Tuesday, 31 March 2015

What does it mean to be Church?

To ask "what does it mean to be church?" is similar to the question "what binds people together in groups of all sorts?" This binding together would include teams, gangs, clubs, mobs, families and congregations. There is surely no simple answer to it; communities are as different as individuals from one another. But the question is "is the church of the same genre as other communities or is it an entirely different kind of gathering altogether?

What drives communities and forms their understanding of how members should live?
Imagine there is no heaven
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you will join us
And the world will be as one

An iconic ballad from the 70th in which John Lennon imagined a better world, one without the evil of war, injustice, strife, apartheid, inequality, violence and pain as he saw in this world. He and million others yearned for a world that “will be as one” in peace, equality and justice, for a “brotherhood of man,” an end of greed and hunger, for people to share all the world in peace and harmony. A time of rest for all, shalom in full and every divide overcome including selfish and otherworldly religions that promote or sanction violence and degradation of the others be it because of their gender or other
differences, the end of the weapons race and a structure of revenge.

Lennon and millions of others recognized that if this dream is to become a reality in this world, it cannot remain in mere words and ideas. In order to become reality it must leave the lecture halls, and libraries, it must be made reality within a community, a company of people who not only imagine but put into reality, willing to embody and direct their lives by this “imagine,” by this “dream.”
Through his song he invited others to embrace his dream and the company of those who lived it grow. This company of people of which John is but one is a “come-and-join-us” group, who, by their words and lives, offer a radical but attractive alternative to the violent, greedy, and self-centred culture around them.

But with the distance of time we realize that Lennon’s song was but a dream.

The problem is not that we do not dream of better, or that better is not possible, but rather that injustice, selfishness and anger are lodged so deeply in the inner crannies of our hearts and minds. For all our good intention, brokenness and selfishness, emotions we deeply abhor, are as deeply rooted in our hearts as they are in the systems and structures we have surrounded us with.

When Paul wrote. “Do not be conformed to this world, but continuously be transformed by the renewing of your minds . . .” (ISV) he was probably referring to the same system of values, allurements John Lennon dreamed of to overcome. And while there are many similarities between the dream and the Gospel, the gathered company of people was indifferent or ignorant toward God and His plan. And so Paul warns his fellow Christians not to allow the subtle pressures of the world to conform them to their utopia, an echo chamber of paradise without God.

I think that is an ever present problem we face in one form or the other. The allure of being accepted and admired by people who surround us possesses a powerful gravitational pull, the same is true of people we admire. We need to watch ourselves carefully and examine why we change views.
And so the question, “what causes us to conform,” is important to ask. According to Bill Hull; “Life and even some research demonstrate that people conform when there is more gain from conforming than from not conforming. This is no truer than when it comes down to being a follower of Christ. The reward for religious conformity is the acceptance by your faith community. When you gather together, there is edification, comfort, and encouragement.”

However, for many years good-hearted Christians were convinced that true spirituality is keeping a set of rules and to separate themselves from the very people they are called to love and to reach. The entire idea of Jesus coming into the world and living among us, of His kingdom narrative about wheat and weeds existing side by side, his prayer in John 17, all make the point that we must live among those who do not believe. Others therefore, almost in protest separated from what they saw as easy-to-mock caricature of Christianity, fueled by the desire to be relevant moved in the very opposite direction but losing on the way distinctive differences to make a difference.
Here to be relevant meant that someone or something becomes what it needs to be in order to meet a need. That need, particularly being an obvious need may change from culture to culture, situation to situation, person to person. The desire to be relevant is normal and pays off in much off life. An irony, relevance itself is relative. Food is relevant to a hungry person, cloth to a naked one, but what if food and cloth have been distributed? Temporary relevance rides the winds of change and blows from any direction. The only reliable relevance is finding ways of expressing how the other person’s life is relevant to God, loved by God, and that does not change. The only true relevance is found in the Eternal, and then we will find what we are seeking shalom.
The dogma, the very purpose of the church, therefore, is to go into the world, just as Jesus did, to show love to the unlovable, the rejected, the misused, the suffering. In reality, however, our practice has been to separate where sharing life actually would matter. The irony is, that we have separated
ourselves, having our own buildings like schools, camps, churches, even senior homes and our own church friends while being void of “normal” friends, all the while we share the worlds drive for success and for running our own lives.

What I am trying to say is this; We all conform somewhere except in ways that cost us less. We all face the daily reality that non-Christians don’t, it usually has to do with making a living. It comes down to what is the best deal right now. Therefore, let us make sure that our conformity is to the person of Christ, and not to some form of culturalized Christian living. We all are being called to be transformed to Christ, not some form of religious subculture. That transformation will bring with it some form of stigma and sacrifice we tend to avoid, but can’t. The transformation we are called to is different to the conforming to a particular cultural Christianity, which might just be another form of ending up being conformed to the ways and values of the world, gaining in this life more from conforming to godly people than from not conforming. Being conformed into Christ is not about behaviour modification, conformity to Christ is not separation nor is it moralism.

What or better who drives communities and forms their understanding of how members should live?
be the church  

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