Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Church Reformed, Always Emerging

It’s plain spooky sometimes when I catch God messing in my business. Yesterday I caught her trying to tell me what I should write about on this week’s blog.

I’ve been “weeding” the book shelves. I decided to paint behind the entertainment center last week and everything ended up in several giant piles throughout the living room. I decided many things will have to go and went into the “Keep? Throw?” exercise.

And there in the pile of books I’ve had laying around for longer than I want you to know about is The Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell. Stephen Cottingham told me years ago this book was a “must read” so I got a copy but somehow got sidetracked. So I opened it up sitting there in the middle of the living room and found it just chock-full of pithy observations that mirror a curious thought that’s been bumping around in my brain lately. I’m going to take this as a sign that the Master of the Universe approves of what I am thinking and wants you to hear me out.

What if we’re doing Church wrong? What if we’re wasting valuable time on petty things when there are more important things for us to be doing? I find myself weary of the small issues we debate sometimes. We spend countless amounts of words, ink, time and energy debating who we should ordain to be our leaders in the church instead of using the words and energy to help feed the hungry or heal those who hurt. I keep thinking God has much bigger fish to fry and must be frustrated with us. Somewhere on earth today people will meet to discuss decorations for their church for the upcoming holiday to celebrate Jesus when they should be outside where people slept in the rain last night. We talk a lot more than we “do” because the stuff Jesus wants us to “do” is hard and we’d rather change the subject.

We are about to celebrate the Protestant Reformation come November 1st. “All Hallows E’en” was the day before All Saints Day when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the Wittenberg Church doors, beginning the Protestant Reformation. But we’ve fallen into thinking the Reformation was one single event that has passed and is over. But the motto of the Presbyterian Church translated from Latin reads “The Church Reformed, Always Reforming.” Have we forgotten the “Always Reforming” part?

There is a church movement afoot called The Emerging Church. My pastor and parish associate are both very interested in this. I pretended to understand what they were talking about for about a year until I finally had to ask what this was all about. Near as I can figure it, it’s just an extension of the reformation. God is not through with us.

Thomas Jefferson often announced that he thought it would be healthy for our country to have a revolution every generation or so. Just to keep us on our toes, it seemed. Would this be good for the church? Or have we put God in a box and told her to sit there and we would take care of everything else?

Here’s an example of what Rob Bell says that caught my imagination: “…the Christian faith is alive only when it is listening, morphing, innovating, letting go of whatever has gotten in the way of Jesus and embracing whatever will help us to be more and more the people God wants us to be.” On another page he says, “We must keep reforming the way the Christian faith is defined, lived and explained.”

What if God doesn’t care a bit how we run the church? What if God doesn’t even care if we have a church? Now that I think of it, Jesus didn’t utter a word about forming a church in his name after he was gone. He didn’t tell us to wear certain colors for different seasons, didn’t even suggest seasons or Easters and Christmases. Nor any organized efforts on his behalf.

Mostly, he just told us to be nice to each other; to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and heal the sick. He was very vague on details. Nothing about committees or ecclesiastica.

There is a small movement growing to get away from denominations. I’m seeing more and more non-denominational churches. And sometimes they don’t even call themselves a church; it’s labeled a “community” instead. There are even places where people meet in houses now instead of church buildings. And I have to say that sure would cut down on a lot of expenses. I sometimes even wonder if I took the money we gave to the church and just bought food for the homeless would that be a better deal?

I’ve grown to understand that things are really easier than I ever thought. Dangerously easy. Jesus told us all we have to do is love one another. If I follow Matthew 25 and think it might be my job to feed the hungry all I have to do is do it. I even started to suggest that my church set up a table of coffee and doughnuts on the sidewalk outside. Then I realized it wasn’t fear of failure that stopped me. It was fear of success.

And that’s kind of where I am now. Reforming. Emerging. Growing. But still afraid. Maybe that’s why I like someone to sit beside me on that pew.

PS: I woke up early Wednesday morning because I realized I had spelled Wittenberg wrong. Things like that keep me awake at night. I already had an email from Heather Dungey, one of the Young Adult Volunteers I served with in PDA. She writes with her own book suggestions:

"I haven't read Velvet Elvis (but perhaps I should) but if I may add to your already-long list of must-reads: When Helping Hurts: How to alleviate poverty without hurting the poor and ourselves.; by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. And Churches that Make a Difference, by Sider, Olson & Unruh. I think they pose some very good, Biblical and practical answers as to what the church may be doing wrong and what we should be doing differently."

Heather is a perfect example of what I'm talking about. She was hired away from PDA to work at one of the churches I'm talking about. It's Presbyterian but I think not aligned with PC(USA), making it essentially non-denominational. They haven't been bogged down with a lot of rules and regulations or office politics. They just quietly rebuilt houses. I was very impressed with the support their congregation gave to Katrina folks and what they were able to accomplish and all of it done in the Big Dude's name.

1 comment:

Lacey said...

Jane- I've been following your blog on and off since we went on the PDA trip to New Orleans together several years ago. I love the questions you pose in this post and have pondered them often myself. Considering how we met, it doesn't surprise me that we share similar ideas in regards to how we might prefer to actively worship the big man. Thanks for sharing!