Hey Bloomizens –
I wanted to pick up where we left off last week, talking about our philosophy of house church. If you missed last Sunday’s talk, you can listen to it here, and I’d also encourage you to read this blog post, even though there will be substantial overlap.
A favorite parable of mine:
He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” (Matt 13:33)
“Missional” is a word that’s gained some traction in recent years in the evangelical landscape. It’s rather chic these days to claim that your church or movement or small group or house church is “missional.” We’re the “missional” Christians, you know, as opposed to those “non-missional” Christians out there…
And yet, there seems to be no consensus as to what the word actually describes. A particular posture towards the lost? A particular set of commitments to social justice? A certain level of engagement with global poverty? What counts?
Amid the ballyhoo, it seems to me that two curious and highly negative things can and do happen. One is, “missional” becomes a badge that marks “us” out as separate from “them.” That church over there CANNOT be missional, because they do smoke and lights and all that stuff… This is common, and sad. “Missional” becomes another point of pride, posturing, and division.
Another thing that can happen is that “missional” becomes a burden. We hear well-intended things like “God is on our side if we are on the side of the oppressed…” and we wonder, “Am I on the side of the oppressed? And what would that look like? And when would I know if I am ‘on the side of the oppressed’ enough? Is there a magical line to be crossed?” And so the shrill prophetic cries for the church to move beyond itself become heavy and ill-defined yokes, burdens that we bear that squash joy and spontaneity. We worry whether or not we’ve done ENOUGH to “be missional.” We fret whether or not we can “be missional” and live outside the urban core of our city. And on and on it goes.
For my part, I think that all of this is sad and unnecessary. I think that Jesus and Paul were stern and clear in their positions vis a vis “badges” and “burdens”… or, to use a biblical category, “pride” and “condemnation.” We need a better way. One that liberates us for mission with Jesus and helps us steer clear of the twin traps of pride and condemnation. But where shall we find it?
I have found help in two 20th century figures: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar.
For much of Bonhoeffer’s early scholastic career, he was beset with turmoil over the question, “What is the Church?” Liberal theology at the time tended to view the Church in merely human terms, while another strand of theology that was becoming increasingly influential (Barthianism) tended to view the Church as something that “blinked” in and out of reality as the she responded to the “Word.”
Bonhoeffer went a different direction altogether. In his doctoral dissertation “Sanctorum Communio”, Bonhoeffer asserted that the Church was “Christ-existing as Church-community.” That is, the Church ALREADY WAS the place where the risen Christ lived and occupied space on planet earth. Her (the Church’s) identity “in Christ” was not in dispute. It was REAL. What was in dispute was whether and to what extent the Church saw this and ran with it. But that she was “in Christ” and that Christ was “in” her ALREADY… this was beyond argument for Bonhoeffer.
In a similar vein, von Balthasar in his work “Engagement with God” wonders just what it is that gives the Church that peculiar quality of being a “leavening agent” in the world. Drawing on the parable of the yeast (quoted above) von Balthasar sees that the “dough” (the world) and the “yeast” (the people of God) need each other. The dough will not rise without the yeast. But neither will the potent power of the yeast be unleashed unless it is “plunged” into the dough. So where does the “yeastiness” of the yeast come from?
Von Balthasar answers simply that it is grace working on the yeast to refine it, in several stages, so that its pure potent power can be released when it finds itself immersed in the dough of the world.
When I put Bonhoeffer and von Balthasar together, a compelling picture emerges in which “missional” is not fundamentally something “different” from the total work of spiritual formation in which our identity as sons and daughters of God “in Christ” increasingly comes into focus and becomes the foundation out of which our lives are lived.
That is to say, at Bloom, we think that it is fundamentally dangerous and misguided to separate “mission” from “spiritual formation.” Instead, we think that “what God has joined together, let man not separate.” As our identity “in Christ” is increasingly discovered and lived into (spiritual formation), “mission” will be the inevitable result.
Now that is NOT to say that we do spiritual formation for ‘x’ amount of years and THEN begin to move out in mission. They happen together. There is a circular – or even better, a “spiral shaped” process of engagement with the world in our own lives and deep formation into our identity in Christ. We are “sent” out into the world and then “drawn” back into the family of faith where our identity continues to be forged and deepened. We are “scattered” and then we are “gathered.” Each time around the loop there is a sharpening and a deepening. The process is crucial.
The logic of House Church for us, then, is the logic of “gathering” whereby we are formed more deeply for obedience-to, conformity-to, and identity-in Jesus Christ, which will have an inevitable impact on our engagement with the world in the particular spaces (work, school, family, friends, neighborhood, etc) that God has called us into.
One of the reasons at Bloom we’ve settled on “house church” as the nomenclature we use to describe our expression of community rather than “missional community” is that, from our perspective, “missional” tends to put too much slant on what we “do” rather than what we “are” ALREADY (think Bonhoeffer) by virtue of our confidence in what God has done for us in Christ Jesus. House Church therefore is therefore a place where what we ALREADY ARE is increasingly unearthed as we do life together with brothers and sisters in the family of faith (think von Balthasar).
And through it, as that identity is forged ever-deeper, we are also “sent” back into our lives to BE WHAT WE ALREADY ARE… salt, light, yeast… even better… ministers, ambassadors, PRIESTS OF THE LIVING GOD, who mediate the presence of God to a hurting world. We carry Christ with us (for we are “in Him” and He “in us”) into all the places now under the control of darkness, and darkness increasingly loses its grip.
We believe, in very deep and profound ways, that God has not “accidentally” placed any one of us in the lives he’s placed us in. To put it another way, we are “already” plunged into the dough of the world in very particular and unique ways, in a configuration of relationships and environments, none of which are at-random. Therefore, “being missional” is not a matter of extracting yourself from one environment and placing yourself in another. Nor is it a matter of caring more about big clunky humanitarian issues “out there” (though both of those things are good and worthy and may happen as a result of the deepening of our identity). Instead, it is about being alive to who we ALREADY are… the Christ ALREADY in us… longing to save and bless the world he has placed us in.
That is why at Bloom we do so little rallying to this or that “cause” in our gatherings. We don’t carry around an anxious pressure that unless we make up stuff for you to care about, “mission” won’t happen. All to the contrary, we believe that as the horizon of your life is filled with beauty of Christ Jesus, and as that beauty permeates all that you are and do, “mission” will happen as naturally as salt flavors whatever environment it is placed in. For salt doesn’t have to “try” to be salt. Instead, as everything that is “not salt” about it is stripped away, it will inevitably be “salty” when plunged into stew or salad.
Several weeks ago I had the good privilege of doing lunch with a guy who had come to a couple of our gatherings. Casually I asked him his impression. His response:
What I loved about your gathering was that it had a curious quality to it. It was good. And deeply refreshing. But more than that… when it was all over, I had the distinct feeling of having been ‘sent’. But not ‘sent’ to DO this or that thing, or to believe in this or that moral or humanitarian cause… just ‘sent’ back into my world, to be what I’ve been called to be.
“That,” I thought, “is paydirt.” We didn’t give him a badge. We didn’t give him a burden. We gave him the gift of knowing who he is more deeply, and thus feeling delivered by God back into his world to BE what he is… salt, light, yeast, blessing.
So if you ask me, “Where’s ‘mission’ in this whole ‘house church’ conversation?”, I will answer simply: “In the refinement of our lives, the purification of our souls, the unearthing of our deep identity in Christ, the chiseling away of all in us that is not ‘salt’ and ‘light’…”
House Church is a place for that to happen.
Much love to you, and as I said last week, let us know if we can get you connected with one of these “families of faith”…