Thursday, 6 September 2007

10 two-letter words

The golfer Ben Hogan is attributed with this quotation - comprising 10 two-letter words:

"If it is to be, it is up to me."

So how does this relate to church vision?

Well, at housegroup on Tuesday night we were looking at the big question 'How far are we the church that God has called us to be in 2007?' During the discussion one of our group asked if we should really be answering a different question - 'How far are we the Christians that God has called us to be in 2007?'

This got me thinking. I don't think that Hogan's saying is the way to address the vision thing, but I do think that it brings me back to a point where I need to be reflective and consider my role in developing and shaping this thing called church.

Also in the absence of an agreed vision, I see it as part of my duty to think big thoughts, to express what I think God is saying to us - and then to listen to what others have to say. To be honest, the first two tasks are relatively straightforward - I struggle a bit with the listening part.

So I need to improve on this. I've found something that might help me on the way. It's a 'habitude' - I found it on Magpie Girl's blog. The idea being to make an effort over a period of time to transform a habit or an attitude - I like that! So here goes ...


That Hideous Man said...

"Church for today?" or "Christians for today?" is an interesting question.

I think that since the Reformation, protestant Christians have asked themselves the latter repeatedly - as individualised, westerners we see ourselves as isolated units of self-realised decision-makers.

As such we have been unable to ask the "church for today?" question because of the constant pull to individualise the issue. Many people in this country then struggle to understand how the churches in Revelation can be weighed, assessed, judged, critiqued, commended or condemned as whole units!

I think that many of the problems faced by our churches today are due to the fact that us protestants have (rightly) emphasised personal salvation; but to the extent that we have promoted privatised faith; in other words 'free-churches have no ecclesiology'!

I am convinced that if we are to grow healthier churches it is essential for us to learn to operate in the 'we' categories, not just the 'me'. Firstly I do not think that God sees us as isolated individuals. Secondly I think that we kid ourselves if we think that we are soveriegn actors in situations and not fashioned by one another.

If the letters to the churches in Revelation demonstrate that their is a common-life for which we are accountable - we dare not avoid the question by only addressing the individual element. The sum is greater than the parts!

Endlessly restless said...

I wasn't really arguing for individual sovereignty, but was trying to clarify the role that I have as an individual in shaping something that is collective in nature. Specifically in this case I was thinking about developing (or should that be discerning) a vision for our church.

But if the collective is ever going to be meaningful - and committed to by individuals - we need to recognise that 'we' is made up of lots of 'me'. That is, before we can sum the parts we need to know what the parts are, what they need or are looking for - and then through a process of distillation come to a consensus about what we see as the vision. In a sense this is the 'blank piece of paper' approach.

An alternative would be to prepare a vision and approach it as an Aunt Sally - for all of us to knock into shape. But this could be very disheartening for some of the me's (i.e the original authors).

When we finally have an agreed vision, then I would agree that the 'me' needs to be replaced by 'we'.

As a final thought, my professor of practical theology at St Andrews said that he was always happier when the creeds started with 'we believe', rather than 'I believe'. I think this allows for some minor discomfort to be soothed, but more importantly allows a much stronger, united statement to be made.

That Hideous Man said...

Ah yes - good stuff!

Likewise I wasn't proposing the nullification of the individual.

There just seems to be something structural in western thought in that in market-driven societies we have developed individual primacy to the extent that we have lost community (and have never grappled with ecclesiology adequately - I have been searching for small-group material on the meaning of the church........ a vast gap in what's published). On the other hand, systems like communism and to a lesser extent some forms of Catholicism, have built themselves down from structure to individuals, mean that unique persons are somehow subsumed within the whole and not sufficiently valued.

The challenge for us, I think then , is to develop an approach which recognises the essential nature of both the personal and communal levels of existence. -Which I think from our neck o' the theological and cultural woods will look a lot less individualistic. As Stuart Blythe argued at the church conference, the traditional baptist view of the church as the 'voluntary association of individual believers' is wholly theologically inadequate.

The ideal to aspire to in this regard (as Volf argues) is The Holy Trinity itself. The Trinity is both absolutely as one in action, intent, purposes and identity - yet the three persons of the Trinty are all absolutely unique, and as persons do not merge in their selfhoood.

We have long understood that sancification will make 'me' look more like Him. Along with that, the reconstruction of the imago dei in us will make 'us' look more like the Trinity, in whose image we as a pluarilty are created.

Historically all our modelling of church seems to have begun with individuals and worked to the group; or begun with the group worked towards a role for the individual within the structure. Somehow we need to outwork a Trinitarian-ism which accepts the primacy of both!

Endlessly restless said...

Aye - I think that this sounds a bit like integrative thinking, which I've been reading about this morning (it is work related!). In part, it's about not settling for either/or solutions, but rather holding the tension to allow a more creative solution to emerge. (I feel another blog coming on...)

While not wishing to over-simplify things too much at this stage, there seems to be merit in considering the characteristics of each person of the Trinity to develop a 'some-thing' (not sure yet what type of thing)that is all-embracing.

Simple example - vision to include
- prophetic aspects of the Father;
- healing nature of the Son;
- nurturing/ sustaining role of the Spirit.

How did we get here from 10 2-letter words?

That Hideous Man said...

I have just read a nice quote from Simon Jones' book on this which I think puts some of what I was trying to say in my first comment -rather better:

"In his ground-breaking book, 'Cinderella with Amnsesia' Michael Griffiths reminds us that the New Testament letters were written to churches not individuals. Most of the time when they used the word 'you' it was in the plural form. (In Greek, it is easy to distinguish between 'you' in the singular - the old English 'thou' - and 'you ' in the plural. We read the letters with our 'me in my small corner' glasses on , at our peril.

For instance, Griffiths asks how often the word 'saint' (singular)appears in the New Testamant. In its plural form he says it appears 61 times. The singular appears just once in Phil 4:21 where Paul says, 'Greet every saint'. Turning to Ephesians Griffiths says: "How frequently we hear expositions of Paul's descriptions of the Christians armour in Eph6 as a description of the individual, solitary Christian, in his lonely spiritual battle with Apollyon. The idea of a solitary Roman soldier going out all on his own to fight the wild Welsh, Picts, Germans and Franks is quite ludicrous! They would have made mincemeat out of him. The Romans were so effective because they developed to perfection the military art of corporate manoever so that their huge oblong shields fitted together to make a great wall which their opponents were not able to break. It is perfectly clear in Greek, Chinese, Japanese, or any decent language, that the passage concerned is a plural passage containing plural verbs and pronouns."

When I first read this, nurted as I was in a Christianity that laid great stress on the word of God, preached and imbibed alone through the daily quiet time - it was a revelation. What Griffiths was saying was that the church mattered. I couldn't live an effective Christian life on my own, cut-off from other Christians, merrily going along in my own sweet way without reference to other believers. Of course, no-one ever said I could. But at the same time no-one ever told me what the church was for. Griffiths helped me fill in the gaps."

Simon Jones, "Building a Better Body" (Authentic Media, 2007) p111.