Christ’s earliest followers sensed a fresh wind blowing. They sensed that, as the resurrection-story poured forth, they were experiencing and living in the new-kind-of-Kingdom vision that Jesus often proclaimed.
No, they didn’t fully realize what was going on at the moment.
But that didn’t matter.
The earliest followers of Christ stumbled, bumbled, and tumbled their way into this new-kind-of-Kingdom promise of the Gospel. As they did, they experienced power, proclaimed hope, and dispensed love – gratuitously, I might add.
They began, in short, a journey as a new-kind-of-people within a new-kind-of-community.
It must have been exhilarating.
Can you imagine walking into one of the earliest temples, synagogues, or homes where this new message was the new way?
Picture it: as the faithful enter, they hear one of these newest followers of the Messiah proclaiming a brand new message. As they listen, they realize that the message is also one that is – at the very same time – moored in the ancient promises.
A message they’ve heard before, but never like this.
It’s a message that takes all the stories of your ancient past and reframes them within the new-kind-of-kingdom story.
As the Biblical stories are reframed, you begin to get the feeling that they are also fulfilled.
Could it be? Could it be that the Promise of the Father has finally found its rest – it’s long-awaited – restoration, in the young, crucified, teacher?
Reclaiming A New Kind of Community
The one allegedly raised from the dead?
In some ways, it’s just too much to believe.
But as you believe, you begin to behave.
You get caught up in the on-the-ground experience of the lame walking, the blind seeing, and the deaf hearing. You feel – I mean you feel – deep in your gut where your feeling is most palpable – that this story completes all other stories. As such, you begin to hope that this story is the one in which your own life might be righted, and your hope fulfilled.
Even more than the miracles and all-too-evident presence of God’s power and light, you’re moved by the people you know who are giving up everything to live into this new-kind-of-kingdom, this new way to be human. You know they are potentially sacrificing their reputation, standing in the community, livelihood, even – in some cases – their lives.
It’s as if they can’t help but follow.
They can’t help but believe.
The momentum is powerful, and the yearning ignites within you! So much so that you strike out on a life where everything is about to change.
Yes. That’s something like what happened when the Gospel first went forth.
Reclaiming What’s Lost: The Story that Shapes the World!
There weren’t any ridiculous questions like “do you know where you’ll go if you die tonight?”
One can look high-and-low, not finding any of the first followers who are encouraging their family members and friends to repeat four spiritual laws and put Jesus on the shelf until the Grimm Reaper comes calling.
You cannot find sects named by the flawed men they follow. You know, names like Calvinists, Lutherans, Wesleyans, etc.
You’ll not find any ‘we’re in and you’re out’ camps segmenting and segregating society at the whim of one’s will.
None of that.
None of the nonsense that consumes the church today.
No wonder churches are empty, and our neighbors shun us.
We’ve lost so much.
We’ve fallen so far.
Now, don’t hear what I’m not saying! I love the church. I pastor a small and beautiful congregation of people. A gathering of people who long for this new-way-to-be human reality to take shape in our midst.
As I said in last week’s post: “I believe in and walk with the small church.”
Modern Shifts that Need to Be Re-Shaped
I hope to help the Church imagine and reclaim the lost message of life the Gospel first proclaimed.
I intend to do so throughout the next few weeks. But, before doing so, I want to propose three (at least) slow but steady shifts in modern church life that will help explain why we’ve lost so much and fallen so far.
Shift #1: The Shift from a Communal, Embodied, and Experiential Culture of Worship to an Individualistic, Segmented, and Disengaged Culture of Worship.
The ancient culture is built around the Sacred rhythms and rituals of feasting/fasting that open one to the living and active presence of Christ within and among us. These are Sacred rhythms that help us be attentive and responsive to the abiding presence of Christ. Such “openness, awareness and responsiveness” rhythms are vital to the ministry that corporate worship provides.
Conversely, today’s version of the corporate worship experience is molded by secular forces (primarily connected to seriously flawed anthropology) that shape a come sit-observe-interpret-apply anemic culture of worship.
Shift #2: The Shift from a full-bodied “God-With-Us” Gospel to a Pruned-back, partial “God-Against-Us” gospel.
Somewhere along the line, we fleeced the beauty-filled “new-way-of-living” Gospel into the modern version of a transactional “you’re a sinner in need of redemption” Gospel that’s no Gospel at all! While the gospel is never less than sin and redemption, it’s always more. Implicit and essential to its message is the hope and promise of a new-way-of-living within a new kind-of-community, now!
Shift #3: The Shift from the Priesthood of All Believers to the Professionalization model of Ministry.
We once were a people longing for and leaning into a communal and formative experience of life together! This experience was centered around being aware of and responsive to the indwelling and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit – who is the sole agent of transformation. In most churches today, we’ve settled for a come, sit, listen to the professionals tell us how to behave. As such we leave untouched by the most profound truths of the Gospel. Such an experience is one that inspires few and entices even fewer.
We’ve lost so much.
We’ve fallen so far.
My aim is not to cast blame. Instead, I hope to assess where we are, explore why we are here and strive for a way forward that will take us back to the days when the message and the mission were wrapped around becoming a new-kind-of-person within a new-kind-of- community.
To this, I will turn my attention next week as I explore four realities to which the Gospel so wonderfully invites us!
They are, the reality of:
- A New Message of Hope.
- An Invitation to a New Way to Be Human.
- A Commitment to a New Kind of Community.
- A Life Within a New Kind of Kingdom.
Disrupting to Renew!