Did you ever try, during your elementary school recess days, to board a rapidly spinning merry-go-round? Or jump off one that was spinning quickly? Remember that reality blurring, mind bending dizziness? If so, then you can identify with the struggle I have in articulating what I believe to be a true and faithful engagement with the church today.
Indulge me in the metaphor of my varying opinions being like the different stalls on one merry-go-round spinning rapidly on the playground...
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The swirling beast of my ecclesiological opinion creaks and thumps and rushes round and round. I jump on, and in this first stall I articulate agitated discontent. I am bored, fed-up, and tired of church. Or, better, church as it is currently expressed today. We have erected countless barriers to finding Jesus. Upon every one of them we’ve placed a mirror in which we see true Christianity. Easier to deify ourselves than to admit we have smothered the real Jesus under mounds of clutter. Like compulsive hoarders, we can’t seem to rid our churches of unnecessary and unhealthy artifacts. Let’s box up all our antiquated liturgical, institutional, and doctrinal relics and hold a rummage sale. The church is dying in North America and the not-yet-Jesus-followers are growing less interested. Let’s all just start over! I am ready for a new, fresh, relevant church to emerge in our day!
But... Am I confident that I will toss out useless, old junk? Or will it be priceless heirlooms containing within themselves essential pieces of our identity? I dismount. Once my legs are steadied I eagerly lunge and land elsewhere on this carousel.
Here is discover compassion, understanding, and respect. All about me are men and women who have taught, loved, and formed me in the faith I hold dear. This clutter is not the result of attempts to ignore Jesus or choices to ghetto off from the world. They are the product of hearts hungry to know God and obey Him without wavering. How can I beat up on my grandmother for wanting to do the will of God? Do I want someone else sarcastically critiquing MY vigilant efforts at faithfulness? As the current system is the result of culturally bound expressions of Christianity, am I not only seeking to redefine it bound by the same, but more (post)modern, rules? Maybe these emergents with their trendy, dark-rimmed glasses, lofty conversations about epistemology and heretical orthodoxy, stylish church names like Ikon and Mosaic are just one more movement fashioning Jesus in their own image. I should just stay here and respect what has been handed down to me.
But... are hard work and good intentions a free-pass from discipleship? Is the Gospel not meant to be enfleshed for our culture? So, I jump down, dust myself off, and jump back on.
Here I turn into the beleaguered prophet. No, we can’t toss it all in the trash and start over. Nor can we complacently watch as junk continues to accumulate. We must stay put while speaking boldly for God’s reform. As the Reformers’ cried, ecclesia reformata, semper reformada! (The church reformed, always reforming.) We must be fearless and relentless! Just because we respect our foremothers and forefathers, we mustn’t let them have the final say about church. We MUST shake off every hindrance to the kingdom coming among us. And this is best done from within. The church won’t change if we jump ship and start gathering with people that think just like us. We must stand up where we are and speak boldly against whatever exists to thwart God’s purposes, no matter the personal cost. This is an urgent matter. I am ready to usher in the church of God’s intent. The arrogance of casting myself as Elijah is intoxicating. I let loose of the bars throwing my hands up into the air with victorious delight.
Bad idea! Gravity hurls me down to the dirt once more. Let's see if I can find surer footing.
As the galloper rotates, my nauseous self mistimes the jump and lands on a bar. Ah, the pain and repose of relativity. What’s the point of the struggle? Do I know the answers? Do I even know the questions? Why is my dream the one to follow? We are all interpreters bound by our own conscious and subconscious biases. We can’t discover church unadulterated by our own fingerprints. Many are postulating the form of faithful Christianity for our day. Maybe their effort, not their answers, is faithfulness. If so, then why bother with these questions? Has any act of reform not ended in becoming another version of the oppressive beast from which it fled? Why am I trying to stop the spinning? Why not just enjoy the ride for what it is? Do I think I can remove the bars and discover one immovable platform of faith? How facile! My attempts are just the residue of modernity’s post-Enlightenment hermeneutic.
No, no.... Get me off this thing! I gain my vision again. I time my eyes with the rhythm of the beast, allowing its movements to slow in my mind. I mount up again.
I embrace contemplation and discernment. Why am I working by my own wisdom and power? The Spirit of God is at work among us and is speaking. Let us call our sisters and brothers together to pray and to listen. Let us sit silently before God and submissively before each other to hear the gentle whisper of God for His church. Lets practice the prayerful waiting of Acts so that we can be filled with God to do God’s work.
I realize in this how many differing forms there are within my own denomination (not to mention the other 33,819). What is one more version of Christianity going to accomplish? The last thing the world needs to see is a further divided church. They need to see a reconciling of our insanely small differences to unite in redemptive causes. The real issue is not "church" it is mission. It is time to let justice roll on like a never ending stream! We have more than enough refugees, homelessness, hunger, depression, disease, poverty, etc. to get wrapped up in redecorating projects. It is time to stop worrying about how we do church and start banding together to deal with injustice. The church, after all, is mission. If we embrace it, these problems aren’t solved, they are just ignored for something more meaningful. I am ready to get moving, to head out into the world. So I step off the twisting platform assuming I have solid footing on which to begin a pursuit of justice.
Face down in the dirt I’m humbled to admit that this is one rotating blur of mental and spiritual confusion. The only sure thing is that I am not sure. Except about this: something is not right. Though I know not the destination or path, we need to be somewhere other than here.
But then again, that may put me right back on where I started....