Archive for March 2009
This post was substantively rewritten after first publication.
Sometimes I wonder if Christians are missing the point of the discussion about community.
Some think we don’t need a community to call our own at all and that we can ruggedly-individualistically carry the good news into whatever environment we find ourselves in without much need of a community of faith that challenges us to bring our words and our deeds into alignment.
Some think we need to create a community so real that it “incarnates” our gospel and makes it attractive to people, so we don’t have to worry about messy things, such as preaching the good news in a hostile world full of sin that needs to be called to repentence.
The reality is lot more dynamic.
What’s unique about Christianity to me is not the notion of “community,” physical, virtual or otherwise. Any gathering of people, assembling around any idea, can incarnate any set of values, ideas and social “goods” and be a vibrant, attractive, durable community.
What is unique about Christianity is the church. The church, the body of God, the community of God, gives Christians the power to move beyond mere human “community,” and generally do things that are not in what a typical person would consider their best interests.
You know, giving up families, goods and leaving everything behind to evangelize lost continents without any apparent worldly or material benefit. Embracing sacrifice and risking death. That sort of thing.
That is our distinctive: The gospel, the good news of Christ as risen Savior and Lord, and his body the church, makes something ordinary, human community, turn into something extraordinary, an epic mission for each of us to help as many people as possible take their place in the eternal family of God.
The Acts 2 church — sacrificial, sacramental church — was not an end in itself, but the means whereby a radical, world-changing message could nurture and release radical, surrendered, faithful, contagious Christians.
The goal of the church isn’t a community or a better community. It is being the church: the field hospital, kitchen and armory of always-continuing skirmishes on the battlelines of a war between good and evil.
Our goal is not as a community to claim territory — mass, power, status or influence. Our goal is to claim souls.
Some of those whom the world has bruised or bloodied or estranged might seek out the refuge our “building” or our temporary “community.”
Most of the time, the “church,” the people of Christ, are camped in enemy territory, battling as “freedom-fighters” just long enough to make Christ’s offer of a beautiful alternative –life! — and snatch away the captives to eternal safety.
That’s when the church wraps its arms around the new believers, offers them its comfort, its healing, feeds them and protects them in the shadow of its wings, and then arms them for missions of their own.
Our goal of “community” is really the goal of “church.”
The more we emphasize “community” online, paradoxically, the easier it seems for us to get deceived and caught up in the world’s false math of connectedness+self-interest+self-affirmation=community. It’s the same old idea. It’s spiritual death. And it’s spreading even faster that it ever has.
Community, as with church, is not a destination. It is not an origin. It is a camp. A fort. A refuge.
And if we’re going to defeat the enemy’s strongholds where they are now — in the web, the living network — maybe we need to start building our “shining cities on a hill” there, just as we built our cathedrals in centuries gone by.
Does that make sense?
I used to be a journalist and an atheist.
One of the things that became very clear once I became a Christ follower was how blatant the anti-Christian bias of most journalism really is. Religious faith drives journalists crazy because taking it at face value involves admitting that smart, rational people are questioning the modern world’s humanistic master narrative.
Man is the measure of all things. Man is innately good. Man can make the world a better place. And given enough “good information,” people will inevitably make “good” decisions, assuming the man isn’t keeping them down.
Christian faith, by contrast, undermines every one of those precepts. It isn’t always rational. Isn’t verifiable, at least materially. Assumes evidence of “things not seen,” and basically is seen by journalists as one giant cover up of a bucket full of other malign motives, such as power, money, sex and all sorts of vices.
I was reminded of all of this when I was reading this month’s issue of The Atlantic, typically one of the better written, more compelling magazines out there. One of the articles was from author Robert Wright, “One World Under God.”
Given the headline, I was pretty excited. What a let down.
To summarize his argument, the Apostle Paul basically was an entrepreneur who designed the Christian message to appeal to the maximum number of people and built the early church so it responded to the felt needs of a global society.
Wright argues Jesus was more or less besides the point, and paints him as a meager figure, not quite so good as we might think, and more of a handy brand or icon.
The Christian mission to love one another because Christ first loved us is reduced to a kind of accidental moral good that grew out of the social conditions of the time.
I guess it never occurs to a journalist that the reason that Christianity grew was because what it offered was true and because the power of the Holy Spirit was at work in the individuals who risked their lives to spread the good news.
I wouldn’t typically recommend that you read an article that literally is laughable simplistic. But i’s like rubber-necking a car wreck of bias and the pseduo-Biblical “scholarship” that journalists are always drawn to.
Here are the “highlights”
- “Jesus wasn’t really Jesus; he didn’t really preach the deep moral truths that have given weight to the claim that he was the son of an infinitely good God. And, as if to rub salt in the wound: those truths, when they finally did enter the Christian tradition, emerged not so much from philosophical reflection as from pragmatic calculation and other disappointingly mundane forces.
- The origins of Paul’s doctrine of interethnic love lie not in his own loving-kindness, though for all we know he mustered much of that in the course of his life. The doctrine emerges from the interplay between Paul’s driving ambitions and his social environment.
- Thus, for the ambitious preacher of early Christianity, the doctrine of brotherly love had at least two virtues. First, fraternal bonding made churches attractive places to be, providing a familial warmth that was otherwise lacking, for many people, in a time of urbanization and flux… Second, the doctrine of brotherly love became a form of remote control, a tool Paul could use at a distance to induce congregational cohesion.
- To judge by the book of Acts, many of Paul’s early Christian associates were, like him, travelers…. First, in an age when there was no public postal service, they could carry letters to distant churches. Second, they might even be able to found distant congregations. … The Roman Empire had made distant travel easier than at any time in history, and Christianity exploited this fact. The young church was, among other things, the Holiday Inn of its day.
- History expands the range of non-zero-sum relationships—relationships in which two parties can both win if they collaborate, or lose if they don’t. Technological evolution (wheels, roads, cuneiform, alphabets, trains, microchips) has placed more and more people in non-zero-sum relationship with more and more other people at greater and greater distances—and often across ethnic, national, and religious bounds. … either people of different faiths, ethnicities, and nationalities get better at seeing the perspective of one another, and acknowledging the moral worth of one another, or chaos ensues.
I recently subscribed to a few blogs from folks who are critics of traditional North American evangelicalism, whatever that is, including Kingdom Grace, which believes “missional and emerging are a spirit-led response to the needed reformation of the church.”
My interest in these oppositional voices got piqued after I read the uproar about Perry’s Unleash comments regarding “missional” churches and his follow-up decision to identify NewSpring as part of the “emerging” church movement.
This blog post on The Future of the Church caught my eye because, coming from a non-church and non-ministry background, I don’t think I realized quite how “embryonic” web church ecclesiology currently is, and free of church politics, so far.
I found myself nodding a lot as I was reading. And wondering how the “traditional or “new traditional” church may be forced to join the emerging conversation because of web efforts.
[In the future landscape of the church, those churches that survive will be the ones that reprioritize their existence to the building of the kingdom of God rather than their own kingdoms.. [believers] been released to demonstrate the kingdom … message of redemption and reconciliation out of the church building and into the streets and avenues of the world … Millions of average believers are taking responsibility for their role in ministry
(I also found myself wondering what the implications of some statements really were, especially in talk of a “narrative view” of scripture, end times that are the “fulfillment of life on earth as it is in heaven” and the unity in Jesus to include “the voice of the other.” (To borrow a phrase from scripture, “let the reader understand.”)
Here are some interesting thoughts I’d like to highlight:
- On redefining the gospel: “We realize that salvation and the gospel of the kingdom is a message of redemption that includes but also surpasses a one-time decision”
- On redefining the church: “will be expanded to acknowledge and include forms outside of traditional institutions as legitimate and valid expressions of the Body of Christ.
- On the kingdom of God (via Frank Viola via Hal Miller) Christianity is culturally relevant when it offers a qualitatively different society. Jesus called it “the kingdom of God … Imagine a group of people gathering to help each other in the common task of seeing God’s kingdom incarnated in their work, in their families, in their towns, in their world, in their midst, and (rather than only) in their individual lives.”
- On redefining structures: (Via Jason Clark) “Will churches be able to restructure in a way that releases rather than collects and consumes resources? In the future church, the net flow of time, money, and other resources will be outward rather than inward. ””
One of the things I admire about most of them is that they convincingly show theology isn’t just an academic matter but essential to every believer for their joy in Christ. And they shepherd their churches with the “Big C” church at the forefront of everything they do.
(They also have two of the most progressive online, multimedia ministries in the world. The Desiring God web site is practically the gold standard for any ministry wanting to make its teaching accessible to the masses in practically every environment.)
In Vintage Church, Pastor Mark has come out unequivocally against the concept of the Web Church. His argument boiled down to his belief that you can’t have “real community” online and that the sacraments of Communion and Baptism cannot be rightly administered.
I’m hoping Pastor John will weigh in soon in response to my twitter question for his “Ask Pastor John” series:
#apj is there a sound theological basis to believe you can worship and be part of Christ’s body in community through an online church?
What other Web church questions would you ask?
God’s hope for reconciling the whole world to himself was through Jesus and, specifically, the unity of his church.
And the web is the global platform, fast-becoming the world’s great unifier and destined to be everyone’s unified, killer app for life.
So why are we, the techno-evangelical church, lacking a unified purpose in the way we are exploring its use for advancing the kingdom?
I’m betting there are literally thousands of amazing ideas from churches and ministries all across America about how we can leverage the people and the resources of the kingdom of God using the web.
And yet, as far as I know, there’s no open-source, large-scale, collaboration or partnerships going on regarding specific church apps or specific community-building efforts.
In fact, i see a reflexive entrepreunerialism driving our approaches. Everyone’s rushing to do something, and we’re all stretching limited resources, limited time and limited talent to create lots of (potentially) awesome little C church web efforts but very few excellent “Big C” church web efforts.
This must change. Let’s make a few strategic bets on some ideas. Let’s test them out. Let’s fail. And above all let’s succeed.
You see, there is a way for all of us to prove whether we’re smoking what we’re selling regarding the potential of the web church: We can harness the full array of social technologies — crowdsourcing, collaboration and community technologies — for our unified, one-church purpose.
That would make Jesus smile.
I think there are many church web-dev folks like John Saddington and other thought leaders, such as Tony Steward, and countless others, perhaps even myself, who might be in a position to form part of a core team that can organize and lead an open-source church movement.
All we need is some agreement on working out some core ideas. Get some buy in from a sizeable number of influential ministries. And then find and harness the human resources — volunteers, hobbyists, staff — to make some of these ideas happen.
You know that venture capital companies are taking this approach. How do you think those amazing web apps keep coming with such amazing consistency?
We can do this. What’s stopping us?
Here’s the video to my community soapbox at Unleash, courtesy of my friend Chris Hill at the soon to be planted Ridge Community Church.
It was a soapbox, but i think I put a little too much energy into the role of an angry street protester. :/ My wife said i should smile more.
You can find my notes here.
I’m new to speaking gigs. Kinda funny really, given that I’ve always liked to be outspoken.
It was a huge privilege to have the attention of about 50 to 100 folks for 5 minutes during Unleash, NewSpring’s balling church conference, on the subject of “How to Build Community.”
It was fun to have a box to stand on in the middle of the Anderson Campus courtyard with a bullhorn in my hands. And nerve wracking too.
Here are my notes, with a few more lines of explanation that I never got to give to my live audience. You can compare that with the video of the soapbox and tell me if it translated. (And you can be honest with me. Jesus would want that.)
My Challenge to the church: Build Community!
Everyone else is doing it
Jesus wants it (Matt. 5:14)
People crave it
What is community?
It isn’t affiliation. It is participation (1 Cor. 12) Community as a “goodness engine”
Three things you need for community (and one if you want to call it a success.)
Tell stories, encourage conversations; establish membership value to self, others
Create transparency about member resources; offer mechanism to exchange social value (Acts. 2/4)
Leverage resources through collaboration, crowdsourcing (Ex. 25); embrace innovation
Transfer value to succeeding generations; across different social spheres. (Matt 28)
For Church to be the hope of the world:
Message and people=open, attractive
My take-away message in three paragraphs:
1. We have the will of God, the power of the Holy Spirit, the best news anyone could ever receive and all the social technology imaginable to build powerful community everywhere that creates disciples of Jesus. So let’s do it!
2. It happens by the massive, web-enabled network effects of gathering the people of God and sharing their knowledge, resources and time with the world to create attractive, unimaginable, unbelievable social value. We can’t let the church sit on the sidelines while the world manufactures fake community for distraction, entertainment or financial gain.
3. The church cannot be afraid to harness the tools in its own way for its own people and its own purpose because it worries that we will create a subculture. Christians have always been a subculture. The difference is whether that subculture hides from the world or aggressively pursues the transformation of the culture. Doing community well will always add to our number daily from the lost, the oppressed and the dispossessed in our culture.
Do I hear an amen?