Alright … let me unpack that title: following up on my last blog (6/8/14) requires that I make a determined effort to get us over all of the garbled, religious, ‘spiritual,’ totally-missing-the-point conceptions that seem to dominate so many who populate church institutions. Let’s begin with the very word: gospel. OK? Jesus came “proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom.” That very word, in itself, establishes my point here. It is an ordinary Greek word that conveys something that is so thrilling that it is awesome (to use our overworked contemporary adjective). It is a word used to announce some person or event or news that is so fantastically wonderful that it just blows you away. It is a word that conveys information of the highest kind of joy—maybe expected or unexpected. In the Jewish community of that first century, there had been the expectation of their God’s (Yahweh’s) visitation of his people in the person of an anointed one (messiah) for centuries. Jesus was totally unabashed in announcing that in himself that long-expected event was taking place. In Christ, God has come in a search and rescue mission in order to reconcile us and the world to himself.

Religion, on the other hand, is humankind’s attempt to respond to his/her concept of God.

Remember (as I tried to point out in the last blog), that the concept of the ‘kingdom of God’ was a Jewish concept, which was subsequently translated as eternal life, or new creation, or salvation (and some other terms occasionally) for the Gentile/Greek audience. They all conveyed the same thrilling news that God was invading his rebellious creation to reconcile it, to seek and save it, and to put it all to rights, and to perfect a whole new creation, which included the reality of a new human community called the church. He was not announcing some new religion. He was heralding the inauguration of his own New Creation. It began with Jesus coming to screwed-up and guilty human beings—folk without God and without hope in the world—and creating a new human community reconciled to God.

There is nothing ‘religious’ about it. It is robustly human and earthy. It is all about the thrilling news of becoming part of God’s ultimate design for his creation, and accomplishing this through Jesus. No, rather, he came to create this totally new community by the Holy Spirit in the ordinary lives of those who, through faith in Christ, find each other in new communities that would come in all kinds of configurations—men and women all indwelt by the Spirit (with all of their flaws and failures) to demonstrate true kingdom of God relationships, and true kingdom of God behavior and lifestyles and understanding, all of which would be a witness of its dynamic reality to the watching world.

The church is the community of those who have responded to this thrilling news, and have become, themselves, part of it. It is not a ‘religious institution’ in which one can be religious and passive. Rather, it is a community with a common life of faith and obedience that can gather under all kinds of weird circumstances and in any of multiple forms—but it is always a community of persons who are known to each other, who feel responsible for each other, who are accountable to each other, and who are always encouraging each other with the word of Christ. It is a community where all are formed into new creation maturity by the word of Christ.

It is what we are called to be. It is what we are made for. The church is, therefore, to be the communal expression of the thrilling news of Jesus Christ,and of his new creation, his kingdom … Something in that direction.

But that will means that we have to dispatch the dominant image of our culture that pictures the church as an ecclesiastical institution, hierarchically controlled from on high. 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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