crawling

My last post was my first attempt at writing on the Holy Spirit in the emerging/missional church. In going through a folder of old writings I found an earlier text, one which might have been a precursor to what later became a focus. This is from early 2004, when I had been in the mountains for a few months and was still intent on writing pure fiction. I was still being broken up spiritually, not beginning the re-formation until a couple years later. But this nugget suggests there was an ecclesial interest still wanting to find answers. To be honest, I’m not sure what I think about it. In a way my being has been radically transformed, which means I might not say this sort of thing now. However, the end intrigues me. I’m not sure I agree, but it intrigues me and I might sit with that thought again. In my present terminology I might say something like we need to begin to re-emphasize the diversity first, and out of that find the unity. Individuals are the diversity, community is the unity. We demand the former submit to the latter, when in fact it’s a dance. 😀

Here’s my bit from February 2004:

Rather than simply letting the various thoughts in my head stew until they simply immobilize me, it may be useful to write some of this stuff down, as much as catharsis as practical goals.

The hope is that some of my discontent is filtered through and if not figured out at least pointing in a healthy direction.

The discontent it seems is a deep, very deep, disillusionment with all that I am doing here, the vague feeling that it is all going the wrong direction. The thought that what we are all doing here is running down if it continues in the present direction. Now oddly, this is also coupled with hope, hope that the core of who we are contains the key to true progress. Yet, this key is currently buried, buried under various traditions and especially the emphases which these various traditions hold on to. For these traditions were built from and based on the cultures and eras in which they were birthed.

It is my thought that for the church to recover, not simply survive, but to indeed thrive we will have to discover something more something which approaches relevance beyond vague needs. This is not the “home-church” movement that is popular, while seemingly radical, this is simply shrinking down the current model without any real significant changes. It is making structural changes rather than spiritual or positional changes. In short, the Church is stuck in a theological equivalent of Newtonian mathematics, able to address specific narrow issues (as long as the questions are phrased in the right way), but no longer relevant in its ability to address current questions. Now many will argue its relevance, hoping to reshape and restyle in order to convince that it is indeed relevant, but this attempt while successful for a few, is not as a wider attempt very useful. If one has to convince another of relevance than that may be a sign that it is not relevant in any real way.

What then is the solution to this? Of course I don’t know. What we can possibly do is find new approaches which are useful to find the answer to a refreshed ecclesiology. The difficulty of course with ecclesiology as opposed to any other branch of theology is that it has both an immediate application and a relatively immediate check as to its veracity. One can discuss the character of the Trinity without necessarily having it grounded in a way which reveals the strengths and weaknesses. Essentially, then, ecclesiology is a less philosophical and more sociological and historical in its study. What is studied is not as much ideas as much as the gathering together of actual people.

Now the difficulty of this is the tendency to start first with the philosophical and expect those actual people to fit nicely within the theology. If the people do not fit, then it is the person not the theology which is out of line. This, however, does not fall very well in line with our supposed theology of the Holy Spirit. We have separated nicely our theology into such distinct fields that the interaction of the various fields are now not even expected to mesh.

The approach which may be useful in building a new ecclesiology is to re-examine the New Testament documents (as the primary and best sources of our faith), informed by but not dependent on, later events, thinkers and interpretations. For example, what would a celebration of the Lord’s supper look like if loosened from its historical rootedness. Of course then the question is raised whether this is something we should do, whether this is a way in which we can find a road to the future.

The response to this is of course very difficult. The attempt to do this will result in dismissing various very dear and well held positions which are earnestly believed by many faithful people. And it will also not be an objective study, but will rather be itself be swayed by one’s own presuppositions. Yet, this attempt may be useful in that by its more open re-examination a wider understanding of ecclesiology may be developed which does not exclude but encompasses.

The foundational thought to begin with is the realization of the importance of the individual as a member of the community rather than the importance of a community which is raised higher than the individual. The historical church has understood the community as having primacy with individuals subservient to the goals of the institution. Thus, we can understand Christian history as being analogous to that other great Community dominating ideology, namely communism. Just as communism bankrupted because its ideology of being of the people contrasted with the sacrifice of the people for “the greater good” so too has the church bankrupted itself by highlighting the community over those who are part of the community. Those who are not subservient to the “Community” of the church have been historically persecuted and in the present simply dismissed. For the sake of the “Community” the very people who are part of the community are lowered to a subservient role. This is symbolized in the churches celebration of the Eucharist in which the body of which it celebrates is subservient to the symbol.

The response to this is to re-examine the role of the individual in Christian theology, discovering possibly whether the modern emphasis on the individual as the vital piece may indeed be more Christian than the historical emphasis on the community as the vital piece.

The conversion theology of modern times emphasizes the importance of the individual in accepting or declining salvation, but what is shocking is that once the individual is subsumed within the church the subsequent results of this conversion, namely the presence of the Holy Spirit within this person, is no longer understood as vital, but rather the individual must conform to the pattern previously set. The individual, who was so vital prior to conversion, is lost once converted expected to conform within the church community, though told not to conform to the wider community. The thought processes are shut off, the imagination now sanctified is ignored. And thus we find a crisis in the church.

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