06 July 2011

The Third Way

It’s been quite some time since I posted anything. I’ve had a furious 2 months of rehabbing an old house that my family just moved into. Words can’t express the excitement my wife and I have over moving into the city of Syracuse after living out of suitcases for a year.

A year ago my family and 5 others moved to Syracuse to plant Axiom church. Moving into our house this weekend to begin the mission of incarnating the life and love of Jesus in the city is a pivotal step in the life our infant church. This personal landmark causes me to reflect on why I felt compelled to plant Axiom church.
I’ve had a growing rumble in my bones the last few years that there was a third way. This third way grew out of 10+ years of ministering to families in seeker churches, fundamentalist Baptist churches and liberal mainline churches. During those seasons of ministry I devoured book after book on theology and practice. I read stuff from both neo=reformed/Calvinistic camps and stuff from Emergent/ancient future camps. I continually exclaimed under my breath “there must be another way”. In 2001 I began to plow through the scriptures afresh with the intention of establishing a better understanding of the Jewish world and culture; attempting to assemble a new meta-narrative. I started to see things differently. I thought to myself there must be a path that loves the story the bible tells without turning it into a picture of an angry God barking rules at unholy people (neo-reformed) or turning it into a picture of a therapeutic God who only wants us to have a positive self-esteem at the expense of ignoring personal morality (emergent). There must be a third way!

I’ve had a holy discontent that being an authentic Jesus-follower should look like the tension in the center. That tension in the center has been a balance I’ve fought for in my own life while serving in extreme expressions of Christianity. Sometimes I’ve had to bite my lip to stay under the radar. But when I received an invitation from God to plant a church in an unreached city, I knew that it was time to forge this third way. This third way has some distinct principles and factors that guide me.

1. The embrace of submission to authority while elevating the priesthood of all believers. My generation is anti-authority. That spirit kills the character potential that can be formed in allowing those who lead us, to lead us. David modeled the complicated but beautiful discipline of submitting to King Saul; God honored him for it. At the same time the worship of the pastoral office is more paganism than biblical. The addiction to a “word from our pastor” while neglecting the power in the priesthood is crushing the DNA of the body of Christ.

2. The embrace of the Bible as a story instead of textbook. I love, love the bible. I find it to be the most valuable source of nourishment on the earth. It is possible to treasure the bible, believe it comes from God without turning it into a systematic text book. We need to tether our lives to the story God is writing on this earth. But from my perspective the bible has lost its richness and true narrative context in churches and bible colleges because of the way in which it’s been used. The Scriptures have been abused by teachers and layman who slice and dice verses in order to apply them to sins and cultural evils they feel like harping on.

3. The embrace of the whole Gospel instead of a “decision for Christ.” The gospel in evangelism has been reduced to a sinner’s prayer that gives me a personal savior and an entrance into heaven. I find that sad when I compare that to the words of Jesus. Jesus expands the gospel. The gospel is about the Kingdom of God being displayed on this earth. It is about the active welcome of the Lordship and leadership of Jesus in our everyday lives. It is about doing justice on behalf of the oppressed and poor. It is also about the marriage and investment in a community of Jesus-followers. Sure confession of sin is part of the gospel but a quarter of the truth ends up not being the truth at all.

4. The embrace of community as the means to spiritual maturity. In our church cultures spiritual growth has been whittled down to how often you read the bible, how much you pray, and if you are serving a program in the church. I believe we do need to grow up and wean ourselves off of milk. But spiritual maturity is more about our love for others, our emotional health with how we interact with those around us, our selfless attitude towards others and our ongoing plunge into shared life with a community of Jesus followers. According to Jesus this is the route to holiness. It is our commitment to authentic community that progressively forms us into the image Christ.

5. The embrace of the culture (city) instead of hatred and separation from it. Yes we are to live different from the ethics of the world. Our first allegiance is to King Jesus. Still we are to be salt and light on this earth. We are to love this city with its corruptibility and all. We are missionaries that must saturate into this culture and be influencers with our holy love.

6. The embrace that the church is the hope of the world not the Republican Party, not the moral majority and not an elected official.
We need to throw ourselves into living out the mission of God through community and let God take care of the rest. If transformation is to take place it will happen from a humble power-under posture not from the apprehension of status, a place of power or the establish of a majority vote.

7. The embrace that God is love. Love is not what God does it is who he is. God is love and all that he does is because of his ridiculous love for humanity. Greater love for humanity not separation from it is an ethic of God’s reign. Love is not lite; it is not for the faint of heart. Love has great demands on those who embrace the all loving God. I know that it’s said that God is a holy God, I agree. I just disagree with their definition of holiness. Jesus redefines holiness when he answers the Pharisees in Mark 12:28.

8. The embrace that we are saved for mission not for consumerism.
Church in our culture has become all about consuming; consuming worship experiences, consuming sermons, consuming podcasts, Christianese products and consuming programs for men, kids, singles, youth, mothers with toddlers. We’ve become shoppers looking for the best spiritual stuff that meets our needs. We have ruined our election. Election is primarily about mission; a mission that requires sacrifice, meeting others needs, blessing others, bringing renewal to the local world outside our church walls, inviting others outside our church circles into our love-filled communities and bearing the burden of the poor and abandoned.

9. The embrace of multiplication instead of the mega. There is something attractive about going bigger, growing faster and taking up more space. The diluting of the DNA of the church has much to do with the temptation to grow our church programs, our church buildings and our church staffs. The idea of mega creates a lumbery, professionally run, one-stop shop for all things spiritual. Instead embrace multiplication, decentralization, moving out, going smaller, and a network instead of a multipurpose building. Let the chemistry of the smallness of community determine mission, budgets, events, and teaching.

10. Finally, embrace stealth instead of loud marketing. For too long everything the church did they marketed. If they served the poor they needed to let the town know they were there. Every slick sermon series was promoted as “something you don’t want to miss.” Claiming to have the best children’s program or most relevant worship has been an unquestioned practice. I’m an advocate for stealth. Jesus was stealth. He often spoke in parables that veiled meaning. He often told people to keep his identity quiet. There something supernatural about letting God promote your love-filled community. It’s easy to be duped that “God is moving or God is doing something” because you buy into the hype of you own marketing.

This is the Third Way.

1 comment:

  1. Your point two isn't necessarily as world-changing as some might think. Horton's new Systematic Theology quotes Geerhardus Vos saying, "The Bible is not a dogmatic handbook but a historical book full of dramatic interest." It's a story, and Vos (along with Horton) recognized that a long time ago.

    But Michael Lawrence takes the most balanced view, I think, when he says in his new book, Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church, "We need an understanding of what the Bible is...that doesn't reduce it to life's little answer book, but keeps the focus on God, where it belongs. But we also need an understanding that doesn't reduce it to the story of how we get saved and go to heaven, leaving the rest of life up for grabs. We need a working definition of the Bible that allows for systematic answers to almost any question that comes up, but that also provides those answers in the context of the biblical storyline itself."

    The right answer to the abuse you mention in your point two is not to dismiss the "textbook truths" and simple rules Scripture gives in favor of seeing it as a story. That's a pendulum swing too far. Let's have a both-and approach, one that puts the rules in the context of the story. Right? Maybe you don't disagree!