The more I read the bible, the more convinced I am that Jesus, on the whole, wouldn’t fit in our churches. He had a major leaning towards the underdog, almost to the extreme. It’s one of the things I love about him. He just wasn’t interested in the ‘religious crap’ that had become associated with Temple Pharisaical Judaism. Paul, in Philippians, talks too about his rejection of all the stuff of his formation as being, literally, ‘crap’ in comparison to Christ. Paul, of course, becoming the Apostle to the Dogs, the Gentiles.
The likes of St Francis who rejected worldly wealth, power and influence for a life of poverty and ministry to the poor flies in the face of our modern sensibilities, maybe not so much to post-modern sensibilities who understand what it is to rally to a cause. Modern movements like Occupy Wall Street and its UK equivalent seeking to identify with the poor against the oppressors. And then there is the modern day Shane Claiborne raising a movement of ‘Ordinary Radicals’ to challenge the status quo. Classic Kingdom stuff.
Of course, Wesley and Booth were very much in the underdog camp. Wesley working amongst the primarily working class poor and creative a new movement of radical disciples who, by the time Booth got to them, had resorted more or less to pastoral mode and so called out his band of Salvationists….a new monastic movement if ever there was one. Booth liked the cheque-books of the rich, but his people were the everyday neglected by the churches, the spiritual and societal under-dogs.
What I see in all these responses to mission and to Jesus is that they’ve captured something crucial: Jesus prophesied the end of the sacrificial temple system and replaced it with the ultimate sacrifice of himself. The curtain in the exclusive temple was torn in two and the way to God was opened through Jesus’ work on the cross. Religion stopped being about being worthy and started being about recognising our need for mercy, grace, forgiveness and salvation. Francis, Booth, Wesley and many others continued to reject the prophetically damning word that Jesus pronounced on temple religion but continuing to call the church out of the temple onto the streets.
We have a need today for this. We increasingly need people on the very margins of things, both societal and spiritual. This is where the renewal of the church will come…in making disciples of the nations as opposed to buttressing our own churchy games. Authentic discipleship is always missional, always incarnational…going out and going deep to engage the world with the life and transforming power of Christ.
God is raising up a new movement, one that is calling individuals away from the centre of power and empire to the margins of society where the Kingdom has always grown fastest amongst those who seek the Kingdom for Kingdom’s sake instead of what can be gained. The movement is happening in many places, but its a Jesus movement which resembles a new kind of monasticism of radically committed disciples. A discipleship that moves away beyond churchmanship and membership to a consecrated life, covenanted life, professed life which seeks to say ‘to follow Christ is to give your life.’
For me, discipleship is marked thus: a balanced life of worship, prayer, study, work, rest and mission lived out in the world for the sake of Christ and his mission. To follow Jesus is to be called not to a peripheral pew warming, but to ‘Life Together’ bound together in radical obedience to Christ. Jesus didn’t die so that I could hide the gospel and his mission in a building, but that through our own path of death, descent, resurrection and new life we might be transformative ambassadors of the New Kingdom in anticipation of the restoration of all things in the New Heaven and New Earth. This is surely the renewal the church needs that will bring the revival the world needs as Jesus is more and more proclaimed in places his name has not been heard.
The world needs a Christ who can be known through encountering him in the lives of his devoted followers as they pray ‘Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ I pray that for my life, my family, my work, for the community I live in and the whole of the United Kingdom. Come, Lord Jesus, come.