I’m always intrigued by the observation by so many that one of the most common quests of men and women today is the quest for authentic relationships. It is because of that that I am launching out on this journey with my readers to reconceive the church as the communal dimension of God’s New Creation in Christ. It is not too much to define it as intended to be: the communal expression of the abundant life that Jesus promises to his followers. (To do this, however, means that we’ve got to forsake that most dominant pattern or paradigm of the church as somehow a religious institution that is dominated by clergy.)

Where does that haunting desire for intimate relationships come from? What does it look like?  Why is it there? And why is it so often unfulfilled even within marriages?  Weird as it may seem, there is a powerful clue for us in the very first pages of the Biblical narrative—that familiar bit of folk history about the creation of the world (Genesis 1-3). Consider that that story was passed down by oral tradition for many generations, until it was (probably) committed to writing sometime in the second millennium B.C., and yet it has had huge impact over the millennia. It tells of the Creator fashioning this whole world, as we know it, out of the formless void. The crown of that creation was his creation of the first human, and creating him in God’s own likeness and with the capacity to relate intimately, i.e., to walk with God in the garden paradise. That’s awesome. That’s the first dimension of our quest for relationships: intimate relationship to the One who created us.

It only takes a moment of reflection to realize that such a relationship would mean that this first human would be totally at peace with himself, to know who he was, to be free and transparent in his relationship with his Creator. That’s the second dimension of or quest for authentic relationship—we need to be free and fulfilled in our own identity as those whose purpose is to demonstrate the image of God.

Ah! But the Creator knows the need of that first human to have another human with whom to relate creature-to-creature … as well as to God himself. So, he created a companion. They were totally innocent in this identity as stewards of the garden in which they lived. They were naked and not ashamed. They had nothing to hide. This is the third dimension of our quest for an answer for our common human need for relationships.

Then, that story, tragedy entered when that primordial human community succumbed to the suggestion by a tempter (that’s a whole study in itself) that they would be even better off if they were their own gods—and the whole scene then was short-circuited. The result was the loss of all three inter-animating relational dimensions of their humanity. … They were suddenly very alone, estranged from God and from one another. And that’s where we find ourselves.

Right away, however, God declares the tragic results of their foolish decision, … but also makes it known that his ultimate design for them has not altered, and that there will be “the seed of a woman” who will ultimately destroy the tempter and is rebellious agenda. Skip down some generations and another promise comes to a middle-eastern sheik, Abraham, about his seed bringing about universal blessing. Along the way, God promises through his 8th century prophet that he will make all things new. So, then in the fullness of time there enters that one who is to inaugurate this New Creation, Jesus Christ, God’s Son. He is the One who comes to create God’s New Humanity in which all three of the necessary components of authentic relations are realized. That is the church, which is that community in which God himself comes to indwell those who embrace his Son, and to make it to be the truly human community which demonstrates the abundant life God intends for his human community. That’s not an impersonal church institution. It is a community that demonstrates God’s love to the world around it. Stay tuned …

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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