In part one of the BFM, I said this:
"God has called his people, the Church, to be leaders is restoring this world (and all its parts) to their original created purpose and glory." Part two, I hope, will help to unpack this statement in a practical way. If you are any sort of a regular reader of this blog, then you will know that my idea of what the Church is and is supposed to be about has changed over the years. I am much more "high" Church than before, yet hold tenaciously to the "democratic" impulse behind Ephesians 4. My individualism has in many respects broadened to be cognizant of community, especially that of the Church. Individualism becomes idolatry if it is not subservient to God's sovereignty, which commands and commends care and love towards the Church, the community of God's people in this world. The difficulty with doing this, though, is that it is too abstract. Oftentimes, loving the saints means inaction and sentiment. If the Church is placed, though, is neighborhooded, then that love can take great form and can overflow into the mission of the Church--the healing of the world, starting with the neighborhoods and cities we are in here and now. With that said, here now are some propositions for the second part of the Beaver Falls Manifesto. As always, these are incomplete thoughts to be refined and expanded in community dialogue and action.
I. If the Church is to lead the way in the God-ordained restoration of Creation here in Beaver Falls, it must become both more unified and more diversified. More unified in that individual churches must recognize their unity in Christ, based on his historical work of redemption. Regardless of what we think about the fineries of theology or the subtleties of practice, what we are and what our mission is is based on the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. More diversified in the sense that our churches must become more neighborhooded as their primary concern. The old parish model, long abandoned in this area (and in Protestantism generally), has much merit to commend it. Churches, as much as possible, should serve the needs of the neighborhoods immediately surrounding them, not the needs of far-off places. As much as possible, our membership rolls should reflect the local demographic and be filled with local addresses. This is not to say that outside members should not be accepted (such would be foolish), but that those from outside the walkable area around the church should be trained and equipped to set up a community church from their area, or given the tools to reform wayward churches that are already there.
II. The Church must expand its concept of its mission to be more in line with that of Romans 8 and similar passages. The Church's job, its God-given mission, is not "saving of souls" in a dualistic sense, that is, of "getting people to heaven." The Church's mission, as always, is to be the agent through which "Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." Jesus has already done the great eschatological act of inaugurating the kingdom through his death, resurrection, and enthronement; our job is to continue, by his Spirit, the work of restoration through the proclamation of the gospel. The gospel comes with power, the power to see things changed, not to try and escape. The goal is not to escape to heaven, but to bring the order, the shalom, of heaven into the earth in anticipation of the Day when both heaven and earth shall be renewed.
III. The Church, as a neighborhooded people, has claims that it may rightly make on its covenanted members. (Here I must be careful, as I do not believe that the unwieldy and bloated bureaucracy of much of the "Church" is a true representation of what the Church really is). The work of the Church, the rebuilding and restoration of its local areas through its neighborhood churches (note the capitalization distinction), is more important than school or athletics or business. In the life of the people of God (what I mean by Church) all of these loyalties find their true expression in Christ--the ultimate loyalty lies in Christ alone. However, in this loyalty to Christ alone, we see Scripturally the place of the Church by his side. This is where the distinction between Church and church becomes vitally important. The Church is the life of the people of God, that collection of all God's saints, the ones who are called by Him to do His will on earth. The church is the local body of believers, whether in a neighborhood, a presbytery, a denomination, or a sect (Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, what have you). The church is the institution; the Church is the people. In that sense, the specific action of the church (corporate worship) must not claim superiority over the total lives of the Church. A fine distinction, but an important one nonetheless.
More to Come...