Wineskins Archive

December 9, 2013

A New Frontier for a Church Birthed By Pioneers (May 2012)

Filed under: — @ 7:53 pm and

By Shawn Duncan

As has been well documented, we live in an era of rapid and radical change. Some have referred to this as living in “liminal space.” We have moved beyond the securities of Christendom and are in a vulnerable space, an uncharted space confused about who we are, where we are, and what to do. In this space some react with fear: “Our morality is being mocked, a war is being waged against our religion, and a conspiracy is underfoot against Christianity.” There is fear of the cultural forces that are eroding our once-prized credibility and prominence within the dominant cultural narrative. In this liminal space we are tempted to make our position more comfortable through compromising in the name of relevance or, conversely, retreating from the world so as to remain unaffected, right, and pure. My hope, however, is that we engage in a more redemptive third option: the careful theological interpretation of what it happening in our time so as to adapt according to what God is up to.

In a time of disruptive change and great uncertainty, the church must be agile and creative in discovering how to embody the Good News of the Kingdom in ways that confront, subvert, and challenge evil as well as connect with, redeem, and reconcile our communities to Christ. The world needs a movement of Jesus followers capable of adapting to this new world with a courageous missional lifestyle.

So, what does this have to do with why I am a member of the Churches of Christ? Everything!

Even though I have engaged in plenty of hardy critique of this movement, it is my belief, and my primary reason for being an active member, that the Churches of Christ, as well as other fellowships similarly constituted, are uniquely positioned to adapt and thrive in God’s mission in our current disruptive climate. I say this for two reasons.

First, the Restoration Movement sought to establish, Disciples of Christ notwithstanding, autonomous congregations. My sense is that denominational structures hinder the type nimble flexibility local congregations need to faithfully interact with postmodern (or late modern) culture. If a local body of Christ is one in mind and heart about God’s mission in their specific and unique context, then they are able to pursue that without having to wade through denominational structures and bureaucracy. The radical shifts some churches may need to take to fulfill God’s call in this liminal space are more realistic when those changes are in the hands of the local church itself. Autonomous congregations, at their courageous best, are free to incarnate the Gospel in their very unique, specific, and local context.

The commitment that Stone-Campbell churches have to “New Testament Christianity,” though poorly applied and harshly defined in certain contexts, is another distinctive characteristic that makes me want to be a part of this movement. It is also the second, and more important, reason why we are perfectly suited to be on the front lines of theologically interpreting our times and missionally responding to them. This claim was intended to forge a people devoted to laity empowerment, simplicity of worship, and the unity of all Christians. These are the very qualities necessary for the time and place in which we find ourselves today! Having the first century as our foundational claim, we, at our courageous best, have a simplicity that rejects overburdened ecclesiocentric budgets and structures; we have a freedom to empower people for missional engagement in their neighborhoods; and we have a deep-rooted instinct for creative partnership with other local bodies of Christians. If we can get beyond the tendency to reify contextual descriptors found in Acts, then we can embrace the robust and truly radical nature of our plea for restoration.

I am a hopeful member of this frontier forged movement because our autonomous structure and restoration impulse allow us to be neo-pioneers able to chart new territory free from sluggish sectarianism and shameful conformity. What is needed in our day are local congregations who are fully devoted to following God as He moves about in our local contexts. This takes great courage, great risk, great agility. Our fundamental constitution and our foundational claim make us perfectly suited to do just that.

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