Lately, I’ve been hearing many people speak of how they want to start a new church movement or a home church movement or some sort of “new thing” for Christ. Seeing the obvious scarring of past issues of the church at large, they seek to move beyond those issues and give birth to something “new.” During my undergraduate theological education before heading to seminary, I felt that way myself. I felt that I could not authentically minister within the church given its many flaws. As time went by however, I became deeply convinced that God’s primary desire is to call forth a holy people. I saw how God never abandoned Israel even when they abandoned God and their call to be holy. God was faithful to Israel even when Israel was unfaithful to God.The same is true for the church.
Confusing Abandonment with Reform
In that light, I feel our desire for a “new thing” is much more shaped by capitalism than Christianity. We seem convinced that in order to invest in a new enterprise, we need to be on our own apart from the already organized body of Christ. This approach lends to engender competition among those who are convinced that they must originate a new and more desirable thing, different from what has been. This is to confuse reform with abandonment. This is to forget that God has already started a “new thing” in the world: holiness. “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:19)
I think our perspective must be shaped by how we can partner with God and God’s holy people who are already apart of that “new thing” rather than to seek how we might reinvent the wheel and start a new thing ourselves. The church is the product of God’s desire for a new thing in the world. If you want to see a change in the church, go join it and be the change you want to see! Submit to your pastor, to theological and biblical education, and to serving the poor. For without those essential elements, how do you suppose you will have the necessary elements to even perceive what a “new thing” should look like? Osmosis?
Birth and Resurrection
Giving birth to a new movement is appealing because you get to start fresh. A clean slate. No shameful past to weigh you down. No guilty reputation. No dead traditions. I get that. But our God is a God of resurrection! “Giving birth is a great miracle, yes. But resurrection is a far greater miracle.” (Tony Campolo) “Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. Tradition is the living faith of the dead!” (Jaroslav Pelikan) So, if you see parts of the church that are dead, as Martin Luther did, as John Wesley did, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer did, and many others have; desire not to separate and do your own “new thing,” but desire to embody God’s new thing–holiness–and work shoulder to shoulder to reform from within if need be and to bring life to where you see death. As the early church’s confession reminds us, “One Christian is no Christian.” We really do need each other. We do not participate with holiness apart from the body of Christ, but by being a part of the body. Do not allow the odor of death in the past bring you to a failure nerve in the work towards resurrection in the present.