Ecclesia Semper Reformanda Est – ‘the church is always reforming’
This season of Covid has changed ministry beyond all recognition – without doubt. And, my sense is that it has changed people, certainly in the short term – there is a strong fatigue, a weariness, and an uncertainty hanging around. These seasons in life – where we’re between one thing and another – are ‘liminal spaces’. They are confusing in-between spaces; not quite sure who I am or where I’m going spaces; not sure what to do with it spaces; very uncomfortable spaces as the familiar falls away.
Not everyone can do ‘liminal space’ well. It takes a certain grit to embrace a transition season, but also some perseverance to tune in to its messages. Liminality speaks loudly…as loud as the most silent silence. There’s a profundity to step into if we are able to embrace it.
Liminal space is transforming.
Think of being thrust out of the Garden. Think of sailing on a flooded earth for a season. Think of lying in the bottom of a pit abandoned by your brothers. Think of generations living under slavery. Think of 40 years in the desert. Think of climbing up Sinai. Think of hiding in a cave from your enemies. Think of 40 days in the desert. Think a few nights in the depth of the tomb. Think of being shut away in an upper room praying and hoping in fear. Think of a few nights in the jailer’s cell. Think of exile on a island. Think of years of house arrest. Just a few biblical examples of ‘liminal’ in-between spaces.
Many of us are suspicious of the unknown. We hanker for safety, security, and the familiar. That’s natural, but it’s not normal in the sense that life is rarely really like that. I guess in the West, we feel that much of our lives are usually predictable and almost dull in their regularity, until something like a death, a sickness, a crisis, a pandemic or a war comes along.
And what about the church? Well, in lots of ways the church can be an expert at stability. Not saying that is a bad thing. The church, over the years, has had periods of being settled, it has endured, it has succeeded (sort of) in passing apostolic faith down the centuries. Execept, every 300 years or so, something comes along and provokes a reformation.
The first reformation was the coming of the Spirit on the people of God! Wow! Big one! Nothing was the same again.
The second reformation, maybe between 400 – 500 or so, was the emergence of desert monasticism – a movement that rejected the normalising and the compromise of church getting into bed with the state. So the Desert Fathers and Mothers lived a radical discipleship on the edges.
Not far behind, St Benedict and his radical movement which didn’t just transform the church, but transformed the world – preserving culture from itself!
The third reformation, maybe 400 years later again, came in the shape of St Francis. ‘Rebuild my church’, God proclaims, and Francis and his sister Clare set about bringing simple joy and poverty back to an indulgent church, setting a new bar for discipleship.
Fast forward another 400 years or so, and the rot hasn’t stopped. Faith and practice distorted: enter Luther, Calvin, Zwingly and Co. Enter the Anabaptists, then the Huguenots, the Waldensians, the Moravians, the Puritans and the like who take the church back to the Word, back to the basics of discipleship.
Skip a few hundred years and you have the Wesleys, Whitfield, Finney, Edwards, Moody, the Booths and the Evangelical revival of the 18th-19th century, taking the church back to the streets, back to the ‘common people’, igniting a passion for the gospel which lead to the biggest move of evangelisation since the early church.
And then…there’s now. In lots of way the rug has been pulled from under us. We’ve experience the biggest upheaval in the history of the modern church. Will be go back ‘to normal?’ Or, will we put our ear to the Word, to the ground, to the heartbeat of God and listen to what he’d have us do now?
That’s the choice we face in liminal space. Will we be the reformers, or will we be those reformed against? Can we take a brave, bold step into an unknown future for the sake of the gospel? I pray so.