The great divide
I have been wrestling, and struggling to see and discover an ultimate reality to live out the Christian walk. To be “really human”as NT Wright puts it; a well balanced life that is about what Jesus was about, and focused on a life of virtues, living out the holy life that God has called us too. This is a difficult task and journey to proceed upon. This virtual reality that I so desire is still in its course and I imagine will continue all the days of my life. My discreet devotion to this recently, has led me to write out a few discoveries that I have made. This knowledge has not come from my own mind or heart, but through reading and discussing with many. This so called path of truth that I have found is open and not closed, as I will always question church and the Christian life and my relation to both.
Years ago I was brought up in a Christian world. It was a world encompassed around separatism. My childhood and into my early adulthood would be filled with God, Christianity, and the Christian life. My entertainment would be filtered with WWJD, which would ultimately be a segregated environment from the world untainted by its un-colorful behavior. Those who were around me would encourage me to go deeper into this Christian reality and deepen my experience with God. I would learn to memorize scripture, be a fast hand at sword drills, and ultimately get my name on a plaque showing my memorization of all the books of the bible. I would eventually continue to grow and succeed in this world leading bible studies at age 12 and teaching children’s church around the same time. Eventually I grew older and would start dating, and this holiness that I had kept for so long would start to be traded a piece at a time for the wonders of the opposite sex.
This path of hypocrisy would continue some 3 years until God stepped in. He would wreck my life or so I thought…instead he began to save it…and all that I believed and felt about God and Christianity would start to take on a new shape. The mold that I was so “discipled” by would start to crack and my shell would be opened to experience God in ways that I thought were sacrilegious. The journey would continue some years as I stayed in this same Christian society I was in before, but with new wonders and questions.
It was at this time that I started attending another church; a very opposite one of the one that I was still residing in. I began to see things from another angle, and another denomination. This strange phenomenon would continue to break this separatist shell that I was in for so long and bring about a new enlightenment that I never imagined…the time would end a year later for this different church and I would move on thanking them for the healing that they brought.
Some years later I would be engaging in bible college with some professors who thought a little outside the box. There tendency to not fit into the modernity shell would draw me in. It was here that I found it was time to finally break free entirely from my former legalistic mindset. This new development would lead me to go and venture on a new path leading me to a new ecclesia (church ).
It was here that I found a place finally where what I was reading and discussing with others became a reality. This was exciting and the hope and joy of living a missional lifestyle began to flesh itself out. Church had now become a place for sinners, instead of a place only for the saved. The way we dressed was not our Sunday’s best, because God did not live in temples made by human hands, but inside us, which followed with you every day. The separatist lifestyle would be exchanged for one that made friends with sinners. We would journey to accept and love those who at least for me previously I would not associate with. The chains were released and I started to realize and see what Jesus was really charging us to be, that is lights of the world. Not enclosed by buildings, but raised high as Jerusalem, for all to see.
The time I spent at this church I will never forget and am grateful for, and lest I forget to state, my first church was also a foundation that I am blessed to have had. A few years into this engagement with this missional church, something was starting to stir in my heart. Somewhere along these lines I would re-engage with an old friend , who had a very similar childhood to mine, and it would be here that a path would begin. This missional concept was missing something…there was pieces missing that I started to uncover. Through much, and I mean more than I ever had done before, reading; I started to see the cracks that my friend had graciously helped me see. Cracks became holes and my time though I would not accept it was coming to an end. Somewhere along this road I would realize that I had lost my way and it was time to leave. I would resign in my position and walk into the wilderness.
Once again I would find myself so distraught, so uncertain of all that I knew and believed. This time though God would not wreck me, I would have to wander. For the first time since I was 12, I was not serving in ministry. It was a strange feeling, but God needed to get my attention away from my books and back on him. What seemed like a long time would only be 6 months. 6 months where I would wander, visit other churches and sometimes re-engage with my old ones. This time of wandering would end and I saw two paths ahead of me. One that I now believe is in my future (planting a church), and one that I did not know would be preparing me for it. The path I am on now in the present is uniquely and unequivocally one that has a mold that has fit all my past churches. This church strategically is entering into a new journey with new leadership and a whole path of discovery before it. I am not in the perfect church, but one that is ready and willing to be molded into God’s meeting place.
So here is the end…but what have I discovered ultimately. This is where I will turn next and where I will leave you…”the church has been divided between those who cultivate their own personal holiness but do nothing about working for justice in the world and those who are passionate for justice but regard personal holiness as an unnecessary distraction from that task (NT Wright).”. These two statements are the churches I see today, in their various forms and expressions of course. There are those who are ultimately involved in expressing their Christian life by separatism some more extreme than others…and those who are about justice-some in just accepting sinners and befriending them and others more extreme whether it be environmentalism or socialism. This is what I call the great divide; one is focused on inner holiness and the other on outward actions. Both important and if tactfully coalesced something beautiful will be seen.
Here is where I reside for the time. Church or the gathering place still has its vitality. It’s still an important place to be taught, to grow , and to worship. The common Sunday service is not the sole focus though of discipleship and growth. This sort of growth has to be done elsewhere, not through traditional informational or enclosed small groups, but through Socratic discussion groups and through one on one apprenticeship. It is in these places that growth in the Chrsitian walk can happen.
Sunday services are not solely seeker sensitive either though. They are not watered down messages about God and neither are they missional motivational speeches, to which neither have any true cost to them. As if you can just befriend sinners and hope they come to know God some day, lest we be bold to live out and tell them about the gospel. Or on the other hand, sermons are not to be wishy washy about sin, hell, and judgement. But Sunday gatherings are a place for teaching and growing where the centerpiece is not on the pastor but is on the idea of the Eucharist. That is centered on Christ, not on mediocre Christian, pastor, or the unsaved. All are welcome at this gathering.
The church has to be present in the world too. Through promoting justice, caring for the poor, befriending sinners and partnering with Organizations that do the same. They should be a present voice in the world, leading the way in Love allowing the grace of Jesus to change hearts. This justice however can not be the sole focus. For obedience is better than sacrifice. Many of these examples that exist today have inner cost involved to them. For following Jesus means denying yourself. Resisting worldly lusts, passions and pursuits, and living a monastic lifestyle not isolated but outward. And this outward expression will be one that is of love not due to promoting justice in the world, but due to the heart that Jesus continues to change through sanctification. Bringing you ultimately to a life of holiness not expressed through rules but through virtues and character, where one chooses right not because he has to, but because he wants to.
It is here that I hope to see the church move. Focused on justice, bold about the gospel, and a character filled with love and holiness. A church that is real; real about issues in the world, real with each other with sin, and real that God uses his image (us) to renew and restore the world. As Jesus showed; in his incarnation, his crucifixion, his resurrection, and his kingdom revealed.
This is where my life is heading and how I want to see church. This adaptation for all of us will take time and ultimately will be a life long journey as it continues to morph into the church and the individuals God wants us to be.