Thursday, October 12, 2006

What is the Church?

So what the heck was I trying to say with my little epic in the last post? My hope was to begin laying a foundation that helps us understand where the church began, and where it has come from those beginnings.

For three centuries, these bands of brothers and sisters flocked in informal communities, sharing in common their love, their lives, and their worship of God. For some, the patterns of their lives changed drastically. Paul, for example, went from the up-and-coming Sandhedrin leader (the Sanhedrin was the ruling council of Jewish leaders) helping expose and eliminate "followers of the Way" to one who travelled the known world to share the message. But there were many others, perhaps even the majority, whose normal patterns, their daily comings and goings, didn't change so much, because God didn't call everyone to be like Paul and travel the world for the gospel. For those folks, what changed was how they saw God in those daily patterns, and how the eternal kind of life, the life that is experienced only in obedience to God (note that Jesus' early followers were not followers of a theology, or even followers of Jesus, but followers of the Way--it was a way of life) became their normal experiences as they went to work, raised their kids, and loved their neighbors.

So, for our discussion here, I'm saying that the church is a group of people who are committed to one another in their relationships and are together trying to follow the Way of Jesus in the world.

What else is required to be a church? What is the church's mission; why are we here? Check out future posts!

Monday, October 09, 2006

My Ecclesiology

At the risk of getting myself into trouble here, I want to spend a few posts talking about ecclesiology, or views of the church. As I set this up, keep in mind that I believe every follower of the way of Jesus, when confronted with what s/he believes are the shortcomings of his/her tradition, has two broad choices: leave for something more aligned with your beliefs or stay and play the prophetic role in your tradition. God calls people to do both at various times, I think, depending on his purposes at that time. The truth is that all of our traditions have shortcomings, and while some may be worse than others, all communities of Christ-followers can reflect that which is best and worst about mankind. For the time being, I believe God has called me to stay in my tradition.

Once upon a time a holy man came and showed his followers how to live as God intended, in the pattern of the alive life. He told those followers to stay bonded together in communities of close-knit, sacrificial love and service for each other. "When you are going about your daily lives," he said, "invite others whose path you cross to join us in the pattern of the holy life."

So these people, who had been taught and were still learning about the alive life, went about their living. And in their living life they loved people. They loved each other, they loved those outside their communities, and they especially loved those who were the not-loved of their societies. These incredible little life-communities would grow, then regroup into new communities, then grow. In a short 3 centuries they went from a few hundred people to more than 10% of the world-conquering empire of that time, always in these alive communities.

Then one day the king of the empire saw the possibilities of the alive life. He also saw that the people of the alive life communities could be valuable allies in the rules of the empire. So the king declared the alive life communities to be the true religion. And the people rejoiced.

Now some of the alive life communities began to be run by the by the bureaucrats, the king's leaders in the empire. The bureaucrats knew that there had to be a way--a more efficient way--to teach others about the alive life. So they created standardized curricula and standardized buildings and standardized sermons. And the people rejoiced.

Some bureaucrats became very good at the standardized sermons. They were given special places as kinglets of the alive life communities. And some of them began to institutionalize the standardized rules. Spiritual guides were now kinglets, and the gentle ways of the first holy man were turned into institutionally protected and enforced laws. And the people...well, they didn't rejoice.

Over the centuries the institutionalized, standardized communities have tried to find and teach the alive life. The institutions have been destroyed and rebuilt, better than they were, better, stronger, faster. The standards have been enforced, debated, deleted, bought, sold, split over and ignored. Pockets of the alive life communities are still found, but the institution has become, well, institutionalized. Sterilized. Anesthetized. Deadetized. And the people have forgotten.

But not all the people. No, the alive life communities are still there. They are harder to find, tougher to nail down. But they are there. The destruction of death and hell can not--will not--fully keep down the ones who follow the way of the first holy man.

Where are those alive life communities today?

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Urban Revolution

I preached at CrossBridge Community Church in San Antonio on October's a link to the audio file if you're interested. The basic story was that Jesus came to create a revolution--a new way of thinking and living. He called it the kingdom of God. I like Dallas Willard's definition: "the effectual reign of God." Evangelism, an overused, misunderstood Christianese word, is really an invitation into the life you always wanted (borrowing from John Ortberg, whose book by the title "The Life You've Always Wanted" says that it is "Dallas for Dummies", since Dallas Willard is so deeply philosophical--but I digress), not asking the question "if you were to die tonight, where would you spend eternity?" There may be a time for that tired question, but there is at least one better--"If you were to live for another hundred years, how would you want to live?" That's the kind of question Jesus asked, I think.

Anyway, here's a link to the sermon as an mp3 file. Hope you enjoy it.