Thursday, February 19, 2009

Who We Be

I understand that such a title makes some of you cringe in your seat, but if it's good enough for Rev. Joseph Lowery, then it's good enough for me.

The nature of the church, or doctrine of the church, or ecclesiology, has been on my mind a lot lately. What is the church? Who we be?

First a distinction must be made between the nature of the church and mission of the church. Much of the problems in modern ecclesiology are the results of confusing the mission for the nature. As part of a recent assignment, I looked at the ecclesiology of the United Methodist Church as one who was unfamiliar with the tradition. My method was to search the denomination's website for definitions of the church. I came to find the mission of the church, to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, had been put in place of its nature. With outside eyes and according to the website, this denomination exists solely for the production of disciples. While researching, I couldn't get the image from Pink Floyd's The Wall out of my head: during the song Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2, dozens of individual students lined up on a conveyor belt moving forward, dumping those students into a meat grinder and spitting them out the other side as conformed, faceless copies of one another.

Now, I don't disagree with this mission of the church; I believe there is much much more the church is supposed to do. The issue at hand is that what we DO should be different than WHO WE BE.

The church is an incarnational, communal icon of the Triune God of Love. This seemingly simple statement deserves some unpacking.

The church is incarnational. We are the Body of Christ; living, breathing instruments through which Christ continues to proclaim, reveal and establish the radically different kind of love in the Kingdom of Heaven. The nature of incarnation, in that Christ, God, the Logos, the Word, Order, Essence of God became human, makes words like "unchurched" dangerously inadequate. There is simply no such thing. Through the Word, and through the incarnation, all things live and move and have their being in God. Dividing the world into churched and unchurched denies the power of creation through the Logos and the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. Thus, we need to rethink the attitude that the church is a closed community. The church is not a building, a steeple, nor is it limited to just the people underneath that steeple.

The church is communal. The church is a community, a fellowship. But a radically different one than the kind of members-only, velvet-rope society that defines most local congregations today (or even different groups within congregations like Sunday School classes and never-changing small groups). The greatest evidence of the community of church is in two meals: the potluck and the Eucharist. At a potluck dinner, participants in the community literally share the goods, services, gifts and, not to be crass, pieces of one another in their own bodies. Some churches, like mine, are lucky enough to actually share the meat and produce from their own farms. This unbelievable sharing and connection between people is at the heart of the community of the church.

The Eucharist is, of course, the sharing in the Body of Christ. Christ's nature, mission, life, love, self are ours, given freely by God and celebrated at the Lord's Supper.

Finally, the nature of the church must point to the nature of God. Who we be is who God are. And, I will challenge anyone who attempts to claim that God is a disciple factory and nothing more. God is perfect, complete and utter community. God is empowering love. God is such love and community that three are one, and the nature of the church must reflect and serve as evidence for the Triune nature of the Love of God.

The question that must drive all of our activity as the people of God, the community of faith, the Body of Christ, the Church, must be "how are we acting as an icon of the Trinity?" How does this choir rehearsal, this youth lock-in, this finance committee meeting embody the nature of the church as the kingdom of heaven realized on this earth? How are we proclaiming, witnessing and living the nature of God?

Joseph Lowery: "Don't expect love and sanity to go hand-in-hand. Love's gotta be a little crazy; God's gotta be a little crazy."



  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I think we are good at asking "how" in our activities, just not the right kind of "how." We worry about how an activity will increase exposure or membership so we can send a report to our superiors and colleagues with an increase. Our focus is not often enough on where God wants us to be, but where we want God to be for us.

    There is so much to be recognized within our denomination that can be done to truly be God's love in the world. It's just too bad we can't figure out the right marketing scheme to convince people, since that seems to be the only way many will believe anymore. ;)

  3. It's sad to think how watered down the term 'disciple' has become in the church today. As you rightly reflect, what was once a description of twelve lower class Judeans traveling the land with nothing they couldn't care and preaching the Kingdom is at hand has become a mass-market catch phrase for the "churched". We want to set up shop, define ourselves, and settle down, but as soon as we do so God is already calling us to move on. Similarly the Kingdom is always moving, transforming, and emerging within creation. So maybe discipleship, our mission, and our iconic nature aren't that far from each other after all.

    I love your reflection. We really can never let ourselves get to comfortable lest we become complacent.

  4. I've been thinking about this a lot lately too... My church is big into Mission Statements and Vision Statements. We're constantly setting goals and asking what will be accomplished. I think this is a trend in the church in general... to be "goal driven." It's not that I think that is inherently bad. We need to have goals, to have vision, to go forward with a mission.

    But like you, I feel like all this focus on "doing" leaves out being. To be present with one another as an incarnation of the body of Christ. That is more powerful and authentic than any mission statement.