Saturday, May 04, 2013

6 New Paradigms Essential for Convergence Christianity - Part II, the "Church"

In Part I, I suggested “Convergence Christianity” (defined as the merging of progressive Evangelicals and progressive Catholics/Orthodox with missional Mainliners) needs to articulate a new paradigm for the Bible. I called that an “historical approach to the Bible.” I actually think a better name is an “historical-critical-contextual”approach. I’m suggesting we need to unpack the oft-said phrase “we take the Bible seriously, but not literally” and put it in better focus. An historical-critical-contextual approach to the Bible lets go of the inerrancy claim but is more than “letting go of the literal,” for when we talk about history, we are looking for events that are literally true, that aren’t myths. We recognize metaphors and cosmic imagery in biblical teaching (and the limits to what is called the Word of God) but we also look for historical evidence to inform our faith. For the Path of Christ is an historical Path, and when our faith communities, doctrines, beliefs, and practices, contradict sound historical evidence, we have left the Path. I make the case that, with some notable exceptions, Evangelicalism has done just that. Progressive can’t afford to do the same.

Part II is about letting go of the modern notion of “church.” Frank Viola reveals in Pagan Christianity (also see Was Church God’s Idea?) that the original Path of Christ did not have faithful communities that look anything like our modern churches. Church or “ekklesia” in the Greek, were simply gatherings of believers or what they called “followers of the Way.” Today, churches are patterned more after modern corporations than simple gatherings of the faithful. We have a professional class of pastors and missionaries. We have a clergy-laity distinction no matter how much some churches try to deny it. We have church leaders with authority over others. We have a system of “tithing” to meet its financial obligations (mostly for salaries and facilities), even though it wasn’t practiced in the earliest gatherings. We have myriad denominations claiming to have the correct doctrine. Fundamentalists have a gender divide denying women their right to take leadership roles. “Church planting,” with the definition of “church” being a modern, professionals-driven, tithing-dependent, hierarchical institution has become the method for extending the kingdom of God. The trouble is, as much as people are free to establish modern churches (but not free to impose them on others as the only way to have Christian community), none of it was practiced by the earliest faith gatherings.

Convergence Christianity needs a new paradigm for faith communities that is informed by history and unbound by church walls and institutions. One where gatherings of followers of the Path can be truly inclusive. Where doctrines or even Christian conversion, as important as those might be, is not the foundation or the driving force of the community, but rather simply love for God and neighbor. Where the Golden Rule rules and is the only non-negotiable. Where, as a result, gays and lesbians are truly welcome. Where customs are derived from original traditions, like sharing a meal together and remembering Jesus’ sacrificial life (that got lost to an almost empty practice we now call communion). Where there is no need for a professional class—although people are free to develop one; this can’t be legalistic, but it’s optional; and moreover, no need for facilities but where homes, and coffee houses, and pubs, and taverns suffice.

I’ve envisioned gatherings of followers of Christ’s Way of love that are centered on making the world a better place—extending Christ’s call to love the needy and oppressed. Where local gatherings choose a calling to focus on, a social-justice issue, such as fighting sex trafficking, homelessness, global poverty, supporting microfinance programs in developing nations, jobs creation, caring for the depressed and mentally ill, working for prison reform, mentoring youth, or practicing creation care. The possibilities are endless. Some gatherings will stay small and local. Some will link with existing social-justice nonprofits. Others will grow, but rather than building a religious empire, they’ll form their own nonprofit organization to fulfill their mission in a broader more practical way.

How do you see this new paradigm? How will a reformation of our modern “church system” look to you? Where is it happening already? Comments needed and welcome!