This is a continuation of my previous two posts Life Between Poles .i. Introduction and Life Between Poles .1. Technical Problems. I’m going to take a moment and discuss the two poles I so often feel caught between. It might be a little random as I pour out my thoughts, which have been floating around in my mind for a long time now.
A New Law
Some Christian communities seem to have developed a new law–a stone-cold, austere way of responding to the gospel through rigorous moral & theological definition much beyond the mandates of scripture or Jesus himself. The gospel is reduced down to a strict code of morality and doctrine. Everything is reduced to simple formulas that often don’t capture the nuances and complexities of life and God.
As an example of Christian reductionism, I think of The Four Spiritual Laws or The Romans Road. I would not contest that these have been useful; however they minimize the gospel to a few bullet points when the gospel is so much more. I mean, the gospel is about a kingdom, a kingdom that pervades our lives & our world; you cannot capture all the meaning of such a kingdom in four bullet points or six brief verses from the Bible. To be fair, there is a time and a place for reduced summaries; the early church used the Kerygma for example. However, I think it’s important that in the midst of lists and bullets and three-point sermons we do not forget the complexities and nuances and vastness of our faith.
It also seems that the church of the new law is full of experts and experts only who handle the faith. I think that this type of community has forgotten the idea of the priesthood of all believers. We all have a place in following Jesus; we all have gifts for the sake of our community; we all have a role to play. In fact, I believe the pastor should see the pastoral role as the least of all, as a role that is played as a servant and guide from behind for all the others to help them fulfill their ministry together. That doesn’t look much like a CEO to me, which is what the pastoral role often looks like today.
The other thing I find important to point out is that a law-oriented community is full of unnecessary boundaries, working very hard to define who is in and who is out. This makes it complicated for people to follow Jesus, because we make the church and its Christians and its rules as stumbling blocks for others when the only stumbling block should be Jesus and him crucified.
A New Gospel
When you swing the reactive pendulum the other way from a new law, you get the new gospel. This is where Christian communities basically blur or eliminate all of the boundaries, save one: you must be tolerant of others, because tolerance is akin to love in these groups.
These kinds of communities feel like chameleons to me, constantly changing color based on context. As for the boundaries in a chameleon culture, there is no in or out–everyone is in in there own way, perhaps even if they don’t want to be.
The struggle I have here is I find myself asking a few questions: What’s the point? What do they believe that’s distinguishing? I cannot get away from Jesus as central, not just as a story, not just as a path, not just as a message from God. I see him as the story, the path, and yes, as the one true God.
I don’t like some doctrine and how it sometimes forcibly answers questions we don’t even need answered; however, there are some central beliefs I can’t throw away. No amount of deconstruction or postmodern epistemology can eliminate my belief that there is indeed some truth in this world and that we can indeed come to know it.
The alluring thing about a community of the new gospel is that they often tend to engage more in real life and in real justice and love in the world. They are often loving and welcoming and making a loving impact in our wider communities. They are reimagining things together and shucking some unnecessary shackles of the past.
But they tend to see Jesus so differently; I can’t do it.
In the church of the new law, you can’t get to the center because there’s too many boundaries. In the church of the new gospel, there just is no center. Also, I believe that living faith is a delicate mixture of belief and action. The church of the new law seems to major in beliefs at the neglect of action, while the church of the new law does the opposite. I’m looking for something else. Something with a center yet also a broad reach. Something with deeply rooted, deeply discerned beliefs that result in deeply sacrificial, deeply loving actions. Hopefully, I can describe that something else a bit more in my next installment of Life Between Poles when I will write about Adaptive Community.