I came across this excellent and thought provoking interview with Phyllis Tickle. In it, she talks about how denominations should start to see themselves and their role in new ways. The line that struck me was, “Denominations, if they’re smart, will recognize that they are the Church in Jerusalem and ‘Emergent’ is the Church in Antioch.” Watch this brief interview here to get a sense of what she means by that.
As the ark of the LORD was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart. – 2 Samuel 6:16
Lutheran worship can be a rather laid back, solemn, sometimes tired affair. There are moments, however, when we seem to let loose, not quite like David, and clap our hands or hop around pretending we were a South African congregation. Generally though, we’re formal and very orderly about worship. There are times when I enjoy this aspect of the way we worship and at other times I need something else.
How we worship is not so much the issue for me. We certainly must remain authentic and have some order to our worship, but the issue is not how we worship. Rather, it’s how we look at the worship of others and even how we respond to the expressed worship needs of our own people.
Sometimes like Michal, the daughter of Saul, there ‘s a certain arrogance within our church about the way we worship. It implies that there is somehow a “right” way to worship and of course, we have it. At the same time, comments are occasionally made about the worship of other churches as if it were “entertainment” rather than “true” worship.
Now I’m not saying that all worship is the best or even that it’s all okay just the way it is. Sometimes even our worship slips into self-centered entertainment and performance whether in music or preaching. Whether as Lutheran or Baptist churches we’re all prone to making worship more about us than about God.
So what if we made less fuss about the how of our worship or someone elses and began to affirm whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable (Philippians 4:8)? I wonder whether in the process we would learn some new ways to worship and live together in God’s kin-dom.
I love that moment in the movie Luther, when Martin Luther ” is forced to respond to his position with a “Yes or No.” Luther’s response is “Unless I am shown through Scripture or reason, I cannot and will not recant, here I stand.” A clip of this can be seen below…
Some have said that the church is on the cusp of another Reformation. Others have suggested that this is a time of renewal for the church. I believe we are closer to a Pentecost-like transformation.
Whether reformation, renewal or transformation, we will always be tempted as individual parts of the body and as Christian communities to slip back into the worn rut of the status quo if we are not somehow perseverant in the faith and calling we are being led to through the Holy Spirit.
What does it mean to be “perseverant” though?
Perseverance is not the same as stubborness. To be stubborn is to be unwilling to move even though reason would suggest otherwise. Luther was not stubborn when he said, “Here I stand.” Luther had moved significantly from the position he had grown up under and been oppressed by. The Holy Spirit is not calling us to be stubborn or “stiff-necked” as the people of Israel were often referred to by our Lord, the prophets and Stephen in Acts. Perseverance is not being intransigent.
Instead, perseverance is adhering to a course of action or toward a specific purpose or mission. The Holy Spirit is moving us to a perseverance focused on a missional journey. This journey will be marked by prayer, God’s Word, worship, being and serving together, as well as sharing our faith with one another. This journey will take us as individuals and communities through many times and places of transformation. This journey will call us to bear crosses and realign values, practices and maybe even beliefs. Perseverance is focused on the goal of our high calling as the people of God and yet it is also a dynamic journey, one that reflects the very image of our life-giving, life-transforming Creator.
So what if we as individuals and communities within the body of Christ were perseverant? What would that look like?
In one of the congregation’s I served I began to unfold God’s vision for them. In the process some people rebelled and I gave up on that vision. Two years later I discovered that pieces of that vision were blooming, not because of me, but because some of the people persevered and lived out that vision. A perseverant church is one that begins to see the unfolding of God’s kin-dom.
God is calling us as a church into a challenging and exciting “present-future” kin-dom. However, it will require our perseverance as we run the race towards the goal of that high calling as God’s kin-dom people.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. – Hebrews 12:1 (NIV)
What does it mean for us to be Evangelical Lutherans? Consider this point from the Evangelical Manifesto:
…Evangelicalism should be distinguished from two opposite tendencies to which Protestantism has been prone: liberal revisionism and conservative fundamentalism. Called by Jesus to be “in the world, but not of it,” Christians, especially in modern society, have been pulled toward two extremes. Those more liberal have tended so to accommodate the world that they reflect the thinking and lifestyles of the day, to the point where they are unfaithful to Christ; whereas those more conservative have tended so to defy the world that they resist it in ways that also become unfaithful to Christ.
Isn’t this the divide that we face around every corner in the ELCIC? What if we had a renewed understanding of our Evangelical Faith? I think it would give us the hope we need to move, from left or right, to a place where we live faithfully under the lordship of Jesus Christ.
As with any manifesto, it is never complete, but it does serve to inspire us to think about our witness and ministry to the world.
Every day hundreds and perhaps thousands of people come to churches across Canada looking for some kind of assistance and every day these churches hand out food, bus tickets, clothing and sometimes even cash to ease the hardship of these people. We do this with a mixture of emotions ranging from contempt and pity to compassion and love.
Sometimes in the process of engaging these people we sit down and talk with them. Often it’s simply to allow them to weave a request perfected by many visits to many churches. At other times, their conversation goes beyond their physical need and ventures into their emotional and spiritual needs.
Jesus spent most of his ministry on the streets, walking among the very people who occasionally come to our doors. By walking among them Jesus was able to reach through their physical need and into their spiritual need to offer them the gift of life.
A number of years ago there was a seminary which made available a spring session that involved living on the streets for three days. Students were given $5 and sent out. The lives of these students were not the same when they came back.
What if our churches began to offer opportunities for people to live on the streets of our neighbourhoods and cities? What if we sent them out in pairs to walk with those who struggle with physical needs and addictions, but who also have spiritual and emotional needs? What if these people went out, not to fix problems, but to walk with Jesus among the same people he walked with and to discover that in the midst of these people Christ can transform both us and the people we meet.
I wonder if by doing this our church communities would become places where people in need would not only come for physical help, but also come to worship and learn and fellowship with us. I wonder…
If we slowed down any more, we might start going backwards!
For too long, the joke has been on the Church. We tend to move slow. But that hasn’t always been the case. The early church spread like wildfire, and at key points in history the Church has found its feet and has run the good race. The Church has done its best work when ordinary people returned to the foundation of her faith – Jesus. He is the one who sets the Church on the right course and puts fire in our bones. There is no doubt that we are at one of those key points in history. Social change is all around and the Church needs to lace up her running shoes and get in the race. We don’t need a new silver bullet program or magical theological construct to get running, we need to return to Jesus of the Bible.
How could we join God in the work He is doing?
What if we started to regularly plant churches again? The ELCIC would find new life and enthusiasm if it put its focus on starting new churches in new communities. For too long the church has been working out ways to safely close older churches; we need to shift our focus. The Church is the hope of the world because of Jesus – let’s share the love.
What if churches took more people on short-term missions? Most people in the Church today have never served in cross-cultural situations. It is a profound experience! When short-term missionaries return to their everyday context, they return transformed and serve their church and community with a new outlook. These people become agents of renewal and we need them!
What if we spread out the race more evenly amongst the people? This sprint doesn’t belong to the Pastor or Bishop, it’s the race of ordinary people like you and me. What if people formed grassroots movements to get the Church going again. What if ordinary people started to point to Jesus as the author, perfecter, and goal of our race?
Let’s put the wheels back on the car and put the pedal down!
The cartoon is from this funny blog.
At the 25th anniversary of the congregation I was serving I posed the question “What if we sold our building and started over?”
For some this question came as a real shock. “How could anyone suggest getting rid of the very thing we have worked so hard to get?”
My question though, came out of an observation about congregations and their development. I noticed that when a congregation first starts their is a tremendous energy and zeal for mission. However, as the congregation grows someone eventually says, “Let’s build” and in those two words mission becomes eventually supplanted by the word “institution.”
Now I’m not anti-building, but I believe we need to recognize the curse that these structures bring alongside the blessing. If we are to keep our buildings and work for the renewal and transformation of our communities how can we lessen the curse of institutionalization and increase the blessing of mission through them? If we cannot then let’s sell our buildings and start all over.
But it was Solomon who built a house for him. Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands; as the prophet says,
“Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
or what is the place of my rest?
Did not my hand make all these things?”
– Acts 7:47-50