Two men look out the same prison bars,
One saw mud, the other stars.”
~ Frederick Langbridge
Many commentators are telling us that the church in the West is about to go into a time of Exile, when we no longer have central stage in the cultural and political arenas. In a way that particularly appeals to those who are fond of bashing “church-as-we-know-it”, they expound this theme with all the doom, gloom and negativity they can muster.
Though I don’t disagree entirely with many of their observations, I think there may actually be a much more positive way to look at the changes that are going on at present…that’s where the idea of a Time of Recovery kicks in.
The way I see it, much of the research also points to real possibilities for the church to change and grow as a result of it’s changed status. These are just my initial thoughts but they may give something to think about, and certainly represent a positive position of hope.
During this time of change, the church has the opportunity for the:
* recovery of ancient practices…these are corporate and personal disciplines which enable as to grow in our relationship with Jesus. They are tried and tested by time and also provide us with a bridge to those of other faiths, each of which has similar practices. The big seven are: fixed-hour prayer, fasting, Sabbath, the sacred meal, pilgrimage, observing sacred time and giving. Brian McLaren’s excellent book “Finding Our Way Again” introduces a series of books about each of these practices. These practices have both a formational and a missional dimension.
* recovery of a place among the people on the margins…as the church loses its statuatory power so it will need to learn again how to live from a position of powerlessness, how to major on a corporate and individual life that that bears witness to the reality of faith in Jesus, rather than trying to demand a hearing. It may be good for our humility and our dependance on God!
* recovery of respect from other spiritual people…much research bears witness to the fact that in a culture where belief in “Something There” is growing, few regard the church as an institution with anything to offer. Many believe that the church has sold its birthright for a seat at the table of the status quo, and consequently has lost its credibility and right to speak on matters spiritual and ethical. Maybe, just maybe, this will change as we once again side with the poor and powerless of the world.
* recovery of mystery…doctrine, dogma and right belief seem to have replaced right behaviour, so a kind of self-righteous hypocrisy seems to characterise the church. Maybe if we have the humility to admit that God defies our attempts to explain, catagorise and control, that we don’t have all the answers, we will once again be able to help those who are seeking to explain their deep seated sense of a Greater Power and the many ‘spiritual’ experiences that we all have, sharing and valuing God’s reaching out to them.
* recovery of unity…once again, there seems to be a new drawing together of many Christians in to a sense of a new commonality of belief and practice. Evangelicals appreciate liturgy and fixed-hour prayer and social-actionists are studying the scriptures…Phyllis Tickle writes in her book “The Great Emergence” about a “gathering centre’ of Christians from all the great traditions, summarised as liturgicals, social justice believers, conservatives and renewalists, increasingly more aware of their commonality than their differences.
* recovery of community…the proliferation of new monastic communities is but one indicator that the superficial relationships of many traditional churches have been found wanting. Many churches are also trying to become something more than Sunday-only communities. In this arena the mega-church will perhaps find it hardest to demonstrate a genuine depth of shared life than the smaller expressions of church, both community and congregation. Acts 2 speaks volumes about the missional power of faith shared in the close relationships of a communal setting.
As I said, this is just the start of my thinking…if anyone reads this and has stuff to contribute, I’d be most grateful.