During recent mentoring sessions – café or bar discussions – I’ve participated in the most common theme of conversation, that of people stopping going to ‘church’. Why is that? It is because the world created for ‘worship’ and ‘liturgy’ is akin to entering a false reality, a stale environment of recycled ruach, with the heart set on serving the organisation and not God, in which there is a palpable denial of a credible alternative to a fallen and broken world. This is a world of shattered glass on the pavements, vomit in the car parks of pubs, blood on the sidewalk of life. Is the Secularised society working for you?
These people have not lost a desire, a passion to follow God. It is that they feel obstructed from doing so by the clutter of institutionalised spirituality. The space has shrunk, the God of all Creation is now the God locked up in an old people’s home for the spiritually retired. They wish to be a part of the cultural mainstream, but their ‘church’ has retreated into a sub-culture of a self-referential, maintenance programme. Change is marked by re-covering old chairs in the corner of the room, by dusting-off candelabras, from where light once was emitted. The service of remembrance centres on long lost church members, faithful people, ‘no longer with us’.
If your ‘calling and vocation’ is beyond institutional walls then you may struggle to see a context for your business or your artistic gifts. Singing the same trite songs every week with no hint of syncopation or back-beat, or listening to preachers spout on personal morality, personal conscience, a personal walk with God, or personal discipleship just doesn’t cut it anymore. When the main reference point of hymns is ‘me, myself, I’, then which god are we actually praising?
This reality of a growing disquiet needs to be addressed. However, the institution doesn’t do so, other than evangelising others in the hope they’ll take the place of the ‘backslidden’ and ‘faithless’ artist, or by gathering the disaffected from other churches and then calling it revival. The problem with this is that the artist hasn’t lost their faith, they have lost the communal context for it.
How can we revisit this without the encumbrance of institutionalised spirituality? I was reading somewhere about Anarchism being torn between two poles – Communist Anarchism and Individualistic Anarchism. What this reveals is that whether Anarchists like it or not, their point of reference is still within the status quo, within established meta-narratives. What hasn’t happened is the development of a radical Anarchism beyond the establishment.
It is the same for ‘us’. If our only context is tilting the pitch to the left or right by a few degrees to qualify for a Social Gospel, or Spiritual Gospel of Absolute Truth, then we are restricting any cultural change to the sub-culture, as we discern who is in or out of a ‘true’ biblical faith. We do so love to form exclusive clubs, don’t we?
Early Church community was not a form of proto-Communism, but a compassionate response to the needs of society, based on the life and teachings of Jesus. Communism is merely a different Administration, an alternative method of controlling the flow of money than we see with Capitalism. The Followers of the Way were not Communists, but understood Jesus’ compassionate heart, as well as his loathing of the ‘religious control’ over people’s spirituality.
I heard a sermon a while ago and the preacher said that you can’t love Jesus and dislike the Church. I disagree! The Church he contended was the Body of Christ. You can’t hate the body and love the person. Does that seem like a well-reasoned argument? Yes? Well you’d be wrong! It misses the fundamental point that the Institution isn’t the Body of Christ, but that the community is! What people are referring to is a loss of context within a petrified fossil of spiritual evidence. No pulse, no community! Stone cannot replace flesh when it comes to communal living. So what was this early form of church like?
Early church community (ekklesia) was not a form of sub-culture, but of sub-version. In the Greek cities, a bell would ring calling out members of the ekklesia (city council) to come together and consult over things like security, family, the economy, the arts, worship, education and trade. Its focus was the well-being of all citizens. What Paul was calling these believers to, was a replacement council for the whole of life.
Now let’s look at the model of ekklesia that we have today. It is focused on the well-being of the city councillors; discerning good doctrine, teaching personal morality, personal conscience, a personal walk with God, who is in and who is out.
Let’s change the model! Let’s get rid of self-referential and insular homegroups and establish communities (departments) within the ekklesia which discuss and mentor policemen, parents and children, accountants, artists, social workers, teachers, businessmen and women. (This is just a flavour of different callings and vocations.) This is about life together, not inwardly focused, but with a passion for the well-being of all citizens. Not on self-referential personal walks with God, but on the real world; life with cuts and bruises, ups and downs, successes, failures, joys and sorrows. The Kingdom of God is about the whole of life, not just the bits which happen inside the stone walls of the institution, or the things which we are comfortable with.
Ezekiel speaks of turning hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. (c11v19) It is turning institutionalised spirituality into the spirituality of compassion, of a fleshed-out Cultural Mandate, an exploration of an expansive worldview, helping everyone to understand their calling and vocation in this world and not about plotting the great escape from it, whilst hiding away from worldly contamination.
This is a new context which engages with who people are – a new context which understands each person’s gifts and station in life and supports them towards a persevering and fruitful vocation, of life…together.