11 July 2006

"For the sake of those who are not members"

I had to share this quote from Lesslie Newbigin's The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, which I'm just about finished reading. The book is a classic that I really can't recommend highly enough. Here's the quote (from pp. 232-233):

If the gospel is to challenge the public life of our society, if Christians are to occupy the "high ground" which they vacated in the noontime of "modernity", it will not be by forming a Christian political party, or by aggressive propaganda campaigns. Once again it has to be said that there can be no going back to the "Contantinian" era. It will only be by movements that begin with the local congregation in which the reality of the new creation is present, known, and experienced, and from which men and women will go into every sector of public life to claim it for Christ, to unmask the illusions which have remained hidden and to expose all areas of public life to the illumination of the gospel. But that will only happen as and when local congregations renounce an introverted concern for their own life, and recognize that they exist for the sake of those who are not members, as sign, instrument, and foretaste of God's redeeming grace for the whole life of society.

A few pages later, Newbigin mentions a survey that was conducted in Bangalore, India, which revealed that the majority of lay members felt that the clergy were too involved in business outside the congregation, while the majority of clergy felt that they were not involved enough. I'm not trying to make anything of the lay/clergy dichotomy here (plenty of clergy are inwardly focused, while plenty of lay people are outwardly focused). But I think when you get right down to it, when folks ask "what is this word 'missional' supposed to mean", this is the ultimate in-a-nutshell bottom line: does the church exist for the sake of its members, or for the sake of those who are not members? Obviously, the answer is "both", but the "mission" of a "missional church" (again, in a nutshell) is to move that balance ever further toward "those who are not members". The only way to do this is to form "members" into disciples of Jesus Christ who are committed to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. It sounds so easy.... ;-)

"With God, all things are possible."


tathata said...

i stumbled upon this site while doing an image search for "shunyata". thanks for your writings. although i find the very brief readings i did of current postings to be with right intention, and to be in line with traditional theravada buddhism, as far as expressing and experiencing right actions are concerned, i wonder where "shunyata" fits in. by no means is this meant as a challenge, just a question to save time, as "work" calls and spritual "bodhichitta" time is limited. peace and metta.

Mike Croghan said...

Hi tathata,

Well - there's a lot of spiritual journey behind the answer to your question. From my teens until 1999, I was a "student of all spiritual traditions, practitioner of none." I registered the "shunyata.net" domain in that period, because I loved the concept of shunyata (on a philosophical level - as I say, I was not a practitioner) both in (my limited understanding of) its original Dharmic meaning, and in the fact that (at least according to my college professors), it was the Buddhist concept that corresponded most closely with the Western idea of "God", at least if God is approached through the "Via Negativa" tradition of meditation, in which it is acknowledged that any positive statement about God necessarily falls short of God's reality. So, to make a long story short, I was a student of world religions, I liked the concept, and I was pretty sure the domain name wasn't already taken, so I registered "shunyata.net" some time in the mid-90's.

Since then, I spent three years (1999-2002) as a practicing Tibetan Buddhist (during which time the domain was more appropriate!), then realized some time in 2002 that, through no conscious decision, I was no longer a practicing Buddhist because I had stopped practicing meditation. I spent most of a year once again as a "practicing nothing in particular", and then had an experience that led me to try returning to the Christianity of my childhood at the beginning of 2003. I quickly became very involved in trying to discern my calling to Christian ministry (ministry means "serving" or being of benefit to the world, and is something that all Christians, not just the ordained, are called to), and that's where I still am, although my discernment has progressed somewhat.

So, I hope that makes a little bit of sense. One thing I'm *not* trying to do is pull a bait-and-switch for Buddhists and other folks who might be searching for "shunyata" to try to say "gotcha" and hit them with the old Christian sales pitch. :-) It's just sort of an artifact of history that I've got that domain name, and since I've given it out as an e-mail address to hundreds of family and friends over the years, I'm probably going to hang on to it at this point. Anyway, I still love "shunyata", even if, when I was a Buddhist, I was pretty much a failure at meditation on it. (I know, what can one expect in three years?)

spankey said...

In a non-sequiter from current conversation, I'd like to echo Mike's recommendation of Lesslie Newbigin. I'd alsorecommend The Open Secret . Thanks for posting this Mike, good stuff.

"If the gospel is to challenge the public life of our society, if Christians are to occupy the "high ground" which they vacated in the noontime of "modernity", it will not be by forming a Christian political party, or by aggressive propaganda campaigns."

After a particularly terrible sermon at VTS's convocation this year (one that stopped just short of blaming President Bush for the actual storm named Katrina) I got in a discussion about preaching politics. I like what Newbigin says here, it gets to the point of what our discussion found - everytime we preach the Gospel we preach politics. To call our selves to a life of self-giving-service is a radical politic. 3 cheers for good ol' Lesslie.