Friday, March 28, 2014

Totally everyday church

I recently got around to reading Everyday Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis.  It is very much the sequel to their earlier Total Church, and so I'm bracketing them both together as 'Totally Everyday Church', or TEC.  They're both great books, and my reaction to both has been pretty much the same.  So this is not a summary or a review - if you  want to know what the books say, read them; Everyday Church in particular is very readable, and would give you a good feel for TEC.  This is my reaction to this particular attempt to rebuild the church from the gospel up.

Initially, TEC is enormously attractive to me.  It is without a doubt a radical proposal: essentially, what if we went back to basics, stripped the church back to just a community believing the gospel and living in response.  What if we cut out some of the programmes, the big ideas, the meetings - and just loved one another and the world instead?  (Again, this is not what Chester and Timmis have written, it's my response to what they've written).  How exciting would that be?  I love the idea of really sharing life with one another, really being available to one another, really reaching out and having an impact on people around us by showing and sharing Christ-like relationships.  Yes please.  Let's do it.  Let's tear the thing down and re-build.

Interestingly, not much of the enthusiasm extends to the particular way that Timmis and Chester suggest we should do and be church.  I'm not a fan of the Crowded House model, in so far as I understand it.  I've never been clear where the local church actually is in this structure - is it the small group, or the Sunday gathering?  And I worry about the lack of emphasis on church officers, which seems unBiblical to me.  And I am not sur preaching is getting the central role it deserves.  And a hundred and one other things.  But it doesn't matter, because the authors are clear that they are not really selling the model.  Totally Everyday Church doesn't need to look just like this, it just needs to look like radical living oriented around gospel, community, and mission - and in principle, I'm up for it.

Then I remember a few things.  Firstly, I remember that I'm a dyed-in-the-wool conservative.  Could I really stand to lose so much of the church tradition I love?  Then secondly, and much more importantly, I start to think about what it would really be like to have an open home in the way that is being talked about.  Now, I'm very definitely an introvert.  I love people, but I need alone time. If I don't get any over a prolonged period, I stop being able to engage with others and to give of myself in lots of ways.  How am I going to carve out that time from the totalising reality that is Total Everyday Church?  And then, I often only get ten minutes a day to really talk to my wife.  What if we're just settling down to our one dinner without children in the week when the doorbell rings?  And then thirdly, I remember that sometimes I just don't have it in me to be a Christian.  Sometimes I'm hanging on by fingernails, and it's all I can do to drag myself into the back of church and leave again as soon as it's over.  I suspect on any given Sunday that there are plenty of us in that situation.  At this stage, I can feel the burden, the huge unbearable burden, of TEC descending on me - it really is TOTAL, and I can't take it.

So I start to think, maybe Totally Everyday Church is not for me.  TEC sounds like it would work for activists, extroverts, and people who have it together.  But I can't see how I would fit in.  I think I'd ruin it.

In the end, I'm left feeling sad - thinking that there is better, more radical, more gospel-shaped church life out there which I will never be part of.  And I wonder how much of that is my temperament and character, and how much of it is my sin, and I can't unpick it.

But that's just my reaction.  Anyone out there doing it, following this sort of model, and finding that it works?  Anyone not following it got any pointers for how we take on board some of the passion and gospel priority without having to be people we're not?  Anyone just think I'm being daft and melodramatic?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Times and Seasons

As I sort of semi-observe Lent, I've been holding in my mind two themes from the Apostle Paul.  On the one hand, in Galatians, Paul frets over his converts observing "days and months and seasons and years"; he sees it as evidence that they are turning back from their profession of faith in Christ and returning to old pagan ways.  I don't imagine that the Galatians are actually being tempted back into paganism.  Common consensus is that they were just being encouraged to add some Jewish distinctives to their Christian faith.  But for Paul it is all the same.  They are turning back to slavery under the weak and beggarly elements of the world.

On the other hand, in Romans, Paul sees the observance of particular days as a non-issue.  It is indifferent, in so far as it does not become a badge of some superior spirituality.  If seasons are observed in honour of the Lord, fine.  If they are not observed, because of the Lord, great.

Of course, in neither of these cases is Paul thinking of the seasons of the Christian year, which were centuries away from being thought of.  His target is primarily Jewish observance, and some of his anti-observance rhetoric comes from his clear desire to maintain the truth that there is no need for Gentile Christians to become Jews.  But the flexibility in his approach does, I think, point to something deeper.

For Paul, the important change in time and season is not in any annual round of fasts and feasts.  For him there are only two times: this age, and the age to come.  In Christ, the age to come has already invaded this age, and by the Spirit more and more people (even as they live out their lives in this age) are participating in the age to come.  The decisive change in time has already occurred, and is now being applied through Spirit-empowered gospel proclamation.

So long as that central truth about time is not obscured, Paul does not care whether his converts observe yearly festivals.  Perhaps that is a helpful way for us to think.  As human beings, we naturally mark the passage of time.  In some way, we are always going to structure the day, the week, the year.  This is a natural phenomenon.  But it can be pressed into gospel use, in so far as we relate our time - the thoroughly relative and relatively unimportant changes in the passage of time which we are compelled to mark - to the real time, the fulfilled time, the arrival of the age to come in Christ.

If I observe Lent to the Lord, as a way of remembering him, then I am blessed.  If I turn it into a way of acting as if the new day had not dawned, then I am heading back into slavery.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Kant, Christ, and Page 3

Immanuel Kant famously declared that persons are end in themselves, and ought always to be treated as such.  They are never means to an end, and as such can never be fully absorbed into 'my universe', which revolves around me.  Other people are like the solid and immovable rocks in the midst of the sea of existence.  They are like myself, and I ought to recognise them as such.  They are not there to forward any of my schemes or goals for myself; they exist for themselves.

Whether Kant ever placed any of this on a sound footing is another matter.  The general consensus, with which I would broadly agree, is that he did not.

The Christian view of persons is similar, yet different.  The Christian cannot quite agree that persons are ends in themselves.  Perhaps from the human point of view this is a true enough rule of thumb, since certainly persons are not to be treated by me as means to my own ends.  But this is not because of some sort of moral autonomy or inherent value that persons have.  Rather, it is based on the fact that each person is a means to an end, but the end is not mine to decide or shape.  People exist, not for themselves, but for God.  Each person belongs to him by right of creation.  Each person ought to live for him in the here and now by right of redemption.  Each person will acknowledge him in the end, to his glory.  On a day to day basis, the impact of these mighty truths might look like Kantianism, but if you get under the bonnet everything is arranged differently, and runs on different fuel.

Which brings me to Page 3.  It is presumably a well known fact that The Sun, a British 'newspaper', carries on its third page a titillating photograph of a topless young lady.  This is regarded in many quarters as a piece of harmless fun.  For Kantians, and even more for Christians, it can hardly be called that.  Without a doubt, page 3 takes a person and offers them up as a means to an end - or several ends, including the gratification of middle-aged men and the sale of newspapers.  It is hard to see how this can be ethical.  Therefore, I support the campaign to end page 3, and would encourage you to do the same.

Let me just explain why I think the Christian position makes this opposition even more necessary than the Kantian one.  Firstly, it provides a basis which is otherwise lacking.  This person is God's property; they are not mine to enjoy.  And in answer to the objection that 'nobody makes them do it', we say that they are not themselves to give away any more than they are mine to take.  Second, it explains why the body matters.  There may be such a thing as a disembodied person, but there is no such thing as a (living) de-personed body.  The body, created by God and redeemed by Christ at the cost of his own body, is entrusted to a person and bound up so closely with their own personal identity that the final hope of Christians is precisely to have those bodies back, so that we can be whole persons.  Thirdly, the Christian doctrine of sin helps me to understand what that bit of 'innocent fun' might really be hiding, and helps me to see through the pretence that 'nobody is hurt' by this.  To dehumanise ourselves and others is to hurt ourselves and others.

I am not a feminist of any sort - but I am a 'personist'.  I don't think anyone should be treated as a means to an end.  Because in the end, at the end, we are all for God's glory.