a non-linear story, bankrupt Christian traditions, Christian community, Christian Submission, common purse, Dualism, New Testament and the People of God, Phyllis Tickle, Reba Place Fellowship, Richard Foster, Scripture and the Authority of God, Spirit Power, the Christian story, The Great Emergence, Twelve Disciplines
In the conclusion of The Great Emergence under the heading, “Future Possibilities,” Ms. Tickle, writes,
…the Great Emergence …will rewrite Christian theology – and thereby North American culture – into something far more Jewish, more paradoxical, more narrative, and more mystical than anything the Church has had for the last seventeen or eighteen hundred years.
The implications of this statement – and Tickle has been discussing the implications throughout her last chapter – are enormous.
- More Jewish: a Christianity which returns to the Jewish roots of faith and practice, throwing off at last the shrouds of the Greek dualisms which have hamstrung vital community throughout Christian experience. If the new Christianity reclaimed much that was lost to the dualistic Greek worldview as well as to the Vandals and Visigoths, just imagine what would it look like…
- More paradoxical: in my long class, A Year in the Bible, beginning with Session Two, I ask many either/or questions. Course participants quickly figure out: the answer is always, “Yes!” Whereas paradox is the enemy of logic, which presumes that “A” can never be “Non-A,” Christian faith is full of anti-logical reality, things which can never be trapped in syllogistic symmetry: incarnation; atonement; freedom in bondage; power through submission; victory through death; conquest by truth, blessing and forgiveness. Imagine if the Christian community began to embrace and live out of its paradoxical core…
- More narrative: in his New Testament and the People of God and again in Scripture and the Authority of God, N. T. Wright claims, how we read scripture depends on what act of God’s long play we are living in and which act we are reading. Far from just a set of logical propositions, the Bible is the story of God, told largely through narrative. If we Christians looked and dealt with issues and people and situations not in terms of where they are but of what direction they are going, imagine how Christian practice would be transformed…
- More mystical: the scriptures not only declare realities beyond what is visible to us; they claim those powers and presences are not the least distant or “other.” We dwell now in heavenly places; we enter the Holy of Holies by faith! Much of what we have mistakenly called ‘supernatural’ for the last 1500 years is in fact the invisible side of the same creation which we inhabit, solid realities, bound by creation law, just as we are. If we Christians reclaimed practices which opened up, in part, our creational solidarity with powers which even now fight on our behalf, just imagine…
A Promise Kept
Let me bring you out of such reveries with a sudden change of topic if not subject. I promised in my last post to suggest a suitable teacher for those who would like to learn the lost things, the powerful disciplines of ancient Christianity. (Learn, I say, not ‘learn of’. There is a big difference between the two. It is like the difference between Hebrew knowing and Greek knowing. If Jacob had ‘known’ his wives in the Greek way, there would have been no twelve sons of Israel.)
So who could be our experiential teacher? Reba Place Fellowship is one of those rarest of birds, a Mennonite-rooted community in an urban setting, hardly what we might call “cut off from the world.” Reba, nestled on several blocks of the south side of Evanston and the north side of Chicago, Illinois, has had many, many stories to tell. I have not visited Reba in years, but I can see from a quick look at their several web sites, they have continued to grow and to prosper within some of the lost disciplines, especially Simplicity, Submission and Guidance. Reba was started in 1957 by three uprooted, formerly rural Mennonites, seeking God’s will in the city of Evanston. Now Reba has hundreds of members. Here are a few words from their main website about their vision for life together:
The meaning of our lives is not found in the pursuit of individual happiness, in personal careers or accumulating possessions according to the American dream. Rather, Jesus invites us to a shared life defined by his call to “love one another as I have loved you.” This love has the power to transform ordinary human beings into gifted members of the Body of Christ–a whole new way of living together in mutual service and forgiveness that is good news to the world now, and the beginning of eternal life with God. What does this look like in our daily life? Like many of our neighbors, we gather around tables to share meals. However, like the early church, through common sharing of resources and goods we have practical ways to share our possessions with one another and with our neighbors in need.
It has been a long time since gathering around tables to share meals was a radical and subversive act. It was so in the early church and it is again in Illinois. Reba is a signpost of the kingdom for our emerging church, a Christian community which has rediscovered some of the lost disciplines. Years ago, when I knew Reba well, everyone in the community contributed their entire income to the community and everyone was paid a stipend based on the Illinois monthly welfare check. Homes and cars were all owned in common and allocated according to need. The result was truly abundant life for each one and huge missional opportunities for the entire community! Jesus’ common purse, in society, almost 2000 years later.
Kingdom Living Now
Will the common purse be a normative structure for the kingdom when it finally comes in its fullness? Of course. As the law instructed, everything belonged to God and yet each family had things over which they were the stewards. The society belonged to each one for the sake of everyone. Israel in God’s ancient legislation compelled everyone to be the keeper of each others’ brothers and sisters. The common purse of Jesus and his gang was extended to many among another three thousand people on one fateful Pentecost day and then to many thousands more over the next three or four decades in Jerusalem and Judaea alone. And clearly, each Christian community in each city kept its own common purse so that when it came to contributing to the needs of the saints in another city (namely, Jerusalem) the issue of cheerful giving and of providing for the needs of saints outside one’s own geographical area became an issue, causing the apostle Paul to write to the Corinthian community about it.
No wonder the common purse, as a part of the discipline of Submission, was a mark of the early church. The people of the kingdom are to live so as to demonstrate to the world what love looks like, what a holy “we” society looks like in the midst of a greedy world where, as St. Paul said, the love of money is a root cause of much evil (I Timothy 6:10).
Again, what does it mean to be citizens of the kingdom, the Bride of the Lamb, the body of Christ, a holy people, the temple of God, Jesus with skin on, in our time? It can mean an exciting adventure, a thrilling life of discovery, a joyride of gracious ministry. It can mean riding the most significant cultural wave in half a millennium or more, if we will get changed, get together and get going, because the Lord Jesus is calling.
Although the ride will not be the least linear, what looks like a silver pinball, careening aimlessly, is a loved, cherished and empowered people, ringing up points for the king who guides her, turn after turn, still spinning on the sloped playfield after all these years.
Enough for now. I have more to say about all this; comment if you care.
Up next weekend? A family story.
Peace and grace, Trace
1 Back to Post Tickle, Phyllis, The Great Emergence, How Christianity Is Changing and Why (Baker, Grand Rapids, 2008) page 162.
2 Back to Post See II Corinthians 8:12-15, 9:1-14. Also, has anyone ever given any thought to the size and the make-up of the delegation which accompanied Paul and Silas on their way back to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4-6) with the gift? It is a good-sized crowd of men, but it is also one man from each of the churches in the various cities which have combined resources from their separate common purses in order to compile this quite sizable offering. Recognizing that most of the men and likely the money went ahead to Troas while Paul stayed a few days in Philippi, who then represented the Philippian portion of the gift, going forward? Why, it is right there in Acts that Luke, who had spent several years in Philippi, rejoined Paul, at first, apparently, as the stakeholder for the Philippian donation. Every church sent someone to make sure their slice of the Jerusalem gift pie was not “lost” or mishandled along the way.