It is always more difficult to get rid of an erroneous idea than it is to introduce a new one. This is the dilemma we face culturally today, as the era of Christendom recedes, and a post-Christian culture is emerging irresistibly. The question is: how are we to conceive of the church when the dominant conception for millennia has be that of a ‘sacralized institution’ and its ‘sacralized clergy leadership’? Cathedrals and their chapels, “the church in the valley by the wildwood” (from an old gospel song), the Catholic church on the boulevard, etc. … somehow it was always “a place to go” where the rites of the Christian tradition were observed. I am not at all seeking to demean the blessing that such have been, … but rather to seek to propose the church in the mind and heart of God as something much more dynamic and transformational than that of a mere institution, in which one can easily participate and yet never see it in its true eschatological / cosmic and divine purpose.

This ongoing discipline of conceiving of the church is an essential component of that for which Jesus came, and for which he died. As the church was birthed in the context of Judaism what with its temple and priesthood, it was the challenge of Jesus’ apostles to give thanks for the heritage of the anticipatory centuries of Judaism and the revelation of God to the fathers and the prophets over all of those anticipatory generations, … but then to see the church as the  communal fulfillment of God’s new creation in Christ, it was to be a whole kingdom of priests in which every participant, every person is called by the preaching of Christ to embrace his/her place and ministry within that reconciled human community.

The letters of Paul and the other apostles are always seeking to unfold that radically new understanding: the community that is the communal expression of God’s new creation. Paul will pray for one such community that they may see all things from God’s point of view, … that they will understand themselves as God’ picked representatives of his new humanity, purified and beloved of God himself (from a paraphrase of Colossians by J. B. Phillips).

Such communities of God’s new humanity can take on any of many diverse forms, depending on the setting. They are always ‘aliens and exiles’ and always finding fresh ways to demonstrate their calling to be that new humanity, even in the most unlikely places. Such communities appear and disappear as societies and circumstances change.

In the Christendom era, the churches were given ‘perks’ by the dominant order, and so could become prestige institutions with tax deductibility and privilege. But such impressive institutions can/and do easily so conform themselves to the dominant order, and in so being conformed in their influence, that they cease to be the Spirit-anointed heralds of the good news of God’s new and transformational kingdom, they cease to be salt and light, cease to be God’s missionary arm.

True communities of God’s new humanity are those whose participants are intentionally and dynamically recreated into the image of Christ, their lord, in their thinking, in their behavior, and in their intimacy with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit They become the dwelling place of God by the Holy Spirit. Such communities are the salt and light that God uses to effectively accomplish his purpose in new creation as it demonstrates in its communal love and good works God’s passion for his lost and benighted humanity. Such self-understanding is somewhat eclipsed by too many church institutions and denominational rivalries.

So, drive down a stake here: the church is essentially the communal demonstration of God’s new creation. … to be continued…


[ cf. ]

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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