Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Kingdom-Oriented Relationships

It has become commonplace for people to say that Christianity is a relationship (as opposed to a religion). And yet their are elements running through our very nature that tend to undermine relationship, or at least render them continually problematic. If it's true that relationships are the fundamental building-blocks of community, and yet we have this anti-relational side that likes to routinize relationships or simply use them for our own purposes and then discard them, then community is always, it seems, in danger from within.

Another way of saying that is, I am a danger to my friends, and my friends are a danger to me. This is what makes community difficult, and fleeting, as the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and countless others vividly illustrate. C. S. Lewis brilliantly illustrated this problem in his book The Great Divorce.

But of course we could do church without relationship. It happens all the time. For example, you've heard of churches that command people to ostracize a member because they infringed the rules or (more likely) threatened the autonomy of the pastor. Shunning, they call it. I used to sit under a pastor (many years ago) who said the church was like an army and the pastor was the general. Church was all about command structures, authority, discipline, and structures of accountability. But the least tincture of fear can mar love badly. [Aside: but we know what drives out fear: the "perfect love" of Jesus. We love because he first loved us.]

A couple of nights back I wrote out a few things I'd like to experience in community that may or may not fall under the church rubric. I should note first that I'm not dismissing all churches, or arguing strenuously for house churches as opposed to the "institutional church" (as some do). I'm just wondering what might be beyond--to use Michael Spencer's phrase--"the wreckage of a church-shaped religious faith." I'm guessing at the possibilities.

So the question is, out here beyond the church foyer doors, out between the stop signs of life, how do we train our relationships toward the Kingdom, toward a Kingdom orientation and Kingdom authenticity? The hope is that, out of the ground of ordinary "life together" relationships real Kingdom oriented, Jesus-shaped communion can happen.

In no particular order here are some of the characteristics of such a community.

  • They pray together.  They approach the throne of grace together.  They are weak and dependent together.
  • They take seriously and talk frequently about how to represent Jesus in the world.  How to be ambassadors.  How to introduce strangers to Jesus. They wonder often about how to spread the fame of Jesus in their daily contexts.   In other words, they take mission seriously.
  • They sing spiritual songs together.  [A front parlor sing-along is better than a spiritual rock concert, btw.]
  • They teach one another.  Maybe even at times "admonish one another in all wisdom" (Col. 3:16 again).  To go along with that, they learn from one another.  This is rather a stunning possibility!
  • They bless one another frequently, in large and small ways.  Lots of not so random acts of kindness flowing freely back and forth.
  • They share in one another's suffering.
  • Meals together.  
All these things can happen among any close-knit group of friends.  I've seen it happen for a while, here and there, but it has been a rather transient experience.  I'm wondering if we can be more intentional about sustaining it, beginning if necessary with only two or three and seeing where it goes.  

As I said above, I'm not really down on the big church, but I do think it tends to pile on obligations much faster than it builds relationships.  Out here among the stop-signs of life, I'm looking to start with relationships (orienting always toward the Kingdom of God) and see what follows.  


Erin Hope said...

that sounds good.

Anonymous said...

just read i'm thinking