to enter into the actual experience of the believer. He has been translated into a state which, while falling short of the consummated life of eternity, yet may be truly characterized as semi-eschatological.”
“The conception of the Spirit proves that what Paul [the Apostle] meant to do is precisely the opposite of what is imputed to him. Not to ‘transmute’ the eschatology into a religion of time, but to raise the religion of time to the plane of eternity--such [is] the purport of his gospel.” ~Geerhardus Vos, 1912
“Outsiders unfamiliar with church culture visiting a church on Sunday morning will often misinterpret much of their experience. The structure of the chairs and platform promises entertainment, but in comparison with the quality provided elsewhere, it is usually less enjoyable than they expect. They will most likely hear a monologue that raises more questions than it answers, addresses issues that do not concern them, or simply adds nothing to what they already know. Insiders are comfortable in this environment with its special religious vocabulary and rules of conduct for sitting, standing and speaking out, but outsiders are uneasy. To the unchurched, the essence of church seems to consist solely of a Sunday-go-to-meeting duty of the sign out front is any indication and they wonder how this could possibly help them integrate spiritual reality into their daily life” (by Mark Naylor in The Missional Church: Swimming in the rapids).
Not only does outreach that is church building-centered (i.e., get them in) make the unchurched come on our terms, such a design and system of outreach and church growth diminishes the vital role that worship and gathering together has for the Christian community. This has always bothered me…we seem to ask what can our Sunday morning service be like in order to be attractive to guests and our unchurched friends and neighbors (and to keep the people that have come). I can’t recall where this question is asked in Scripture or implied as a way of defining what the gathering of Christians in worship is to be like. I think I can safely say we have expanded on what the Bible teaches about corporate worship, and especially corporate worship on Sundays. However, I also feel secure in stating that our gathering together should feed us, the Christian community; and it should, as passages like Hebrews 10:26ff point out, be corrective and protective, that is a means to help both the individual Christian and the Christian community survive and remain faithful “in the world.” In other words, Sunday morning gatherings should be more a call to discipleship than a means of looking attractive to the unchurched community. Lowering the threshold at church and aiming for the lowest common denominator robs the Christians gathered of the endurance it needs “in the world” and simply isn’t sufficient enough to impact the unbelieving (visiting) community at large. Nor, does such an outreach approach and evangelism (and church growth) actually, effectively, help non-believers “integrate spiritual reality into their daily life.”
I must confess that much of the new terminology used in church ministry circles is new to me. I have been out of vocational church ministry now for about ten years, now. So I am catching up. I hang with human service workers and politicians, since over the last decade, vocationally social action and community action is my livelihood. I know all the idiomatic lingo, acronyms, and catch phrases that are used in social action circles. But as my wife and are considering returning to Church work, I have been playing catch-up on my church/evangelism/church growth/Christian ministry reading—and terminology. One word and concept has intrigued me immensely: Missional. In fact, more than one person has told me that my ideas here in the Margins of Words’ntone indicate I have a missional concept of the church and church ministry. Maybe because it fits my understanding of church ministry, I found a great article by (almost Doctor) Mark Naylor on the missional church. This following CommonPlace series is from that essay: The Missional Church--Swimming in the rapids.
“Institutional churches respond by looking for ways to bring people into the church and to make them comfortable. They strive to be seeker-friendly and to connect people with church ministries. The goal is to lower the threshold of the church door so that people will want to come in. Although this may be helpful for a few people, it is insufficient for the community at large.”
What got my attention here is that last sentence, “Although this may be helpful for a few people, it is insufficient for the community at large.” When we design evangelism and church growth to be building-centered, we restrict potential access to the Gospel. A few might find the right door, but such an approach is insufficient for the community at large. At work—my human service agency, which is a Community Action Agency—we are attempting our own new service delivery system. The underlying principle is contained in the phrase, “Every door, the right door.” So many times when a person in need is looking for help, they go to a number of different places before getting to the right person. Our agency is attempting to alleviate barriers to service and ameliorate the shuffling from place to place until help is found. When we design outreach and evangelism and church growth (and by that we mean “our” church’s growth) as a system to get people into the building, we limit access. First and foremost by the fact the “sinners” and the unchurched have to find our doors at the right time, on the right day—in one place, at our church building, on our schedule. But, without knowing it, they also have to follow a certain set of rules to get in and be allowed to stay in: right clothing, can’t be drunk, or high, can’t use God’s name in vain, and please don’t smell (there are others but you get the point). Our approach to ministry—that is they come find us and what we have to offer—produces a level of expectation of those who show up. If we turn our design and system around and train and disciple our congregation to “go into the world” (now where did that come from), we multiply access (points that) the unchurched and sinners have for discovering the Gospel, encountering the Kingdom of God, and perhaps having their needs met. But then again that doesn’t necessarily help with our church growth and numbers and Sunday morning.