Friday, July 10, 2009

Missional - Part V: The Inner Life

It's been way too long that I've spent on this. Since it's more for me than anything else, and I've nearly stopped up the rest of my blogging for this, I'm moving forward here & now.

What I've shared before centered around what the Missional church is not & that it's directly focused on the world outside the walls of the church building. (See below for the 4 previous posts in this series). But there's a tension that's undeniable that must be dealt with, both on a practical level and on a theological level. Practically, you can't be an organization if you don't have structure, if you don't have any internal apparatus that keeps you together. Without that inner life, you die on the vine, serving others. Absolutely true. The scary thing of course is that the theological response to that is simply to look at Jesus - who lived his live fully & completely for others, in accordance with God's will & ended up on a Roman cross, bruised & beaten - dead without a spouse or children at the young age of 33 (or so). So MAYBE that internal life of the church isn't quite as important as some of us might think.

That said, the theological component I want to engage in this stems from Barth & Newbigin who use a couple of different concepts to say roughly the same thing. In Barth's Dogmatics IV.3.2 section "The Community for the World" Barth describes the Christian community as a "likeness of the prophecy of Christ...[which] points beyond itself to what he intends to indicate and represent using it." This can, and should (thanks Darrell Guder) be re-translated as "parable" - that the Christian community acts as a parable of the Kingdom of God - particularly in how it lives that inner life. How it forgives, and experiences joy and serves each other - in these ways it exists as a community (the inner life), a parable of the KoG, for the world.

In Lesslie Newbigin's Gospel in a Pluralist Society, he says nearly the same thing in his final chapter titled The Congregation as a Hermeneutic of the Gospel. Here is an extended quotation:

I have come to feel that the primary reality of which we have to take account in seeking for a Christian impact on public life is the Christian congregation...the only hermeneutic of the gospel, is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it... Jesus, as I said earlier, did not write a book but formed a community... If the gospel is to challenge the public life of our will only be by movements that be in with the local congregation in which the reality of the new creation is present, known, and experienced..." (231-232)

What both Barth & Newbigin are saying is this: to be a Missional congregation, or to actually be the Christian community in any context, is to have and live as a community, experiencing the grace of God and extending it to others as part of an inner life of the community, so that the outward movement of that community, the living for the world, might indeed be authentic and sustained.

This has been cathartic to write this mini-series but it's also been a strain to put down, accurately and succinctly, what I both believe and feel on this topic. And it's taken so long to finish. The previous posts are linked below.

Missional - Part I: The New Christian Buzzword
Missional - Part II: The very Nature of the Church
Missional - Part III: Living For the World
Missional - Part IV: Not Just Missions


Anonymous said...

Christianity is a social religion (John Wesley), we cannot live the gospel without being in community with others. Furthermore, our community cannot be insular and also missional - the community must always reach outside itself. People too often focus on one aspect over the other resulting in an either/or religious life rather than a both/and. Jesus was a both/and kinda guy - that's the model we're suppose to follow.

Don said...

Nancy - absolutely! I've always been a dichotomy guy. I think I get that from God in the Bible. That's what I THINK at least. I've heard before references to Jewish Rabbi's speaking theologically like this "on the one hand... and on the other hand." That seems pretty healthy to me.