Blog 9.8.19. Maybe we need to unlearn the church.

[A word of explanation o my readers: I have been silent for these past several weeks due to some complications with my blogging platform being out-of-date. That problem is now resolved due to  the efforts of my skillful friend. So, we’re back on schedule.]

A major voice in the field of education says that educators need to get education out of the production-line mentality, … and into the digital age in which our children are growing up, in which they are engaged from an early age in computer games which make their minds agile, inquisitive and innovative. She uses the idea of unlearning the whole process of educating the current generation. This is not a new thought, but a tough one to realize. The Christendom era solidly established the church as an institution with clergy, it produced denominational hierarchies, and supportive agencies, … and hardly seemed to notice moved into a post-Christian era in which the Christian faith was a diminishing factor, … never seemed able to ‘un-think’ its assumptions, and so cruised along in a systemic ecclesiastical darkness.

The prophetic force that blew the whistle on this was the influence of Lesslie Newbigin, who wanted to redefine the church as a missional community of God’s new creation people. But even those who were captivated by Newbigin’s thesis, and who gathered together in ‘think-tanks’ to process this and its implications, were not able to un-think their captivity to Christendom forms. I know. I was part of those think-tanks. I used to remind them that when denominations and congregations were formed as custodial, and clergy dependent, …to suddenly foist upon them the notion that every baptized person was responsible for the church’s mission, and to be engaged in its confrontation as the children of the Light with the cultural darkness, and ‘all hell would break loose.’

The norm for membership in Christendom-custodial communities was to be arm-chair participants in congenial church institutions. The very suggestion that we need to unlearn the church as a place where one satisfied one’s need for religious input and companionship, …and to consciously see it as a dynamic community of God’s new humanity in Christ, and in which I/we are all involved in being equipped for just such  radical new Kingdom of God living, … in which we are interacting/group-sourcing and engaging with each other and with the Spirit of God in a whole array of different forms and places, … doesn’t come easily, alas!

A wonderfully provocative voice on this is Howard Snyder, who a generation ago, wrote the book The Problem of Wineskins, in which he mischievously proposed that if you want to know how healthy your church is, then sell your church building! (I reminded him, in a conversation, that you could get killed for suggesting that to a congregation, who tend to be idolatrous about church buildings.)

Of course, such new humanity communities need to have form and mutual agreement as to mission, but only as there is a common determination to incarnate our New Creation lives in fulfilling Christ’s mission in the realities of this present post-Christian culture as Christ’s Spirit-inhabited people collaborating to obey in the mission he has given—no arm too weak, or life too insignificant to be equipped and engaged in this missional community.

“As the Father has sent me, even so do I send you.”


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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One Response to Blog 9.8.19. Maybe we need to unlearn the church.


    Thank you for never giving up on your message. My Christian friends and I are the church wherever we meet.

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