The Church Crucified

My buddy Marty had some interesting things to say about the ways we sometimes just cruise on autopilot.  He started off wondering  whether his interest in the show “24” was because it’s a good show or simply because he’s in the habbit of watching it.  From there, he contemplated the things we do in the church: do we just do these out of habbit as well?  (Hopefully, if we’re nuns, we do them in our habbits.  But that’s a whole nother deal.)

The fact that he used the words “Death” in the title of his post got me to thinking.  So often we hear that word.  Death.  With such despair.  Even when it’s used metaphorically.  “My church is dying.”  People might say with such a sense of loss.

This sense of loss is completely understandable.  It’s quite human.  But I think that we can do better than it.

We’re called to die to ourselves.  We’re told that our sins are crucified with Christ.  In baptism, we’re lowered into death with him, and we’re raised out of this death into etetnal life.

It’s accurate and appropriate to understand this all individualistically.  As individuals we should die to ourselves.  Our individual sins are crucified with Christ.  Individually, we are given eternal life through Him.

But I think there’s some truth in the idea that these might be experienced collectively.  Collectively, we– the church– should die to ourselves.  Collectively we– the church– ought to have our sins crucified with Christ.  Collectively we– the church– his bride, and his body, will live eternally.

But we have to die first.  As individuals.  And I would suggest that we have to die collectively.

It is natural for for us to fear the death of our individual churches.  It is understandable that we might mourn their deaths.  But the church must die in order to be reserructed.

Exactly what does this look like?  I think that the church dies and is reseructed in two very different senses, just as the individual dies and is reseructed in two very different senses.

In one sense, I died already and was reborn already.  In one sense, I left all my sins at the cross with Jesus.

And so, too, the church can die– here and now– so that it can leave all of its sins on the cross with Jesus.  Churches who commit the sin of legalism, judgementalism, hypocrisy, and irrelevance.  (I only hesitate a little bit to name “irrelevance” a sin of the church.  But with news as important as the news of Jesus, how could it not be a sin to squander and hoard it?)

The church will be retempted with all those old sins and a handful of new ones.  Just as I will.  And so I must die many times to myself in this world.  And so must the church.

But a day is coming.  A day when I will be who I was meant to me.  A day when I am in communion with Him, and all my sins, they will be left behind forever.

And so too, when Jesus is back among us, the church will leave behind all of it’s sins, forever.  He will take up leadership in the flesh: not just through us, anymore, but with us, in some whole new way.

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jeffsdeepthoughts

The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

5 thoughts on “The Church Crucified”

  1. Some worthy thoughts, surely, but some that I can make little sense of.

    For one thing, the way you are talking about church makes it sound as though you are identifying that as meaning the local congregation of believers. In that sense, churches are being born and dying every day—being gathered and being dismembered might be another way of saying it.

    But the Church herself is beyond death, even beyond decay, and I’m not now talking only in some mystical or otherworldly sense. And as for being crucified, the more we talk about it (or sing about it, as did John Lennon and Yoko Ono), usually the less we are honestly being it.

    Maybe not for all Christians, but for many, and I am one of them, to bear the cross is not something we “do” to imitate Christ, not something we choose. The life of the cross of Christ comes as a result of following the call of Jesus. It is something we little chose but something we receive from Him as members of His Body.

    Some Christians and others seem to think it goes something like this. You accept Christ. Then, you agree to “carry your cross,” that is, to be willing to put up with whatever happens to you, and praise God all the while. And after a moment of suffering some disappointment or inconvenience with cheerfulness, you can look back and think to yourself, “I’m bearing my cross,” as you reach out for the next pleasant experience to compensate yourself for having done it.

    But bearing the Cross of Christ always leads to crucifixion. Why carry a cross if not to be nailed to it? It’s not as though we carry the cross all day, and in the evening put it down, and go have a beer with friends. Well, actually, I know something like that can happen, but this kind of experience, this kind of life, means we still haven’t been buried with Christ in our baptism. We may allow Him to wash our feet, so that we won’t be left out of His group, but far be it from us to protest, “not only my feet, but my hands and head as well!”

    When Christ calls a man, He calls him to die.

    Now, the Church is many layered. The people comprising the Church range from totally opaque and visible to almost completely transparent and invisible, and they are ranged in layers, starting with the opaque and visible. We find ourselves being able to see only those in the Church who are at about our degree of visibility. We know the others are there too, but we are insensible to them, even if we interact with them socially. I am not talking about the members of your local congregation, but of the entire Body as it exists both locally and globally, in space and in time.

    Christians, as they approach death begin to see others who are also approaching it, but they also are beginning to see, and to love, those who have already died, because they know they will soon be with them, and with Him. These are the dead of whom the psalmist says, “precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of His saints.” There is no point in bearing your cross, or in submitting to crucifixion, unless you expect to die.

    The things you are saying about the “Church Crucified” and the “dying church” seem to me to be hanging from concepts that can be expressed as thoughts, but are actually outside the realm of objective possibility. For example, it is impossible for churches to “commit the sin of legalism, judgementalism, hypocrisy, and irrelevance.” As individuals we can commit these sins (if indeed they are that), but I don’t see that churches, let alone the Church, can be said to commit them.

    Forgive me, brother, as I may not be properly understanding what you are trying to express. It seems like you have joined many familiar Christian ideas together to come up with… what?

    The “Church Crucified” can only mean the suffering Body of Christ, the pilgrim people who really do pour out their lives as daily, living sacrifices to God and for each other. It’s not the constructs with the fancy campuses, the accomplished leaders, the selfless volunteers and the generous audiences that the world sees and either admires or reviles. Remember, the Church is layered, and you see those who are “where you are at.”

    Just as Jesus Christ’s birth, His baptism, His temptation, His arrest, His judgment, His death by crucifixion, His resurrection, His appearances, and His ascension to the right hand of the Father were invisible to and hidden from the world, until God Himself made them known through the holy apostles, so are the exploits and the sufferings of the saints of this and every age invisible to and hidden from the world, until God Himself chooses to reveal them.

    Dying with Christ and being resurrected with Him reveals to the disciple more and more its horrific reality, as he ventures past intellectual conjecture and enters upon the following of Jesus without restraint, caution or disquiet, to the place of the skull, to Golgotha, and to the Garden tomb. What emerges from that tomb will no more be he who was laid there, but the new creation, the second Adam.

    This is not some game we play.

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  2. Thanks, as always, for your insightful reply. Even as I wrote this, I was considering a follow-up post. That might adress some of your observations.

    I’d be interested to hear the portions that made little sense. I’d love to try an explanation again. In my head, as I wrote it, I had a pretty clear meaning in mind. (Sometimes, even as I write, I don’t know exactly what I mean. This wasn’t one of those times.) So anything confusing is an issue with my communication, not with my original mind-set.

    You are absolutely right: talking about being crucified can be a “good” way to avoid doing it.
    In some sense, this is all less of an issue, I think, for the orthodox tradition. Having a much more unchanged liturgy I suspect carries different issues, but I won’t judge those as I’m not in the middle of them.

    It is clear to me that those of us within more (I can’t find a neutral phrase here. So let’s just combine a bunch) Those of us within more dynamic/changing/fluid/worldy/heretical/culturally relevant traditions have this problem I was becoming aware of.

    The problem is that we can have a tendency to treat the medium as equal to the message. We confuse the wine skin for the wine itself. I think that we need to be o.k. with the idea that our style of worship might die so that the object of our worship might live. I’ll say more about this in my next post. I’m getting a little ahead of myself, here.

    It seems like some of your reaction is to the notion of collective sin.
    I would be the last to suggest that all sin is collective. Individual is of prime importance. But I would also suggest that the notion that an entire group might sin is not one that is alien to the bible, particularly the old testmant. I wouldn’t mind exploring this possibility with you, and sharing where I’m coming from, if you’d like. (My sense however, is that you tend to steer clear of multi-post debates… A policy I can certainly respect. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong on that assumption.)

    I spent some time considering what I think maybe was another motivation in your reply:
    It seems like you want to confront what could be a triviliazing of the cross.
    I am prepared to say that I don’t think I am trivilizing the cross.
    But I think it’s a really important thing to be on guard for this. It would be easy to slip into this: because taking up a cross is easier to talk about than do, because using pop culture references runs the risk of being irreverent, because the very nature of the internet and blogging can turn things shallow.

    So thank you for calling it like you see it, and taking serious issues as seriously as we should.

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  3. Hey Jeff, nice to hear from you. I was beginning to think my comments were written in such an alien idiom that they couldn’t be understood anymore.

    Because we’re not talking face to face and in an identical location, I won’t waste our time trying to fully express things that don’t lend themselves well to remote communication. But let me make a few responses to points in your comment:

    “The problem is that we can have a tendency to treat the medium as equal to the message. We confuse the wine skin for the wine itself.”

    This is very, very true, for the Orthodox with our unchanging liturgical worship as much as for you of the dynamically and relevantly adaptable worship style. Whenever I think I or we are falling into the error you have described in the quote above, I turn to Romans 1:9 where holy apostle Paul states: “The God I worship spiritually by preaching the Good News of his Son…” The rest of the verse is not apt to the discussion, but the beginning of the verse is.

    You see, worship is essentially an act of the will in which something or someone is being acclaimed as “worthy” or in Greek, “Axios”. In the Greek Church we have more than one word for worship, and these words are not necessarily related to scripture verses. In Romans 1:9 however, the worship is “latrevo”, a word used only in worship of the Being (God) and never applied to the worship (or veneration as we better say in English) that applies to worthy persons other than God Himself—that worship is “proskyneo”. Yet, in the book of Revelation, the word holy apostle John uses for worship is always “proskyneo” (I think). So for Paul, the worship due to God alone he offered “by preaching the Good News of his Son.” That deserves some thought. Anyway, not to get lost in technicalities, I just wanted to affirm what you wrote, quoted above. This is quite correct.

    “I think that we need to be o.k. with the idea that our style of worship might die so that the object of our worship might live.”

    I agree with this also, but not as regards Orthodox worship, which cannot die, as it is the Word of God set to a matrix or construct that transforms it into true worship and transforms us into true worshippers, like the 24 elders John saw in the visions. Non-Orthodox style of worship may, and in fact must, die out, in order for true worship to emerge.

    When you wrote “…so that the object of our worship might live,” you were being metaphorical, of course, since God is alive and fully present regardless of our style of worship. Divine scripture says this, in fact Jesus Himself hanging on the Cross cites it, speaking of the Being (YHWH), “Yet, Holy One, you who make your home in the praises of Israel…”

    (Psalm 22, recited by Jesus as He hung on the Cross in typical Jewish fashion, speaking only the opening verse aloud, and reciting the remainder of the psalm inwardly. His offering of Psalm 22 on the Cross was the Word of God Himself speaking and fulfilling the prophecies concerning Himself and the fate of the human world to the end of time.)

    In worship as praise, the Being makes His home. This is the basis for all worship in Orthodoxy, both Jewish and Christian. What the West has to learn all over again, maybe from the East, is what worship really is, ontologically and actually. So far, they have concentrated their energies mainly on the externals and the factual realm in trying to worship the One. This has to die, for sure.

    Realising in Whose Presence we worship, the Orthodox ascribe chabod (“glory” as usually translated from Hebrew, but the word really means “weight”) to God. True worship in spirit and in truth as Christ teaches, is something we do not do exactly, but something already going on that we participate in, that we join in. This is most aptly demonstrated in Christian Orthodox worship, where for most of us, as we enter the sanctuary, the service is already going on when we arrive, not because we arrive too late, but because we arrive when we respond to the call. This is important.

    “…you tend to steer clear of multi-post debates…”

    Yes, you’re right. Debating is for debaters, and that I am not. I am just a simple “am ha-aretz,” an earth man. I’m here to pick up the pieces after the storm has blown through.

    “…using pop culture references runs the risk of being irreverent…”

    I do not live in a world where “irreverence” is a notion of consequence, nor do I think that pop culture or references to it are inadmissable in theological discussion and teaching. I don’t use the Message Bible, but I do not oppose it or think it is irreverent. On the other hand, topically directed bibles, “Men’s study bible, Women’s, Teens,” etc. are really unnecessary, because the very idea approves a notion that is at root heretical, that humans are different. (Some of these editions, such as “the porn star’s bible” are not so much irreverent as they are silly.)

    All people, of all ages, all sexes, all classes, all races, even all sexual preferences, are the same. There is only one Word of God. The more a Bible edition contains copious notes, especially slanted ones (on whose authority no one knows), the less the living Word, the Divine Logos, Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, can teach the disciple.

    Remember, holy apostle John wrote, “This is all that I am writing to you about the people who are trying to lead you astray. But you have not lost the anointing He gave you, and you do not need anyone to teach you; the anointing He gave teaches you everything; you are anointed with Truth, not with a lie, and as it has taught you, so must you stay in Him.” (1 John 2:26-27) He was warning us against the Nicolaitans. This group has never died out in the Church, though the name has. Nicolaitans (conquerors of the people) want to teach us what the Word says, instead of letting us be taught by the Word Himself.

    On the subject of pop culture, I am persuaded that it is precisely the art forms that try to be “Christian” that are usually not only the most pedestrian and boring ultimately, but also the least effective in witnessing for Christ. We should not produce Christian art, but we Christians should simply produce art. The same goes, in an odd sort of way, for worship. If Christians are, in fact, disciples of Jesus, they are not religious nor are their works religious. Everything they do simply issues forth from Christ who lives, actually, in them. It is His acts that are our facts. That’s the connexion, and to understand this saves us from man-made, idolatrous art, worship and everything else. This is what we have to understand. If even some the pagans understand this, without having knowledge of the living One, how can we not?

    Hey, have I said enough? Have I said anything at all? God knows. It’s time now to let the Word have His way, and for me, that means silence. Go with God, my brother.

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