the end of Christendom?
Michael Krahn has been blogging and posting extensive notes of the sessions he has attended, as well as referencing other bloggers who attended the Congress.
One of the more interesting discussions is on the whole question of a “social” gospel as opposed to regeneration as the heart of the issue. Mike quotes from Jonathan Dodson that “social action doesn’t create [the] new community:”
Although social action mission creates community, it doesn’t create new community. Regenerated, new creation is the unique work of God the Spirit (Tit. 2.11 ; Gal. 6:15 ) through faith in the Son (Tit. 3:6-7 ; 2 Cor. 5:17). If we convert people to community and social mission alone, and not to Christ, we offer a very incomplete gospel. Regeneration is both social (Matt. 19:28) and spiritual (Tit. 3:5). The Spirit, not social mission, makes men new
This is both helpful, and partial…
It is helpful because it is important to know what we mean by regeneration, referencing the work of the Spirit in the heart of a believer. It is partial, because it tends to push us away from the frame of missio Dei – which is the movement toward shalom, a wholeness of God in action in the world, where there is no “spiritual” gospel as opposed to a “social” one. It is abundantly evident in the Old Testament that justice and economic issues are near the heart of the gospel.
However, Jonathan is right that social mission alone does not produce shalom. It may create the conditions that make shalom possible, and it certainly makes shalom visible. But to say that it does not PRODUCE shalom does not mean that it has no value in this world. These last points are really important. The Gospel becomes visible in the new community, through signs of the kingdom, foretastes of the shalom that God will one day bring in fullness. The new community performs and proclaims the word in its shared life in the neighbourhood.
And this life and work for justice has real value — God genuinely loves and cares for this fallen world, and will love and care for the world in spite of its response. If nothing else, Matthew 25 should instruct us that God’s care for the poor has no conditions attached. God in Godself overflows with self-sacrificing love, pours himself out for this world knowing it might reject him. Ultimately we embody the love of God in our communities not because we know that love will transform the world, but because this is the nature of God. Ultimately mission appears as the self-unfolding of contemplation.
* * *
The Thursday morning session at the Congress again featured Stuart Murray and Juliet Kilpin — a lovely interweave of academic analysis and on-the-ground but in-process experience. It leads me to hope that Urban Expressions might publish a book about what they are learning.
Stuart opened yesterday’s plenary by noting the shift in the last ten years. In years past when we went into a neighborhood we assumed that God had not been there until we showed up. Now we assume the opposite — that the Spirit goes before us and has already been at work. So we look for signs of the kingdom and we watch and listen to see and hear what God is doing.
The second shift, growing out of the perspective above, is that we do not focus on building a congregation but on partnering with what God is already up to. As Juliet later pointed out, this translates into saying “yes” to many things we would have considered distractions in the Christendom frame of church planting. We say “yes” to participate in neighbourhood initiatives, “yes” to hospitality, “yes” to lending and borrowing equipment, yes to helping neighbours with projects, and yes to advocacy. We find ways into the warp and woof of neighbourhood life. The feel is more like chaplaincy with missional intent, entering as priests of a parish where the buildings are our homes.
One of the implications, often pointed out by David Fitch, is that planting missional communities will take much longer, and metrics along the way will be completely different. Instead of quantitative, they will be qualitative, found mostly in stories of belonging and care.
As a result, the scope of church planting is both larger and smaller than we previously thought. It is smaller — so much is already happening and our part is only to attend, to notice what God is already doing and join with him. Moreover, the kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is beyond our vision.
It is larger — it moves toward shalom with the wide scope of the meaning of that word — reconciliation, justice, peace, sharing, beauty, healing, and no one left behind.
In this morning’s session Juliet pushed at some of the things that restrain us from embracing a missional vision. Our Christian sub-culture has increasingly assumed that safety is one of God’s gifts to us — this in spite of the nature of the sacrifice that brings us to a common table. We have become risk averse — and more so as we and our structures age. The more we attain, the more we might lose. She used a clip from “The Bucket List.” The patient is on a death-bed — do we simply call it quits or do we try to find the joy again?
Stuart called us to STOP starting with church. Missiology must precede any renewal of ecclesiology, and this is going to call for a freedom to experiment and attention to context. His thoughts here reminded me of Hugh Halter’s take on process in The Tangible Kingdom. Our temptation is to begin with structure — structures are familiar, offer a sense of control, and provide a sense of safety. But instead we must start with people. Forms will follow function and relationships built in the context of kingdom life.
This isn’t easy for people who are used to success via tried and true methods, who are used to being at the center and not on the margins. Yet there is so much GOSPEL here.. leaven in a lump, the mustard seed that is small and annoying and persistent. Much of the push back we hear during an event like this comes from men and women who want a new method handed out in a box.. a quick fix.. or a three step solution that allows things to remain more or less as they are. Sadly, we don’t have this luxury. Instead we are invited into a risky adventure with God — called to lose our lives in order to find them, called to the same vulnerability that characterized Jesus incarnation. We are called to a city we have not seen. Newbigin writes of Roland Allen that,
“[his] charge against modern missions was that they had been tempted by their alliance with colonial powers to act as though the mission of the church could be pursued in the style of a cultural educational campaign, as though the object was to multiply replicas of the sending churches. In contrast Allen rightly saw that in the New Testament portrayal of mission the central reality is the active work of the living Holy Spirit himself. It is the Spirit who brings about conversion, the Spirit who equips those who are called with the gifts needed for all the varied forms of ministry, and the Spirit who guides the church into all the truth. The Spirit is not the property of the sending church or the missionary who is sent. It is not part of the missionary’s duty to mold the new church in to the style of the old. The Spirit is sovereign and free…” Newbigin, The Open Secret, 130