I have really got to stop at this post. I cannot possibly continue to suggest that I have continued on a straight line since 20 years ago… though I can see how I have got to where I have arrived from the trajectory of 20+ years ago. But stop I must!
I am the product of my journey, and life in the New Church scene from the 70s has gladly spoilt me. I have a huge respect for those who work and live within the historic mainline denominations. Present week by week gladly offering a service whereby people can connect with God and re-centre themselves. This though has not been what was sowed into me. ‘You can’t go to church’ was a strapline; we can ‘meet as church’ but either we are church or not, meeting together won’t make us church.
Sociologists suggest there are two distinct forms that can bring definition to a healthy group of people. They can be defined as a community or as a movement. A community has a togetherness with an understanding that they are there for one another; a movement is more driven with a passion to see the wider community transformed. The two are not mutually exclusive but the definitions work for me.
Under the community rubric I will be a better version of me through the encouragement and provocation of the others, and of course biblically there are more than enough ‘one anothers’ to give this significant weight. The movement approach is where people are bounded together with a common vision (be that civil rights movement, feminism, or something like Dayesh) and are convinced that the wider community that does not buy in to their world view has to change. This could be outworked along a love trajectory or a violent one. They are not mutually exclusive, but I guess we probably gravitate more to one than the other. My history was much more in the former camp, seeing the church as an alternative society and at times an alternative to society. Get that rightly restored and the world would be convinced. I have shifted from that some.
I consider that the expression of the body of Christ is:
I no longer look for the perfect form of church. I am too much in the camp of ‘movement’ to look for that. The church then I see in whatever form as provisional. Today it might manifest in one way, but tomorrow in another way. There is no need to criticise it (unless of course it is clearly destroying people). The church is contextual – how it appears in one setting might not be the same in another setting. If the Incarnation was shaped by the society where Jesus was born and lived, so surely the body of Christ. And I also suggest that there is a health when the church is diverse. Not one size fits all, and one expression can seldom be what is needed at every stage of faith.
I am some 20 years older than I was 20 years ago (!!) but things have moved on enormously over the past 20 years. I am a strong believer that the prayer movement(s) have shifted so much and opened up ground that was not there 20 years ago. Ground in society and also ground in our thinking so that the old boxes cannot restrict in the same way as before.
I studied theology in the 70s. Today’s theologians are so much further on than the ones I read. Back in the day the evangelical theologians had come through a rough period with the dominance in academia of first liberal then the great diversity such as the modern and existential theologians. Yes we still have the Jesus seminar with its bias toward the Gnostic gospels, but those who take the authority of Scripture seriously do not have to be so defensive now. Defensiveness does not sit well with creativity. I am thankful for those who defended tradition but we have moved on. The battles over the ‘inerrancy’ of Scripture is not (in my opinion) central to our faith – as well as being indefensible, but that is another tangent! Just as theology has shifted to a level of creativity and re-shaping so I believe we have moved as a body. New possibilities are here. We do not have to be defensive, nor fearful. We need to know the ground we stand on, and in that the uniqueness of Jesus, the centrality of the cross and the authority of Scripture remain at the centre. But from the place of security we can stretch out, and indeed from the place of security we have to be stretched out. Far from compromising the new landscape means we face at an ever deeper level what it means to follow Jesus.
I have moved away from some of where I was centred back in the day. I am now convinced that there is a consistent push from heaven to be in the world. However inadequate the terminology of ‘gates’ might be they are pulling and calling. To facilitate this what we term ‘church’ is changing. It is no longer possible to place the adjective ‘local’ before it to legitimise it, and by default de-legitimise all other forms. Neither do we need to defend where we find ourselves situated. Provisionality is the name of the game.
I have changed for sure. Our ‘church’ is hugely more divergent than it was 20 years ago. It is not primarily expressed locally, certainly not in the sense of the immediate area where we live. Our community too has shifted. Not simply believers. And then the challenging part… sometimes a closer identification to those who are not believers than to those that we have some core aspects in common (a belief in Jesus). These things we still have to process further. We have come to see that how people respond to fellow-humans is very key. This is not to decentre ‘God’ and place humanity at the centre but it is in realisation that God centres humanity and centred himself in Jesus the true human.
I have more tensions today than 20 years ago. I think though I am more at peace. And I think, more or less, that Scotty still believes all this stuff! It certainly will take us in a few days on a wild journey to the north of Spain, digging into eras some 1500+ years ago. I believe all that stuff… And we travel with Spanish believers and someone from France. We have just been indulged with contact both locally and with visitors in our home who are believers (‘our church?’). We will have further visitors next week who have been vital to us in our journey. Maybe we need that level of indulgence, but if true to what we believe we have to also guard space to be pulled where our beliefs take us. My beliefs of 20 years with the journey of the past decades gets me to where I am today.