Monday, August 06, 2007

The Church and Place

As can probably be seen from the last two posts, I think that the concept of place, or rootedness in a long-lasting local community, has not been sufficiently taken into account with our major abstract and abstracting institutions. Like higher education, the church too has made its identity (not to mention its money) on the belief that every place is the same and so none of them matter.

This has recently become especially poignant to me as my local assembly is losing its pastor of some seven years. His leaving, while completely justified, obviously will be somewhat of a shock to recover from. He has done a good job and is beloved by many. He will be greatly missed, but like all the pastors before him, will eventually be replaced by another. The difficulty is that, in many of the churches I have been a part of, the focus is not on the place where God has called us to live and work, but rather on "the preaching". I, and others in the congregation, am expecting a fairly significant drop-off in attendance numbers to happen following his departure. Many folks go to church to be "fed", but not to feed or learn to feed others outside of the faith. They may even travel far distances, even though many churches in their area could use their gifts and talents to bring healing to their places.

I have named it "The Cult of the Pastor". Part of growing up, whether physically or 'spiritually', is going past the point where you need a teacher. This does not mean that there is no learning going on, but the formal structures of education are meant for children. Part of educational history is that the time of "adolescence" was invented in recent history to prolong young adults from entering into full membership of their communities and society at large. Self-education is a dying art, even among people long out of school. This is especially true, it seems, in Christian circles. How many times has it been said, "My pastor says/believes/teaches thus and so..."? Very little critical thought is expended by many Christians, especially in how to apply God's Word to their everyday lives and their places. We attach ourselves to a teacher, who is supposed to do the learning for us and pour it into our empty heads. Just as that is the road to political tyranny, so religious tyranny cannot be far behind. Unwitting tyrants, often seeing that their "people need them," are worse than usurpers who aren't liked by the people they bully and oppress. Pastors leave or retire, places stay around.

This is not to denigrate the office of eldership or the pastorate. With the level of immaturity that the church suffers, these offices are necessary, but they need--more than ever--to be committed to what they are ordained for. These offices are to prepare the saints, that is the common Christian, for "the work of the ministry" (Ephesians 4). And our work is intimately connected to where we are.

In our attempt to escape earth, whether through the Rapture or the transmigration of the soul (otherwise known as "going to heaven when you die"), we have forgotten that God calls us to bring healing to his good-created world. Instead, ministry--pastoral and laity--has become almost exclusively about "salvation" (escape), with possible a little charity tacked on because it seems like the right thing to do. This has led to an empty evangelism, devoid of real, earthly help and real, earthy discipleship. Polishing the brass on a sinking ship has always been and always will be a stupid idea.

What, though, if we reclaimed a robust doctrine of creation and of covenant? One that postulates that God enjoys the world he has created and wishes to see it made whole again under the vice-gerency of humankind? Or that God called Abraham and his seed to set the world to rights? Since we can only act in a small-enough scale to actually effect healing instead of causing more problems (the deficiency of the industrial economy), we must act to set the world to rights in our own cities, neighborhoods, and communities. That the healing must start between the people of God is almost a no-brainer, but the pettiness and selfishness that infects the body of Christ (what a horrific thought) shows that we have a long way to go before we can pontificate on how the outside world should solve its problems.

More later...


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ashleyadamsewer said...

“Rootedness in a long-lasting local community” is an important political concept. But throughout scripture God calls his people to forsake what is comfortable and familiar to “Go” – to Africa, Nineveh, Egypt – to Boaz’s threshing floor, to the king’s palace, to the Promised Land.

Willingness to leave one’s home to follow God is a hallmark of Patriarchs, Prophets, Evangelists, and Disciples. The Son of Man did not stay in Nazareth – he had no place to lay his head. Paul is the very definition of an itinerant preacher. Priscilla and Aquilla did not establish P&A Tentmakers of Rome, world without end, Amen.

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name's sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life. Matt. 19:26

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Your place doesn't need to be your hometown. Your place can be the place God puts you -- Africa, Boaz's threshing floor, somewhere where father, mother, sister and brother aren't. When we determine the place God wants us to be, whether in the short or long term, we need to be devoted to its people as ministers of the gospel.

-Adrian, a transplanted New Englander, who is happy in his new place.

scaredcrow said...

A comment about the comments left for this posting. They do not get it.
Do you not get frustrated with Christians that want to "go" when they have not gone to their neighbor nor are they able to demonstrate the richness of redemption in their own lives? I look forward to your next posting.

sdesocio said...

You said "These offices[Elders] are to prepare the saints, that is the common Christian, for 'the work of the ministry'"

I agree with you entirely. But this concept is one that has been lost to much of the church. President O'Neill in class recounts how men within the last 10 years have argued that on an ordained pastor does the work of an evangelist.

On the topic of place and why people chose to drive past one church to go to another. Protestants for the most part have never embraced a parish model. Some times there are good reasons for driving, or walking past one church to go to another.