What would one make of a cocoon hanging on a bush perennially but which never produced a butterfly? I have thought of that often in observing those good folks who are always ‘in church’ and always are listening for good sermons, and engaged in endless in-house church activities, and yet . . . never seem to get involved in the mission of God in their daily lives, in the church’s apostolate, in Jesus’ “As the Father has sent me, even so am I sending you” mandate. This is not new, of course. It goes all the way back to those references in the New Testament to those who are “ever learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” Or those, who “when you ought to be teachers of others, are still in need of being taught.”

Church-i-fied cocoons. It runs deep. It is almost the norm in all too many churches. Reminds me of the personable, effusive member who assured me: “O, Bob, I’m a good church member. I always attend worship and pay my dues.”

This is a complex pathology that has been noted by insightful people for many years . It all began with the clerical-ization of the church, in which the church (how to say it?) sacralized both a class of persons to be the dominant voices in the church, and also specific places and institutions as the church. This dates at least from the 4th or 5th centuries, and was pretty much in place after Emperor Constantine made the church the official religion of the Roman Empire, and endowed it with all of the accoutrements of the pagan religions, i.e., sanctuaries and priests, etc.

This has been called a subversion by major sociological and missiological figures within the past 75 years, (David Bosch, Jacques Ellul, Bill Burrows, etc.) but has been muted again and again by the dominant clergy class who seem to like the passive laity (the cocoons), and who like their exalted positions as the authorities, and the dominant persons in the church. They appreciate those who are always “in church” and who support the activities in house, but which don’t challenge their dominance (who call them “reverend”). Even though Martin Luther espoused the priesthood of all believers in the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, the Protestant church never got free from the concept of the dominance of the clergy.

Pope John XXIII seemed to sense the need to reclaim the apostolate of the laity, and at Vatican II in the early 1960’s established a Council on the Laity within the Vatican establishment, but it disappeared under the tight control of the clergy. Also within the Roman Catholic world, there emerged small, spontaneous, communities in Latin America when there were not enough priests to serve rural communities, but the dominant clergy didn’t know how to handle that phenomenon, or how to control them, so both commended and ignored them.

Cocoons are intended to give the larvae of butterflies a place to gestate, so that they can emerge and produce more butterflies. Cocoons are not to be static and permanent. Every believer is to be a dynamic factor in the apostolate of the church, and the church gathered together is always to be equipping those gathered toward that end, and refining and encouraging their role in the mission which Christ gave to all of the church.

You can count on me to ‘ding’ this theme continually. Christ’s sons and daughters are all to be mutually encouraging one another in their role to be the sons and daughter of light, to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, i.e., butterflies, not cocoons, contagious with the faith. This applies to those who are the teaching-pastors also. They/we much challenge all that passivity that ignores the apostolate of all of God’s people in the 24/7 world.

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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