Welcome to this, the first blog of the renewed website for the Disciples of Christ.
Why bother with a new blog? Is it going to be more of the same old same old? Or, can we look forward to something a little more refreshing and challenging? I cannot reply any better than by using the words Jesus used with Andrew: “Come and see!”
It’s true - I have a problem with the Church
I have been described as a “conservative”, a remnant of days long past. I am also, apparently, a “traditionalist”, a tag that is used in a negative way by many in the Church. In truth I am lots of things, far too complicated for a single title. I am the kind of priest the current leadership of the Anglican Church would like to pretend no longer exists. I have seen their Church from the inside and as well from the outside and while there are many bright lights, engaging prophets and signs of hope, they are all too often stymied by decay and a hubris that is predominantly clerical.
But this blog is not going to be one more whinge about the failures of the Anglican Church – there are plenty of them. The disciples of Christ is going to be about what God is saying to the Church today; now; to all of us as we struggle with the call to be followers of Christ.
In the world but not of the world
This is what Jesus understood to be the future directions for a Church that is an extension of his own self, the Body of Christ in the world beyond the Ascension.
We are called to be communities of faith working away in the world as leaven, as salt and as light. We must be a prophetic community or we are failing in our imitation of Christ. If the world is not feeling uncomfortable, challenged, threatened by the Gospel we preach, then we are probably not preaching the Good News given to us in and through Jesus who is the Christ of God.
Who are we? Where are we going? Why …?
These are the questions more likely to be asked by believers and unbelievers alike and it will be the way we answer these questions that determines our future as a Church. The big mistake would be to look back over two thousand years of history, at the road we have already travelled and use that to shape the contours of the future Church. Sadly, much of that ends up to be little more than a comforting but fruitless nostalgia.
One such nostalgic temptation is to return to the days that are described by Anthony Gittins as being the days of the Sugar Daddy Church. This is where religion is reduced to an arrangement between an individual person and God. It is a private affair and no one – no one – has the right to seek to interfere with this arrangement and theology. What an individual decides to believe, decides to do is acceptable to God and therefore must be absorbed into the wider Church beliefs and traditions. It is a form of the same Gnosticism (a heresy that divided early Christianity) that threatened the Church of the first three centuries or more. They spoke of a God who could be manipulated: I do this, and God will do that. I resist from doing this and God will not do “that”. Cosy indeed.
God is about humanity – all men and women
This website is about preaching and teaching a God of community, about the Jesus who spoke of society, of personal public responsibility; who taught love, forgiveness, repentance and reconciliation and who brought people together rather than divide them.
The Kingdom of God inaugurated by Jesus is not about the “I”. It has always been about the “we” – you, me, we, us and God together in Christ.
The kingdom of this world is incredibly “I” oriented. Christianity has been built into a civil religion one in which the individual has primacy and the entitlements and privileges of individuals come before the good of the community, the whole.
Preachers and teachers offer a God who is willing to accept all and anything the individual wants to believe and to do. There is no external moral norms guiding the way we live together and so we can travel through life contented and able to justify all we have done. Perhaps the only caveat is “do no harm to others” as long as the individual is the one to decide the definition of “no harm”.
God made in the image of Man
This leads to an understanding of God the world today rightly treats as a joke, a caricature of the biblical God we know from the story of Israel and the Church. When we speak of God we reduce that god to a spiritual being in our own image, reflecting our own limitations and weaknesses, with our own likes, desires and preferences.
This is why God does not worry us. We are not scared to stand before God confident in our performances in life. God is happy with us no matter what and the reality is that we become our own judge and jury when it comes to eternal life.
What God wants is for us to shake the world to its foundations
When we create the Kingdom according to our own likes and preferences – which is what is happening today – we end up unable to speak to the world. We become leaven that has lost its ability to have an impact on others; salt that has lost its flavour and should be abandoned; light that is covered with a blanket making it impossible to shed light on those living in darkness.
This is where our website is hoping to head. We want listen to the Spirit, the same Spirit who has been guiding the Church through two thousand years of faithful witness. We want to teach Christ crucified in a way that will ensure people in the world (and most likely in the Church as well) will want to crucify us as they crucified the prophets and the Son of Man Himself.
The Church leadership cannot continue to hide from God, just as it cannot continue to teach a corrupted version of the Gospel of Christ. Our lawyers, pharisees, scribes and priests need to be called out, challenged, exposed and encouraged in the same way Jesus of Nazareth challenged, exposed, called out and encouraged the spiritual leaders of his own day.
Come and see
Christ has been pursuing us for a long time now, calling us to repent and to begin again in a new life in Christ. We flee from him and he pursues us but as the Corona virus reminds us, there is no where to go. The cries of the poor and those on the margins are too loud to ignore and as Disciples of Christ, we strive to collaborate with God in setting His people free.