Sunday, January 31, 2010

Heaven? Earth? Both?

Robbie here. I am more or less settled back in to Biola... manning the check in right now. I went to went to a "Missional Movements" conference this weekend, kind of about where the future of the church is going. It sparked some great conversations and thoughts, and led me to a thought that I have been meaning to post here for some time, because I think it is an essential idea that shapes the type of community that Jacob's Journey blog is becoming.

One of the ideas presented in the conference was that the Church should be centered around it's "mission." Out of the functions which a church has (teaching, worship, mission, etc.) mission should be dominant and should influence the rest of the functions, not the other way around. However, over the last few hundred years, the Church has begun to be centered all around worship. Energy and resources are invested above all else into the worship service, and mission falls into a sub-category of activities that some people can participate in only if they feel called in a certain direction (normally taking the extreme form of going overseas). Also, the Church gathering starts to look a lot like a business. The people in a congregation pay money so that "spiritual goods" can be offered for their consumption - musical worship that fits their taste, preaching that makes them feel good, maintain the building where they meet, and offer other mid-week good for different age groups. (Understand, I am generalizing here). Overall, the way that churches are set up, with a centralized authority, places most of the energy and resources on perpetuating a Christian sub-culture, not perpetuating Christ's call to make disciples and minister to the poor, the rejected.

In sum, this conference was about how the future of the Church will be decentralizing authority - empowering each member of the "congregation" to be outward focused, to be on a mission for Christ in their communities. Rather than be "solid" - keeping our church life in a rigid box - we are to be "liquid" - filling into the cracks of culture, finding the lost and the needy. This is a Church that is OUTWARD focused. Our mission for Christ happens everyday, wherever we are, with whoever we come in contact with. Sadly, this actually seems to happen the least on Sunday mornings.

Just look at the Jewish tradition of Sabbath - it was a day of REST. Not a day of running around making sure the service goes off without a hitch. Not a day of anxiety over what other people think of you. Not a day where you are burnt out by 2 PM. In the same way, our "Church" our "sabbath," should be a day of mutual encouragement and rest with people who are doing the same thing every week that we are - being missional, being the church right where they are. This is much different from trying to convert people and then bringing them to your church with you; it is bringing the gospel TO someone, where they are, and empower them to start "church" where they are. To become a bearer of the light of Christ to a dark world.

Which led me into thoughts about the "Kingdom," and an important note on orthodox Christian belief. The Kingdom is wherever the reign of Christ is realized - his Lordship in this world - which brings restoration. It brings a taste of the age to come, as heralded by the Resurrection of Christ. Which brings in the idea of Christian hope. Christ did not die and rise again so that we could do good things in this world and then go to a spiritual, heavenly bliss where we will receive "rewards." Just think about the tone of the New Testament, and the eschatology and hope of Israel in the Old Testament - it is very "this-wordly," not about escaping into an ethereal eternity. The ultimate Christian hope is not going to heaven when you die. Rather, it is what Christ heralded - Resurrection in a new creation. Look at the picture at the end of Revelation - it is the New Jerusalem descending to earth. Look at the incarnation. It is God, the Divine, entering into this world, becoming a part of our existence. Look at the ideal nature of the Kingdom of Israel - its peak was at the height of the reign of Solomon, when it was being a light to the world, experiencing blessings because God was properly dwelling with them in the temple, and the nations were flocking to them to know the secret. And why did Israel fall? Because she started to oppress others in order to artificially maintain her rule.

Anyway, the key to all that I am saying is the hope of Resurrection. Not only does this give us a proper view of the future, but more importantly gives us a proper view of the present. Mankind has been invested with the responsibility of Kingdom building. Just look at the fact that Jesus was God made MAN - one of us, one of our own is on the throne of the Kingdom. Men are God's vessels of rebuilding the broken world. We have a hope in future restoration (full), which gives us motivation to work towards that now. In the same way that Israel was God's chosen nation to be the light to the world, Christians, followers of Christ, are intended to be leaders in the movement from darkness to light.

These are all ideas that I wish to develop more later. But the reason I said that I think this is important for the Jacob's Journey community is that it is becoming a network for families going through medical crisis. Broken bodies. Non-function functions. And an important question to ask is, "How do we deal with utter failure?" What would have happened if my brother did not make it through his complications? Why do people get paralyzed for life?

This is why resurrection in new creation is so important as a hope - because even when restoration fails in the here and now, we have the hope that it will be accomplished in the new creation. Disabled people can hope for a restored nature, even when medicine cannot return them to restoration in this life.

Hope is not a vague notion of spiritual bliss. It is a holistic vision of life as it should be.

Rob (Jake's bro).


Eunice said...

Robbie, You are right on, Brother! I have been hearing and reading these same things from many sources lately, ie. my pastor, the Bible, the radio, books---now you! This is so exciting--and challenging, I admit--but thank you for speaking out!

Adam Nigh said...

Good stuff, Roberto (Argh!). I think your comments about the focus of hope not being a dematerialized heaven when we die but of resurrected bodies in a restored creation is right on.

How does this affect mission? I'm not sure. (It seems like your comments on resurrection springboarded from the missions conference, rather than being meant as a comment on church mission). One thing I'll say is that I think the outward focus can be, and often is, overstated. Yes, we need to be 'liquid', but we also need to be 'solid'. Stating these as a dichotomy can be problematic. Another way of saying this is that just as we need hearts beating within us and blood pumping through our veins (our passion for Christ, love for one another) and muscles (our energy is outward missions), so we also need a strong skeleton (internal church structures, doctrines, and ordinances). It has been a trend over the last decade decade and a half or so to focus on the liquid blood and guts over the solid skeleton because of perceptions of the church as skeleton only. Of course, dry bones are unhealthy, but so is a pile of blood and guts oozing all over the place on the ground. I agree with the current missions focus that missions isn't just one of several things the church does - the church is mission because God's life among us as the incarnate Word and his sent Spirit is mission. But I'm not sure 'decentralized authority' is the right way to work this out. The church should have an absolutely centralized authority, Christ, that is reflected through well trained and gifted leaders who consistently point away from themselves to Christ for guidance in the church's mission, rather than abuse their power and lord it over their flocks.

Just some thoughts. I really love reading about where your theology is taking you. Much love, you scurvy dog.


Captain Kirk(endall) said...

Adam (honorary pirate name?? I forget!)

Thanks for the good thoughts! I honestly just appreciate the "disagreement," I feel like I post things here and I don't get a whole lot of comments that admonish in a different direction than I suggested.

In retrospect, I probably should have made two blogs, one about "resurrection," one about "mission." My thoughts were swimming like a storm brewed from the heart of Davy Jones' Locker.

I like what you wrote, because it actually expresses some thoughts/concerns that I had from some of the things said at the conference. For one, how will you still value church history/other forms of church structure, and value people who tend toward more liturgical forms? It feels like "organic church" might be an outgrowth of an evangelicalism that does not remember it's Protestant (or otherwise) roots.
Also, it feels like maybe American Christians look over to countries where Christians are persecuted, sent "Underground" to meet in homes, and want the romantic/passionate feel of an "Underground" church.
Finally, it seems like this new facet of church structures is a hodgepodge of Shane Claiborne-esque sentiments, such as "I'm spiritual but not religious," and "I'm not a Christian, I just follow Jesus Christ." Just look at the Facebook "Religious Views" of my generation :).

Anyway, good things were taken from those thoughts, with adequate concerns. Thank you for the reminder to keep flesh on the bones.

It has likewise been fun trying to keep up with your blog musings, but I must admit I haven't had the opportunity to quite digest any of it yet... but I hope all is well in Aberdeen! At least I can say that we have someone in Scotland following the blog. Makes it sound all cool and "global."

Tell Rachel that I still have the "Smooth Sailing and God Speed" painting in my dorm room in Biola, and every now and then it reminds me to utter a prayer for you guys.

Blessings and love,

Dirty Bert (a scurvy moniker endowed on me by the bilge-rats of me Biola crew)