Progressive Churches of Christ: Resolving the Tension, Part 4.3

progressiveI want to dig a little deeper into the bigger, better gospel story that Mark Love presented in his blog. Fortunately, Mark has already done that for me, and all I have to do is cut and paste from his insights.

The first step is to recognize the extreme individuality of American evangelical Christianity — with the Churches of Christ being no exception.

When we move into a new town, we church “shop” to find the best fit for us. We ask whether we are being “fed” by the preaching. We look for great teen and children’s programs. What we rarely look for is a church that will challenge us to give up our entire worldview and live in a new way — although that sounds suspiciously like what Jesus did.

We see the goal of Christianity as being the eternal happiness of the individual. I make the choices that allow me to go to heaven rather than hell. I want a church that helps me make those choices so that, in the end, I am saved. It’s all about me.

And if I get prayers answered, a great family life, good advice on marriage and parenting, sound financial planning, and get to live the American dream thanks to the wisdom of the preacher and elders, so much the better. Again, I go shopping for what is best for me. The church becomes Jesus-Mart, and the leadership that accepts this paradigm will be all about pleasing the customer member. It’s very American. Very consumerist. Very capitalistic.

In a church that bows to this paradigm, worship becomes the “lobby” of the “store” that draws in “customers” to pick this congregation rather than some other. The churches compete for members within a very finite pool of customers. Billboards, advertising on TV, marketing, and all the other methodologies of the American retail marketplace fit nicely into the toolkit of such a church.

But if we see the gospel as the announcement of the nearness of the Kingdom of God, then many of these things change. As George Hunsberger has put it, the church exists not as a vendor of religious goods and services, but as a sign and foretaste of the Kingdom of God.

So, what would this kind of church look like? In other words, it exists fundamentally to “picture” what the realities of the eschaton [afterlife] will be. And while this has certain intrinsic benefits for individual well-being, the Kingdom of God is fundamentally a new social, or even ecological, set of affairs under God’s rule or reign.

As Mary sang, “he has exalted the lowly and sent the rich away empty.” As Jesus says, “who are my brother and mother and sisters? Those who hear the word of God and do it.” As his enemies said of Jesus, “he eats with tax collectors and sinners.” As Paul said, “there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female.” Or in another place, “all creation will be set free from its bondage to decay and experience the glorious liberty of the children of God.” Or in another place, “welcome one another, as Christ has welcomed you for the glory of God.” Or as John saw it, a slain lamb conquers every imperial power, a victory that brings with it a new heaven and a new earth. The church lives to point to these coming realities.

What would this look like? Well, it’s hard to say because it’s so foreign to how we do church today.

It will not be an aggregate of individuals who drive past other churches to find the church of their preference. Rather, the church will consist of people belonging to specific neighborhoods, overcoming the powers of sin and death and working for human flourishing among their neighbors. The church will not be built around the interior life of the individual, but around the work of the Holy Spirit in creating new social realities among people in actual neighborhoods. I’ve long said that these new Christian communities will not be asking as their primary question, “how can we get people to belong to us?” Rather, their orienting question will be, “how in Jesus’ name do we belong to these people?”

There are groups living this way. I think of the new monastic movements, or the important networks forming around The Parish Collective. These are important harbingers, I think, of congregations that are living in a story larger than justification by faith. Living with and among people is not “outreach,” but a way of life. The raison d’être for these communities is not the Sunday assembly, but the loving of God and neighbor every day.

These groups are going all in, now. They are living in ways that subvert contemporary congregational life and offer a clear alternative. Most of us, however, won’t choose the radical option. Nor, do I think, should we. I think that incremental steps can be taken that allow our existing congregations to lean into a different future. And I think that congregations can learn to give their lives away over time to experiments like these, and find that this doesn’t threaten the church’s life, but makes it more vibrant. Steps in a different direction. I’ve got a million of these.

I honestly have no idea how to do this. I’m going to suggest a few things that might help point us in this direction, but I won’t be able to picture the final outcome. Not yet.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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11 Responses to Progressive Churches of Christ: Resolving the Tension, Part 4.3

  1. Alan says:

    Jesus taught us to pray that God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. That seems to be the purpose of the church. It’s not all about foreshadowing what heaven will be like. It’s about being the Kingdom of God on earth.

  2. Jay Guin says:

    Alan,

    I’m not sure that I see a difference.

  3. Price says:

    it seems to me that the Kingdom is much more than inside a church building. I hear people saying that the Kingdom is the church.. My contention is that the sovereignty of God is everywhere He is… that is to say that there is far more Kingdom outside of the building than inside it… We need to step out and go do Kingdom stuff in the Kingdom.. That’s where growth will happen.. whether that person ends up in your pew or someone elses shouldn’t matter.

  4. Price says:

    One more thing… Jesus healed people… That wasn’t tied necessarily to the Law or to moral accountability.. It was a gift.. It was meeting the need of the individual.. It was compassionate.. We talk a lot about evangelism … what about helping people with their taxes… job search help… encouragement to change their physical health…etc…. Is that not being relevant ?

  5. laymond says:

    Jay said; “I’m not sure that I see a difference. ”

    Jesus said it would be much different, Revelation said it would be much different. do you think they were just spoofing us?
    I see the biblical heavenly kingdom much different to the earthly kingdom. I sure hope it is.

  6. JES says:

    Laymond, l’m not following your comparison of the Kingdom. Can you give some examples?

  7. My very first deep look into what Heaven will be and what we will be doing for a veeeerrrry long time without end, is always on my fertile mind. So while we are here on earth I feel we should be about making our earthly time and talents/abilities to be guided by God’s ultimate plea… Love Him, love Others, Love Yourself and treat everyone as if your were doing it as if God requested it only to you. How simple our lives would be if we lived 24/7 and left any other feelings but LOVE out of our daily struggles. Amen…! HSH

  8. Dwight says:

    The Kingdom is the domain of the King…Jesus, hence all the saints who are part of the church or congregation are part of the Kingdom as well as those who have come before and those will come after. The only representation of the Kingdom or congregation on earth is the people of God. And our representaion and time on earth should be a reflection of what we will be like in heaven.

  9. Jay Guin says:

    Laymond,

    Rev 21 – 22 describes the new heavens and new earth. The New Jerusalem descends from heaven and God comes to earth to be with man.

    (Rev 21:3-4 ESV) 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

    The heavens and earth merge and become one. God dwells with man in the redeemed, purified heavens and earth.

    There will be no mourning. Today, there is mourning, but those who mourned are blessed by God because they can look forward to a day without mourning — so they can live in hope today of a more fully realized kingdom in the future.

    (Rev 21:5-7 ESV) And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. 7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.

    God will make all things new. He will redeem, purify, and restore. He doesn’t start again. Rather, he repairs the brokenness and fallenness of this world. But it’s this world, fulfilled. Eden regained, except better.

    But it’s already true that we are God’s sons and have a heritage. It’s already true that God, through his Spirit, dwells among us. And it’s already true that we need not mourn as the pagans mourn for their loved ones.

    Now we see in part. Then we will see face to face.

    (Rev 21:22 ESV) And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.

    There is already no physical temple — because Jesus is the temple, and the church, as his body, is also the temple. But the Spirit fills the temple today. Then, God himself will fill the Creation and be its temple.

    (Rev 22:1-2 ESV) Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

    Well, the nations aren’t yet healed by the gospel, but the process is already underway. China is becoming more Christian by the hour. Latin America is seeing an enormous resurgence of Christianity.

    (Rev 22:3 ESV) 3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.

    And, of course, we worship the Lamb today — just not as perfectly as we will in heaven.

    So, of course, things will change when Jesus returns, but the new age is already beginning. We already have a foretaste of heaven in the church. It may not much seem like it, but if so, that’s our fault. After all, we’re going to spend eternity with the same people we go to church with. If it’s not fun today, why would we imagine it will be fun later? What’s got to change for church to be a preview of heaven? And why don’t we make the necessary changes?

    God didn’t intend to make us miserable now so we could be happy later. He intends that the church be a place of joy and celebration because we can anticipate in the church what the Afterlife will be like. It hasn’t yet happened, but it’s easy to imagine because we’ve already experience some of the inexpressible joy of salvation and communion.

    (Rom 14:17 ESV) 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

  10. Larry Cheek says:

    Revelation certainly can be rendered in many different ways. But, I have never found a reference in scripture to a broken or a fallen earth. The earth and all nature serves God in exactly as God prescribed. Man’s failure to be obedient to God has not effected the earths obedience. Man was placed here to till the soil (his work, duty, obligation) the earth needed tilling prior to man, not one of the other created creatures on earth were empowered to perform that action. A Christian is not to love this earth or anything in it. God created the Heavens and the earth at the same time, he did create the place where Christ came down from, it is a place which all the Jews recognized as having authority over man and earth. Remember as Jesus asked where baptism came from, those Jews understood that if it came from heaven they should have obeyed.

    Men who love this earth, expect it to be the center of the future. But, that new earth spoken of in Revelation will not have the characteristics of this earth. It will be spiritual, something which we cannot imagine.

  11. Jay Guin says:

    Regarding the fallen earth–

    18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
    19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.
    20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope
    21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
    22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.
    23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
    Romans 8:18-23

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