Yes, on this first day of the Christian observance of Lent, I am thinking of the old gospel hymn: “Tell me the story of Jesus,” and the verse that goes: Tell me the story slowly, that I may take it in, That wonderful redemption, God’s remedy for sin. Tell me the story often, for I forget so soon; The early dew of morning has passed away at noon.”

Do we ever forget? Lord, have mercy! Do we ever forget? The essential, focal, and formative raison d’être, and sine qua non of any authentic Christian community has got to be Jesus: Jesus who lived, taught, suffered, died on the cross, and rose again, … and now “walks among the golden lampstands” (which is his church). Yet, as so many of the church communities become preoccupied with their institutional form and survival, this focus is forgotten, displaced, or diluted into some pale version by other seemingly wonderful ‘churchy’ activities … and so few seem to notice the drift.

From a different perspective, the authentic Christian community must never, never forget that what God is doing with his church is preparing a beautiful Bride for the Lamb … without spot or wrinkle [reflect on that image, if you will]. This being so, there is to be absolute intimacy between Jesus’ believing sons and daughters and himself. Does this sound strange to our institutional ears? It may.

But the drift into forgetfulness (darkness?) seems relentless, and over and over again we witness churches that embody only (what some have termed) ‘Christ-less Christianity’ or ‘cross-less’ Christianity. Somehow the gospel DNA is missing.

Our quest in these Blogs is for a Alternative Narrative for the church in the emerging generation, and as such, if it is to be authentic it must insist on an intimate community with a clear focus on Jesus, and in redeeming, reconciling relationships with one another in love, in servanthood, and in mutual accountability and responsibility—but always focused on Jesus as its raison d’être.

When this intimacy with Christ is at the heart of the community, it will also of necessity generate Christ’s own contagious mission to seek and to save those still outside, still in the darkness, still captives to lives without meaning, or hope, or love—or God.

Does that sound unreal? Humanly impossible? Well, actually, it is. The whole church that we are aspiring to see in this alternative narrative is actually not an alternative at all, but the original intent of Christ. It is the presence of Christ in human community dwelling in our neighborhoods, it is the “dwelling place of God by the Holy Spirit,” it is the local display of the divine nature in human lives and in a recreated human community—it is enchanted (as I have written in a book entitled so entitled Enchanted Community: Journey Into the Mystery of the Church).

I would not be surprised but what the alternative narrative for the church will be expressed primarily in small conventicles [check that in your Wikipedia] in which the participants are focused on teaching and admonishing one another in the Word of Christ, and gathering again and again at the table where Jesus and the gospel are made visible in the bread and the wine of the Eucharist. Here God’s sons and daughters will be encouraging and equipping each other for the mission of their 24/7 lives—to be the demonstration of God’s New Creation in lifestyle and relationships.

And because of the endemic forgetfulness of so many of the church communities, this authentic church may have nothing at all to do with those who have forgotten “the old, old story of Jesus and his love.”

“Tell me the story often, for I forget so soon …”

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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