There is a commercial artist by the name of Thomas Kinkaid, who produced a lot of very popular ‘schmaltzy’ art (?) pieces that are romantic, idyllic, unreal, sentimental, etc. … always with mellow, rustic, domestic scenes replete with soft light (coming from nowhere) and totally devoid of any stress or conflict. ‘Mellow’ would be the word.

There are a whole lot of ‘church folk’ who envision the church in those same terms. They have what I have (maybe being more than a bit ‘snarky’) termed: Thomas Kincaid ecclesiology, i.e., they’re looking for a church that is comfortable, mellow, without conflict, filled with warm feelings, etc. But … to accomplish such, one has to domesticate the gospel of the Kingdom of God, and create one that is congenial to their social norms, and so it becomes unrelated to the real world or to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Hey, don’t leave yet! Sure, the very word gospel means ‘joyous announcement.’ Our gospel is called the ‘gospel of peace.’ It is the announcement and incarnation of God’s new creation in Christ—but it is not unrealistic, or schmaltzy, or even (in much of the popular mind) religious. Remember, that when Jesus announced that he was going to build his church (Matthew 16:18-19), the went on to say that the “gates of hell cannot prevail against it.” That in itself should alert us to the reality that the church is a community called to herald something of eschatological importance, but that it would never be done in neutral territory. There would be resistance from the gates of hell all the way.

The church is described (by students of the mission of God in the world) as standing “in missionary-confrontation with the world.” The church, thereby, is always counter-cultural. Its gospel is a two-edged sword, which both attracts and repels, both creates and destroys. God’s people live within a totally different framework than those who are still outside of the household of faith. God’s people have a different center, a different authority, a different creative source, a different guiding line, and a different final goal than their counterparts still living outside (even those described accurately as: “spiritually confused god-seekers”). The apostle Peter described God’s holy nation (the church) as always sojourners and exiles.

Someone should warn those intending to identify with the church, or be baptized, of this reality. The church is not an ‘escape community.’ It is made up of broken human beings in the process of being made whole. It exists in social, economic, political and cultural realities that are so very much formed by the dominion of darkness. They meet together in various venues to encourage and energize each other in the Word of Christ. God’s people are called to Jesus Christ, to be sons and daughters of the Light, and that can, therefore, bring with it suffering and even death. I’ve seldom heard candidates alerted to such. The church is a community to display and celebrate the sheer joy of God’s new creation. It is not Kincaid-ish. It is, rather, the messenger of God’s peace in a broken and conflict-strewn world.

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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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