I’ve just had two very interesting weeks. Officers councils, furlough in between, then a weekend on the Crucible Course, a course run by Urban Expression and The Salvation Army about creating communities of faith on the margins.
Both those ‘conferences’ were good in and of themselves, but I’ve become aware of some significant contrasts. Much of it is hinged around this thing ‘post-Christendom.’ Now, my confession is that I’ve only every heard of this post-Christendom presented in negative terms. Times of ignorance of the gospel, decreasing influence of the church, people not attending church, increase of pluralism and multi-cultural society etc etc They are, of course, challenges we need to wake up to.
The response I’ve heard from my leaders is that we reject the demise of Christendom as a myth and carry on regardless ‘growing the Church’, simply working a lot harder to produce what we could produce a few years ago with greater ease. In other words, advance the institution.
I’ve heard much too about the promotion of officership, which in huge ways I’m all for, but my concern has been the language and tone that we’ve heard. Officership as a sacred call, a priesthood, a role above and beyond any other call. We’ve had written minutes confirming that there are some jobs that only officers are allowed to do, for example. We’re enforcing the demonic clergy-laity split, itself a product of Christendom. All this has been presented as what we must do to defeat this post-Christendom thing….more or less re-assert and defend Christendom.
You see, when you make the church of Jesus equal to power of state, what you get is compromise on the radical message of Jesus and you see the church begin to take part in attrocities. Examples? Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, witch trials, burning of heretics etc. Basically, the crushing of all who don’t believe the same as us. You also get within the church a bully culture, because its leaders see themselves as having power in the organisation to mete out the laws and decrees thereof.
What my second weekend allowed me to do was actually see the benefits of being followers of Jesus in a post-Christendom world and respond in a much more positive way than defending the old regime. In many ways, you see, it will gradually take us back to a world akin to pre-Christendom…before the uniting of church and state…when Christianity was a marginal movement, persecuted, misunderstood but yet growing immensely and really impacting society from a position of weakness instead of power.
Its a time where we can re-visit the message of Jesus and be unequivocally committed to living it out in its radicalness. You know, you don’t have to play down the teaching of Jesus on peace, for example, because we’re not expected to go to the battle field and pray protection for the soldiers and pray a prayer of accuracy over the bombs!
It takes us back to a time were the church expressed itself primarily as community in mission as opposed to congregation in maintenance. Where there was total mobilisation of the people, not to build the institution, but to build the Kingdom and see people start to follow in the way of Jesus. There are many more advantages.
I maintain that the Army, although it has become an unattractive Christendom institution today, had its roots in a really appropriate response to an impotent institutional Christianity. Booth marched the Army OUT of the established church (even Methodism had returned away from its radical ‘called-out-ness’) and built revolutionary missional communities (the fellowship was in the fight) on the margins of our society, challenging everything that was contrary to the message of Jesus.
I reflected with many good people over the weekend that the Army is continually seeking to take up the status of ‘church’ when what it needs to do is embrace what God raised us to be and do. We’re sold out to the building of the Salvo empire and all this in a time when every empire that there has ever been has disappeared or is disappearing and when the ‘church image’ is most unnatractive to the world because of all they have seen of the church in its most unnatrative forms through the 1400 years of Christendom. What we need to do, is grasp not the methods, but the spirit of our forebears who were all out to save the lost, transform society and live a different reality.
Friends, primitive Salvationism is the most appropriate response to a post-Christendom society…a movement of ordinary radicals who have Jesus as King, who by their approach and lifestyle say ‘the Kingdom is not of this world, we sing a different tune’ and flesh out the truth that those who are first shall be last, and those who are last shall be first. The early Christian movement was solid at the centre and fuzzy at the edges, becoming all things to all people that by some means we might save some. We should be throwing off all that smacks of imperialism and seek to live the alternative that Jesus began to establish in his followers (favour the poor, care for the orphan and widow, welcome the alien, turn the other cheek, redistribute the wealth, first shall be last).
Salvationism will need to stop equating soldiership with membership of the body of Christ, recognising that to be a Salvationist is to be a member of a covenanted missional order (maybe you want to call it neo-monasticism).
I’m still working out in full how this might even begin to look. This is my Kingdom ambition. I’m geniunely excited about the possibilites of this new era we are gradually entering. It is in doing this that we in a very real sense build the Army because in living as the Army in this way that we will be actually building the Kingdom as opposed to enforcing and putting scaffolding around Christendom.