Some of us have loved the church for as long as we can remember. We have given ourselves fairly faithfully to seeking the risen Christ in community, and we see things that are right and good about this universal body of believers. And yet, at the same time, we are aware of a growing inner dis ease and discontent among many at what the church has not become. We find that we are not alone in feeling a deep and unequivocal caring for the church … and yet longing for something more.
We see the realities of our world and recognize that the church has not become a strong and mighty witness for scores of displaced refugees and starving, ill, ignored, assaulted masses. We are not calling the nations to bow before God in recognition of systemic oppression of the poor. We are not demanding that practices of reconciliation and justice be at the heart of national and global policies, nor even at the heart of our own schools, work places and neighborhoods. We are not lending our corporate voice to the voiceless and our power to the powerless,
In short, we are not filled with the fire and passion of Jesus Christ. We have not let our life together be poured out as a sacrificial gift of love, taking on Jesus’ nature and proclaiming with him and the prophet Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Luke 4:18 19 (see also Isaiah 61:1 2)
No longer do we wish to remain silent in the face of immense needs. No longer will we condone the church’s complicity in the violence of war, racism, sexism, addiction, and the growing divide between those with access to wealth and those with access only to poverty. No longer will we accept being separated from each other because we are of different races and cultures and economic classes. We long for a new ecciesia a body of people called out from the world’s culture who will speak and act in the Spirit of Jesus Christ, embodying that Spirit and committing ourselves to bold practices of love.
What we are imagining is actually quite simple. We are imagining that this is the time, that this is the kairos moment, when the church of Jesus Christ will become its true Self, poured out in loving surrender. We will let go of our illusions of what we had hoped the church would be and boldly step out into what does not yet exist. We will take on the nature of the One who lives and breathes love restorative, reconciling, nonviolent love love that challenges the world’s oppressive systems by empowering the weakest among us, and within us, to find our value and voice.
We will then become, more authentically than ever before, Christ’s body in the world.
You say this sounds impossible. You say the church is the most messed up institution you know. You say you can’t find even one authentic local expression that is true to Jesus’ nature. Which is why we respond:
TOGETHER WE WILL BECOME THAT AUTHENTIC EXPRESSION
WE will become a people and a place that are real.
Even as we say it, we hear voices within saying surely not! We can’t possibly be the right people. We are not prepared or trained. We don’t have enough time. We aren’t clear about our motives. We are only one person. We aren’t ready. We hear things like this:
> I’d like to be part of an authentic church, but I’m just a pastor, limited by the responsibilities I have to my congregation and denomination. I’m swamped as it is, and besides I’m not sure it’s fair to the laity to start something that might radically alter the way we do things now. Putting diversity and justice at the center sounds right, but I’ll wait and let the members lead the way.
> I’d like to be part of an authentic church, but I’m just a lay person. I work on committees and lead groups when I’m asked, but I don’t really have the authority to propose something new. It sounds like it could be a meaningful way to connect with folks who don’t always feel welcomed in the church, but I’ll wait till the pastor or one of the elders gets things rolling.
> I’d like to be part of an authentic church, but I’m just a young person who’s barely beginning to learn about the church’s structures and processes. Doing things in a new way sounds great, but who’s going to listen to me? To be honest, I’m not even sure if my friends and I will be going to church all that much anyway. And we couldn’t do it on our own … could we?
> I’d like to be part of an authentic church, but my time for it has passed, Now that I’m here at the retirement community, I can barely make it to church events any more. At this point in my life, I see more clearly than ever the need for change in both the church and society, but who am I to be starting something new?
> I’d like to be part of an authentic church, if there even is such a thing. I’ve been outside the church for awhile now so I definitely couldn’t help start something new. I’ve got my 12 step group, but sometimes I’d kind of like to talk about Jesus. Where do I find people for that? I haven’t lost faith in Jesus, but I’m not so sure about Jesus’ church.
You get the idea. Even if we agree with the primary principles contained in this little book, we are up against internal voices that tell us we are not yet capable of the practices. We couldn’t possibly be the ones, the voices say, to lead the way toward something new.
What we suggest is this: whoever you are, whatever your circumstances, if what you are about to read here speaks to you, go public. Get in touch with us. Tell your friends and family. Go to the governing body of your local group the board or vestry or supervisory committee and tell them you are called to be with people in a way other than the present structures allow, and you would like to do so with their support. Propose a plan. In the process, you will learn more about them than you already knew. You will learn more about yourself.
Remember, even the apostle Paul was questioned as to his authority, to which he said: “My authority does not come from any popular vote of the people, nor does it come through the appointment of some human higher up. It comes directly from Jesus the Messiah and God the Father who raised him from the dead. I’m Godcommissioned.” (Galatians 1:1, The Message)
What about you? Are you God commissioned?
It will be an exciting day when, in mass numbers, we move into true recovery from the culture’s addictive pull , when we step into the new and become a concrete, living expression of authentic church. All who touch our life together those of us who have borne an unfair proportion of the world’s pain, along with those of us who have previously ignored and even perpetrated someof that pain will know that we are not alone because we have each other.
• If you love the church but are disillusioned, disheartened, discouraged by what it has become we invite you to dream with us.
• If you are weighted down by the choices you have made for your own life, and you long to become the freed and freeing person that God desires, unleashing the gift of who you really are we want you todream with us.
> If you are hungry for the passionate, healing way of Jesus and would be our companion on the journey we need you to dream with us.
Contained within these pages is one simple way to begin to be a part of a diverse body of people who are seeking to break free from whatever keeps us from loving and being loved more deeply. It is not the only way, and it might not be the best way, but it is, we trust, a place to begin.
This book is for all who sense that the church still is God’s hope for the world, and who long to join others in living with greater integrity the transforming good news of Jesus Christ.
It is for all who long for something more.