Re • Vision: to become REacquainted with or to REdiscover the original vision or intention of a thing
Do you ever feel like a spiritual misfit in the church? Have you ever felt like something just isn’t right about the western normative church experience, but you haven’t been able to nail down exactly what it is?
Ask the average person today to define the word church and you will get a handful of common answers:
- it’s a building where Christians gather for worship services
- it’s a religious organization with members, programs, and events
- it’s a group of Christians who meet together regularly
A somewhat popular, more nuanced viewpoint might say that THE Church (globally, as opposed to any one local church organization) is very simply the people who follow Jesus as God. But even for those who would say that a church is not a building or an organization, but a people, the message is often betrayed by the medium. While you may define “church” as a people, not a place, would you be considered to truly be part of that people if you refused to attend the event at the place? Usually, the answer is no.
This is why “Church ReVision” is needed. This does not mean a revised vision of the Church. This Re-Vision is a realignment or a rediscovering of the original vision for the Church, defined here simply as the family of followers of Jesus.
Unfortunately, throughout every age since Jesus gathered his first followers, the forces of religion and human self-reliance have conspired to continually add conditions to the identity that Jesus freely gave. Even before Jesus, the story of creation found in scripture (Gen 1–3) shows us a crystal-clear picture of this tragic trajectory. Told by God that he would sustain them and provide for them and create a good world for them, the first humans in scripture decide that they would rather define good and evil for themselves. They decided, rather than trusting what God said was true, to go out on their own and prove their own ability to know and define truth. Humanity has been repeating this fatal mistake ever since.
And while the advent of Jesus is Good News, it did not change our human disposition to try and prove our own worth, even though Jesus has already declared us fully worthy on his terms. Over and over again, humanity, regardless of religion, creed, or ethnicity, decides to strike out on our own and set our own qualifications.
The Church has not been immune to this proclivity.
Even in the stories in the book of Acts, the early Church struggled with this very dilemma. As non-Jews were coming to follow Jesus, some of the Jewish believers decided that simple faith in Jesus wasn’t enough, and instead, these non-Jews needed to first become Jewish before they could follow Jesus. Thankfully, the Spirit of God brought clarity to those times -a ReVision, you might say- as I hope will happen again today.
When declaring their Spirit-led decision about the requirement of Judaism on all Jesus-followers, James, the leader of the Church in Jerusalem and the brother of Jesus, summarized by saying, “My judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” (Acts 15:19) The non-Jews would not be forced to convert to Judaism in order to follow Jesus.
What we see throughout the following letters of Paul and others is a Church that is growing organically in every culture, not through the organized efforts of a few qualified, seminary-trained leaders or through the corporate establishment of a local church congregation, but in the homes of everyday men and women. It is easy to miss when you read these letters through a western, modern-church lens. When we see passages of people gathered, of teaching, of worship, etc, we may assume that is happening in some early version of what we see in the local western church now. But I assure you, that wasn’t the case and you won’t find that in scripture. What you will find is a group of people gathering in people’s homes and in public places, leading where needs arise and in ways that God has gifted them, encouraging one another in their faith, sharing meals together, and serving others as the Spirit led them.
And this is the ReVision that the Church needs today.
While buildings and budgets have their place, and while many modern church organizations have done a great deal of good both for individuals and for society, there are many people who are not at home in the modern church, just as the non-Jews were not at home in the Jewish culture. Unfortunately, what the western church has normally done is force people to adapt to their culture, making it more difficult for those who are turning to God.
If we truly want the Church to be a vehicle of Good News to the world, then we need to consider the wisdom of the early Church in the context of our modern day. (Again, a ReVisioning of the Church) Should we require those who are turning to God to also come through the paths that we have walked? This isn’t to say that the paths that those in the normative western church have walked are invalid; it only asks the question, “Are there other paths for other people?” While it is true that Jesus said that no one can come to the Father except through him, does scripture ever say that no one can come to Jesus except through the normative western church culture?
We need a Church ReVision.
So what should local expressions of the Church look like? There is hardly an answer to that question. Because the Church is people, not a place or programs, the expression can and should look many different ways as it seeks to serve and love people in whatever context it finds them. The Church may appear as a group of people gathered in a community space to sing worship songs and learn about the scriptures. But it may also look like a few Jesus followers serving at a local shelter. It may look like a backyard barbecue among neighbors or a happy hour at the local dive bar. It may be expressed as two old friends sharing a moment around a fire pit or new friends sharing a meal at a local taco shop. The point is that there is no one way that the Church must express itself in order to prove its legitimacy. The Church is the Church regardless of what it looks like. Realigning with the original vision of the Church means that there is freedom to be the Church in every sphere of life.
Paul says it powerfully in one of his letters to the Church in the city of Corinth.
“When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the Jewish law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the Jewish law. When I am with the non-Jews who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ…To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” (1 Cor 9:20–23)
Paul understood the freedom of expression that the modern western church of today seems to have forgotten about.
It is time for a Church ReVision.
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