Another Way

On Being Ecclesia

I have become convinced that there needs to be a new referent when we speak of the community of Jesus followers. In the past, the simple word, “church,” has sufficed. In these contentious times, the term is no longer adequate because it suggests a place, often a building. Moreover, it communicates being an establishment and a part of the cultural landscape, a landscape that has shifted beneath our feet to the point that we will have to withdraw from it if we are to be faithful to our calling.

My reason for suggesting “ecclesia” to describe the community of Christ-followers is because of its first century meaning. It was understood to be a representative body of a particular state, essentially a group called out to assemble for the business of the city. It was understood to describe an assembly with specific goals and qualities. The most important feature, though, was its separateness.

Another example of intentional separation occurred in Germany as the specter of Nazism, was rising. Some clergy saw the danger and, as a matter of conscience, withdrew from the established ecclesial order. They came to be called “the confessing church.” The term came to describe a fellowship of clergy who felt the need to distinguish themselves from the established order and societal trajectory.

One thing seems clear: As the culture approaches midnight, Christ-followers can no longer be understood to be a part of the established social order. We must be understood to be a community called out from among–a peculiar people with distinctive values and purpose.

We are an ecclesia.

A New Community

100 days and counting…

That is how long we have been, more or less, locked down. I never expected it. Yet, here we are, over three months into what appears to be a new normal. And in the background, thrumming away like evil crickets, are the pandemic, rioting, anger, judgment, and political rage.

I wish it would stop.

But it shows no sign of stopping. Every time I venture out, I see people walking around with masks on to protect themselves from the toxic environment. Look at it from the other direction and we are protecting others from ourselves and our pathologies. The world has gone septic and there does not seem to be a remedy. 

I will say this about quarantine, it gives one time to think. In the process, I have come to wonder if I have anything to offer in a social climate that reflects nothing like the gospel of peace. My wondering has led me to a conclusion: As followers of Jesus we are now being called to a separate peace and a new community. No more business as usual.

To write those words causes a reaction in me. They feel like exaggeration. Hyperbole. Things will calm down. No need to imagine a future much different than we have known. But I am not so sure. Societies experience corrosive seasons that fundamentally change them. At present, symbols of national heritage are being indiscriminately torn down and there is no guarantee that they will be replaced with anything. Chop away at the roots of a tree and the tree dies, topples over. If the church is too dependent on the tree, she may topple with it. 

Peter the apostle, wondered in his second letter to the church,

“Since all these things are to [be destroyed] in this manner, what sort of people must we be, conducting our lives in holiness and godliness, while waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God?”

As reactionary as it may sound, I believe we have come to the time of ecclesia, that is the calling out of an assembly. The old American church has been too dependent on the culture in which it was formed. That culture, in ways both subtle and obvious, is turning against it. A friend shared this quote in his Facebook feed:

Some people aren’t loyal to you … they are loyal to their need of you … Once their needs change, so does their loyalty.

I think this is true of societies; of twenty-first century America. The church is not needed unless it is willing to reflect the changing values of the culture—not even wanted. Whatever loyalty the society once showed the church is dissolving. Moreover, the ecclesia must not show loyalty to any cause but the cause of Christ. That is why it is very unlikely that the new community, the ecclesia, will be tolerated. In this season, to be focused on Christ alone will be seen as disloyal.

The church is nearing rocky shoals. If the she doesn’t come round she will be driven aground. So, come round she must. The church must set a course for open water where she is not in danger of shipwreck on these shores. It must be her own course and not some other creed or cause. She must plot a course for the Kingdom.

June 2020

Quarantine…systemic racism…police brutality…sexual preference…

I am confused and burdened by the world right now. I feel disappointed in myself that I can’t seem to rise above it, trust only the Lord. I imagine waiting it out and returning to “normal.” But there is the possibility that we won’t know what the “new normal” is for a very long time.

Abba, the moorings of this society are weakening. The tethers that have held us are coming undone. How shall we then live? Since we are being drawn into a world of expanding options, it is needful that we choose. We are required to choose, knowing that when we do we will be traduced and condemned. We must choose who we will serve and make peace with the consequences.

A Mourning Walk

We had intended to stand out on the boulevard today as a gesture of mourning over the death of George Floyd. Then, the violence, destruction and looting began. The narrative shifted from outrage at the abuse of law to disgust over the breaking of it. More than that, the behavior of the crowd brought dishonor to the memory of George Floyd. We decided we had to choose a different way to mourn the callous injustice. We needed to go beyond merely taking a stand, we had to walk. We must change course and move toward a better future.

Truth is, standing by the curb is easy—one and done. Changing my behavior is  hard. If my grief and outrage only burns for an hour or two on the sidewalk, what difference was made beyond the assuage of conscience? If Minneapolis does not mark the beginning of new direction, then the memory of George Floyd will have been entrusted to the hooligans who used it as a pretext for violence and looting.

This man’s death ought to be a catalyst for change, a point in time that calls us to compassionate community. In the last few days there has been much screaming at cameras, hoping presumably, to be heard in Washington or at the State capitol. Maybe someone in the halls of power can do something this time. I have my doubts. A legislative agenda is no substitute for a good example, a change of heart and soul.

Moreover, I am tired of waiting for change. Do I really expect compassion to trickle down from some tower of political virtue? It has been said that “politics is downstream from culture.” If that is true, then the source of this contagion of hate is not in the White House or the halls of congress, it is in me. It also means that I, in my small corner of the world, have the power to change things.

But this kind of change does not come because I hold a sign by the boulevard and take a stand, it comes when I decide to be different and take a walk. Mother Theresa said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Small things can have an amazing impact. Consider COVID 19.

What might be the impact of small,  deliberate communities joining together to obey Christ’s command to love one another (John 13:34-35)? Am I convicted enough to change that much? Are you? I try to imagine the outcry over the death of George Floyd marking the beginning of an epidemic. Only this epidemic will not call for social distance but social unity. The symptoms of this virus are love, compassion and justice. Most of all, it calls for intentional relationship, the multiplication of small, extended families whose unified purpose is to…

Do Justice.
Love mercy.
And to walk humbly with our God.

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Between the Worlds

RELEVANT (rel’uh-vant) Bearing upon or connected with the matter in hand; to the purpose; pertinent…

What is really relevant to me and the matter at hand? I’ve watched more TV lately than I care to admit and have discovered that much of what I see doesn’t pass the relevance test. I don’t take any of the toxic medicines they advertise, I’m not in the market for a new car—we’d buy a good used one anyway. Don’t need a new mattress, and don’t care what the rich and famous are doing.

I’m non-partisan. Neither major party reflects my point of view. Republicans eat at the trough of the free market, believing that kindness and generosity are bred into the corporate soul. Democrats worship at the altar of civil government, thinking that public service and pure motives are corollaries. Then, there are special interest parties who see the world through green glasses or through the lens of theocracy.

Nope. I’m opting out. Non-partisan. During presidential election years I’ll endorse Abraham Lincoln. Yes, I know he’s dead, but he’s reliable. Anyway, my support of ‘Honest Abe’ is my way of saying, “not my circus, not my monkeys.”

I just want to be a follower of Jesus of Nazareth. I don’t want Jesus as a mistress—to tryst with him at church, but go home to what what I’m married to. I don’t want the new millennium Christ that is a mere shadow of who Jesus is as the son of God; I want the first century Jesus who is the cornerstone of real faith, not just the inspiration for pretenders to it. Here is the challenge: discover what is relevant to a mere sojourner here. Jesus sketched the challenge in the terms of being “in the world” while not being “of the world.”

Who am I? Better put, where am I? I am between two worlds: in one, but not of it; bound for another, but for the time being, bound TO the one I’m in. If that is true; if I and others on the “Jesus Way” are “between two worlds,” then the question of relevance is vital. What really matters? Where do we fit in this world—or do we fit at all?

I read a book The Reformers and Their Stepchildren. by Leonard Verduin. I highlighted this paragraph:

It is implied in the New Testament vision that Christianity is not a culture-creating thing but rather a culture-influencing one. Wherever the Gospel is preached human society becomes composite; hence, since the culture is the name given to the total spiritual heritage of an entire people, there can never be such a thing as a Christian culture; there can only be cultures in which the influence of Christianity is more or less apparent.

The challenge is to pick through the purple pills and new cars; the fast food and loose facts, and lay hold of the things that are important to an eternal God and valuable to an eternal people. I’m not here to throw stones, build walls, or tear down the establishment. I’m here to live like a sojourner and love like a follower of Jesus. I want to find others who want to do the same, and create a community of restless Christians who yearn for adventure.