When Bono of U2 sings, “I still haven’t found what I am looking for” he is not talking about his personal devotional life but the corporate community life of the church.
“I believe in the kingdom come
Then all the colors will bleed into one
Bleed into one
Well, yes, I'm still running
You broke the bonds and you
Loosed the chains
Carried the cross
And my shame
All my shame
You know I believe it
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for…
All I can say is I agree 100%, but I am learning and starting to see it.
The church is called to be the new society that we long to live in. I love the way the writer to the Hebrews says it, “All these died without seeing what they hoped for, BUT WE HAVE BETTER THINGS FOR YOU”.
This is the proper faith filled vision of the church that Christ calls us to long for. Many leaders see the in breaking of this new order of things in our lives and we desire to pursue this life more and more everyday. We know that we will not see it entirely until its fullness comes but we can live and love in such a way that others see the light and give glory to God.
The Expectations of a Child Like Faith
When a new convert pictures the church and the role of the church in his or her mind, what is the new converts world view? Often this initiates view is quite limited – the church is the place we go to here the bible preached on Sunday morning. Other times the initiates view is quite naïve – the church is a community of brothers and sisters that will meet my needs for community and spiritual growth. This being the new converts initial understanding of what church is can have a large range BUT a more pertinent question is what is this persons understanding of the function of church in his or her life after five to ten years of relationship with the church. I contend that after awhile of actual practice on the ground most of the new believer’s excitement has subsided and the more mature believer now experiences the church as “the place I go on Sunday to hear the word preached”. To this we might add that the now mature believer goes to bible study or small group once a week and has some new friends that believe as he does.
What if instead the young idealist’s expectations are far exceeded and the level of community and spiritual support far exceeded all expectation and that to be under whelmed by the church was the exception and not the rule.
So here is the foundation of the answer to a new ecclesiology or understanding of the bible’s vision for the church, the church is to be that new society that meets the essential needs of the human heart for relationship with God, relationship with one another, purpose and mission AND…
Socialization in a New Way of Life based on New Principles
When I use the term “society” or “culture”, I am speaking of the matrices of relationships, behavioral norms, worldview, and symbolic world that combine to socialize the individual. The modern and post-modern world teaches us that people are a product of their tribe. The church is our tribe and in this culture we learn the principles of our tribe: self-sacrificial love, meekness, mercy, purity, faith and so on. This nurture of the individual is the primary function of the church. If we cannot know that our children are going to learn this lifestyle from the life of the church, then we are not functioning as the church. Many at this point may be saying to themselves, “This is idealistic dreaming”. No!!! Such a vision for the church which is the meaning of the church’s message that “This Jesus is both Lord and Christ” requires faith. Faith that is willing to take steps out of the world and into the kingdom for the Glory of God.
Others maybe saying, “But isn’t this socializing function primarily the function of the FAMILY”
Church as Family and Family as Church
Yes, it is accepted that families create the atmosphere where children learn their fundamental identities BUT do not the parents learn their identities and are not parents ultimately socialized by the church. What of the parent who became a Christian in their 20’s or 30’s? Where do these parents learn to create the kingdom in their homes. The answer is unequivocally, “From the church”.
The church has misunderstood the role of the story of the church in socialization of the beleiver. Is not this the message of our baptism? We died and entered the body of Christ. This entering the body of Christ is not some Gnostic ideal but a living reality.
Instead of accepting this function, as modern believers, we have been deceived to think that our identity comes from our individual relationship with Christ, but this is not where this identity is learned. Our true identity is learned from experience in the church and the life of the church.
The Necessary Response to This Perspective of the Primary Function of the Church
If this is our foundational understanding of the function of the church body then immediately we realize that Sunday lecture is not enough. I cannot worship as a church family once or twice a week and expect this bi-weekly routine to define my personhood and my spiritual identity. This being true, I conclude that I need church society every day. I need to come to the table with my brothers and sisters and worship together daily. This is how the church is family…
In the same way the church is called to socialize the believer, so too, this kingdom socialization describes how the family is to be the church. My family story can be this story as well for the sake of my own identity and spiritual life and the life. Every meeting together as a family can be an experience of worship. Prayer and the word and song can begin to permeate our daily life and define how we eat and play and learn and work.
All of us have some realm of relationships with our fellow believers. All these relationships can be defined as an opportunity for church. Where ever two or three are gathered there, right there, we can be the people of God assembled. Do not wait to become the church, you are the church.
The need is for a new definition of church and church life. Our definitions need porous borders. Our homes need porous borders. Our churches need porous borders. Our work needs a porous border. All our spheres need to become modes of church, of assembly.