I often set myself a challenge to shake up my world that has become too comfortable, and to grab hold of a fresh perspective. Along the way I ponder interesting questions. Some might say that I have a complex mind 🙂
One question I remember asking myself when I was seventeen was, “If a tree falls over in a forest and there is no one there to see or hear it, does it still make a sound as it crashes to the ground?” Perhaps this is an odd question, or one to which we assume the answer is easy, but in pondering it, I began to qualify my world view.
I concluded that, yes the tree would still make a sound even in the absence of anyone to hear it, and that the tree and the sound existed in an ordered universe with defined and knowable rules which at the very least had been set in motion by a supreme being, and would continue to exist and act even in my absence. In short, I was not the centre of the universe, but my identity and place in this world was somehow defined in relation to an ordered universe fashioned by a god.
Thus continued my quest for seeking out and knowing God, a quest that, as a disciple and follower of Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah, I am still walking out today.
Recently I was pondering another of these questions, as follows: “Suppose you lived inside a big box that was sitting on a firm foundation. Every year the box was shrinking but proportionately so was everything inside the box and also every measuring device that you had. How would you know the box was shrinking, or that its position in relation to the world outside the box was changing?” In short, you wouldn’t. You would be unaware the box was shrinking and would have no reference point to relate to the larger universe outside the box.
As I thought more about this image, I realized that it was a perfect metaphor for the current condition of much of the church today.
The church has become like a box with high walls that we hide behind and retreat from a world that we are supposed to be actively involved in. To those outside the box, the church has become increasingly irrelevant, and we do not realize that we are no longer at the centre of society but on its fringes.
As we have retreated behind the walls out of fear and created for ourselves a comfortable, safe place with our own language, customs and practices, we have abandoned our missional calling. We wait for Christ’s return as a means of rescue, rather than as the establishment of His kingdom here on earth, which God desires no one to miss.
The walls must come down. The church as the Body of Christ must go out. We were not called to build walls. We have been called to the Great Commission and to begin to build the kingdom of God on earth.
We must redefine our frame of reference. We do not live in a Christian society. We are not the centre of the universe. God and his purposes are at the centre. Our calling is not to hide away or to bring people to a church building where by “osmosis” they can learn about God and learn to talk and act like us. Our calling is not to change legislation. Our calling is to go out and to be relational and missional among all people outside the protective box. We were not called to be a social club.
We live in a very spiritual world alongside people already inclined to believe, or to want to believe, in something spiritual. People talk of their personal belief system.
In stepping outside the box, and becoming missional, the church as the Body of Christ must avoid a couple of pitfalls.
First, in an effort to be relevant, the church must avoid shifting the goalposts. In an age of personal spirituality, the church cannot redefine the tenets of the gospel or the identity and importance of the Messiah to leave out the uncomfortable or inconvenient parts. To do so is to create a false or incomplete gospel and to create a manufactured Jesus. In the above metaphor of the box, this relativizing of the gospel is akin to setting the base of the box on quicksand.
Second, in an effort to hold on to the unchanging truth of the gospel, the church cannot confuse scriptural truth with subsequent tradition, or combine the timeless truth of the gospel with a likewise timeless method of presentation and delivery. To do so is to create a truthful but irrelevant message of hope that answers questions that no one is asking. In the above metaphor of the box, this increasing irrelevancy is akin to having no reference point to relate to the world outside the box. Instead, proper contextualization of the timeless truth of the gospel and the identity of Jesus as Messiah is essential, to know what people are thinking and how to reach them.
Third, the church cannot show up in the world outside the box only to oppose what it doesn’t like, or what it deems is on the top of God’s agenda. The church as the Body of Christ – you and me – must be fully engaged in the world outside the box.
Fourth, the church – you and me – must remember that there is greater power in a relationship with people than in a lobby, petition, rally, or protest sign. To be missional requires each of us to be relational. Each of us are called to be missional and relational to the people around us, not just as potential converts, but as people – our family members, our co-workers, our neighbours, and indeed everyone we encounter.
It is time for the church to rise up and look up and take up the Great Commission with fresh perspective. It is time for all of us to tear down walls and think outside of the box.