Monday, December 13, 2010

Where to Now?

Continuing our discussion on Michael Spencer's Mere Churchianity with Glynn Young and Nancy Rosback. Melissa at In Silence, Humming Softly has also joined the discussion so be sure to check out her thoughts as well. This week we're on Chapter 18, the final chapter of the book. You can check out Glynn's thoughts here and Nancy's will coming later here.

I'm struggling to come up with a reaction to this final chapter of Mere Churchianity that would also be a standalone post. Maybe I'm being sentimental, now that this discussion is drawing to a close, though I have some follow-up thoughts that will come later. I guess I just don't feel resolved. Sadly, Michael Spencer's life was cut tragically short. In fact, he didn't even live to see his book on the shelves. He was struggling with his health as he was making the final touches on this book with his editor (as described in the epilogue). Maybe he knew his time was short, so he got in what he could. The last chapter does seem like a compilation of "these are the other topics I wanted to cover, but ran out of time" as he listed out a series of questions or objections one might have in response to his book. Personally, after spending chapter after chapter describing (very well, I might add) what is wrong with the Church, I don't see much offered as solutions. And my nature is to want a quick-fix, five-part plan with vision statements and mission goals- the very things Michael pontificated against.

But maybe the story is meant to be left unfinished. Our walks with Christ and our eternal destiny are known only by one, and it not us. We look for answers in this world, hoping that everything will wrap up nicely in a bow. But from our mortal perspective our life, our faith, and our eternal purpose are uncertain. I'm not comfortable with that. And if I take away anything from this book, maybe it should be that I can't control everything (or anything for that matter). I cannot control my church. I cannot control other brothers and sisters in Christ. I cannot control whether someone I am reaching out to accepts or rejects the message of the Gospel. I cannot control whether mainstream Christianity will ever mold into "Jesus-shaped spirituality". I cannot control the reactions of the readers of this blog. I cannot control...

But I can control my relationship with Jesus. I can control my thoughts and attitudes to be Jesus-focused. I can control my prayers and with whom I choose to share in fellowship. In other words, I can control my own spirituality to be Jesus-shaped and strive to surround myself with others who share the same passion.

Hah, I guess I have post for this chapter after all.


I also want to share some excerpts from this chapter that I think are worth reflecting on:

First, it is worth noting that Jesus' condemnations of the Seven Churches in Asia found in Revelation came only a generation after Jesus' death. In other words, it didn't take long for these early churches to become "church-shaped" instead of Jesus-shaped. Michael reminds us of Revelation 3:20, "I stand at the door and knock..." The implication is that for our churches to return to being Jesus-shaped, we need to invite Jesus back in as the focus of our church. Ironically, Michael follows up with the admonition to "pursue Jesus-shaped spirituality [that] won't take you to a building with a sign out front." (pg 210) In other words, "go and do" to seek Jesus-shaped spirituality. However, I think the lesson we can draw from Revelation is instead to "stay and invite" Jesus in to where we are. That may be too passive, and I see Michael's point, but I think Jesus-shaped spirituality is not a matter of going to find Jesus, but of inviting Jesus in. You could argue that the former is divisive and rebellious in the context of organized religion while the latter is individualized and subjective.

Second, Michael's response to the question, "Are you antichurch or antidenominations?" Is worth its own post. And I may go there at some point. But I want to at least quote part of his response. "It doesn't take a scholar to understand what the New Testament says the church is supposed to be doing. If a church isn't supporting and growing disciples, isn't crossing cultures with the gospel, and isn't encouraging and producing Jesus-followers, I believe you're entitled to look for a different form of community that is doing these things... Denominational labels will tell you very little about whether the people in a congregation are all about Jesus or are blissfully disconnected from him... I want every Christian to find a Jesus-shaped community that is doing what the New Testament says a church should do... Christians follow Jesus into the world as disciples on the mission Jesus gave us. The best churches facilitate the mission of Jesus and grow Jesus-followers who pursue that mission." (pgs 212-213, emphasis added)

Finally, Michael closes with a terrific description of Jesus-shaped spirituality accomplishing the above. First, a warning from earlier in the chapter, "You may find yourself far outside the doors of many churches and thrown in with whomever the scapegoats of the hour happen to be. (interesting choice of words since Jesus is literally the ultimate scapegoat) You should expect to be called liberal, emerging, naive, rebellious, and unsaved...Your faith will likely be questioned, and you may experience moments of suffocating doubt and discouragement." (pgs 210-211) So what do we do? "The Jesus-shaped life is found where Jesus would be found... talking to a single mom... going to India... working in an inner city... leading a worship service...taking in foster kids... counseling... pray[ing] with anyone who asks... starting a church... volunteering to teach... Stretching the influence of the gospel outside the comfort zone of the usual. Being a witness to the church of what Jesus would be doing... And finally, when we come home, we will find that Jesus has made us like himself, and yet, amazingly, we will have remained in every way ourselves." (pgs 219-221)

I pray that each of us, through our own unique experiences, may one day stand before our Lord Jesus-shaped, shaped by Jesus.


Anonymous said...

need to process...
hope to post soon.

Michael Perkins said... the only thing I can say...

Glynn said...

There's so much to this book; I wish we could have expected a sequel but perhaps how we live opur lives would be sufficient.

More than sufficient.

Thanks for this post, Fatha Frank.

Anonymous said...

i think that you are right, in that the story is meant to be unfinished. that all stories are yet unfinished.

if the work was not a mystery, there would be no need to live in faith.

and yes, we do want it all nice and neat.
an easy list to refer to as to
what, why, who, and when.

we want to be able to fix things or reject it.

and yes, we want to be able to control things
that we can not control.

uncertainty is fearful and uncomfortable.

this book has taken me through many different feelings, attitudes and thoughts.

many things that i thought about at first, are no longer an issue.

i am thankful for church groups, for those going and not going to churches, for other believers and non believers alike, i am thankful for God's grace and mercy, for giving us faith as it is, for hope in what is to be in Jesus, and especially for His Love.

without God's Love, there would be nothing.

thank you for allowing me to take this journey with you.

Fatha Frank said...

@Michael, I'm insecure! Is your comment a good or bad thing???

@Glynn, much like life, we'd like a sequel for all the dangling plot threads. But we don't have that luxury in this life. I'm looking forward to the sequel though.

@Nance (have I been getting your name wrong this whole time???) "many things I thought about at first, are no longer an issue." I think that's the goal of this book. I know I'm looking at things differently now. Thank you for initiating this discussion 18 weeks ago.