Rethink Church by Remembering Jesus
I am told that we live in a postmodern era when the simple homogeneity of cultures has all but disappeared into an ocean of diverse and conflicting humanity. Most of us are “not from around here,” so to speak. So, what does postmodern Church look like? The short answer is that it will not likely be a parochial white clapboard sanctuary, or perhaps even a steepled spire in the middle of town.
It will be a circle of relationships.
The postmodern Church may be a post-institutional matrix of relationships bound together through common interests, distance learning, and digital social networks. In the postmodern era we are witnessing the collapse of traditional institutions, like city based symphony orchestras, and even traditional church congregations. But at the same time, new music is springing up, and new models of church are emerging as the old purveyors of social capital give way to new cultural processes. Small town economies went through such a collapse after superhighways were built to carry traffic around them, and superstores replaced local businesses. Now in many places, the new small town is emerging. In the same way the local church as a parochial unit, especially if the parish continues to be understood in terms of geographic and cultural homogeneity, may simply evaporate.
Meanwhile the issues requiring theological community have only grown deeper and more complex, and theological community will emerge like a Phoenix from the ashes (resurrection).
The church does not need to be a clapboard sanctuary, or even a steepled spire, but it does need to be faithful to Jesus. Its mandate is to faithfully follow Jesus in every culture (Matt 28:16-20), and in order for the church to be a faithful reflection of the life of Jesus, it must take a variety of forms in the world. No one expression, form or function, is adequate to express faithfulness to the life of Jesus.
If we remember Jesus as he is presented in the Gospels, then a Niebuhr inspired paradigm (Christ and Culture) suggests at least three different expressions are warranted by the church’s desire to reflect the life of Jesus in the world.
- A form that reflects the Galilean village which Jesus loved (a church within culture).
- A mobile gathering of disciples on the way, i.e., a wilderness church centered in baptism and holy meal (a church outside culture).
- A prophetic church that speaks truth to power and addresses the complexity of the social, religious, and political world (a church that transforms culture) — a Jerusalem church.
Neither the Galilean village, nor the gathering in the wilderness across the Jordan, is the full expression of the church, since the great passion of Jesus was only reflected in Jerusalem. Galilee and wilderness are both penultimate and preparatory for Jesus’ life in the City of God. In the same way, the Jerusalem mission of the church can only emerge from the arduous life-journey that is made in the transitions from Galilee through the wilderness to Jerusalem. It is when the church has been able to embrace all three expressions in a living and dynamic paradigm that the life of Jesus has been faithfully revealed in the world.
The contemporary life of the people of God is at such a juncture where we must rethink what it looks like to remember Jesus, to love as God loves, and to create the transformation of the world as the Reign of God, the City of God.
Christians around the world are entering the season of reflection on the life of Jesus, the times between Christmas and Easter, an annual invitation to the Holy memory of Jesus.