Skip to content

The Mission and the Message

May 14, 2013

Note: The words Christendom, Traditional Christianity and Institutional Christianity are alternative terms for what we used to call “the churches”, “church system” or “churcianity”. The specific way in which I apply the terms is as in the discourse differentiating between visible, institutionalized Christianity and the less defined reality of a spiritual “Kingdom of God (which) cometh not with observation” (Lu 17:20).

Jesus’ command to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15) is deeply embedded in our culture. There was never any ambiguity about the need to proclaim the good news, but there is about its specific nature. To just say that we are preaching the good news contained in the Bible isn’t enough, as differing and even opposing gospels hold similar claims. Indeed there isn’t just a single gospel deriving from the book, because the gospel isn’t a book, but a living thing that adapts itself to the people it speaks to. Most gospels, as preached by varying Christian institutions, are therefore their particular adaptation, the result of their history and experience.

A bit of history

Let us then see what our gospel was and what it might be today. To do that we must go to our origins; the period was the late sixties and early seventies and the people were those of the so-called youth counterculture. It was a phenomenon that sociologist still struggle to make sense of, and was impacting mainly western countries, the supposedly Christian ones. These youths felt incredibly restless, sought for truth, ideals, love and spiritual transcendence, while rejecting values inherited from the previous generation, be it traditional religion, politics, music or anything associated with what they saw as a corrupt system. Of course their alternative wasn’t all love and peace either, there were dark sides to it, like a penchant for drugs, and that’s why many referred to it as a lost generation.

As always God had an answer and in this case it was another phenomenon, “The Jesus Revolution”. Traditional Christianity, bound in its traditions and morality, couldn’t understand nor accommodate the aspirations of the youth counterculture, rather it saw them as immorally beyond hope. That very attitude contributed to a generational gap in which the youth could no longer consider Christianity as a viable option (Who are the rebels?). Some churches, however, saw the need for change and eventually it caught on, through different initiatives and individuals. David was one of the earliest preachers to embrace the counterculture and turn it on for Jesus. All through the “Jesus Revolution” he stood out for his most radical and revolutionary ideas.

The “Jesus revolution” spread from coast to coast developing in two main branches, the largest so called Jesus People and the Children of God, fewer in number but more controversial and therefore highly visible. The first consisted mostly of youth groups from various churches who were adopting the dress, music, ideas and lingo of the counterculture in order to reach them. The second was us, the COG, insisting on total separation from the churches and on creating a completely new paradigm.

The COG consisted mostly of the un-churched, radical, alternative type folks and, therefore, attracted the same type of people. The Jesus People, instead, were more of an in-church initiative aimed at keeping their youth from leaving the church or win them back to it. We were from the counterculture and won people from the same, though some came also from the churches. The Jesus People were from the churches and won mostly from other churches, but did attract also some radicals. Though at a passing glance we might have looked the same, there was instead a notable difference.

We had been looking for the ultimate high, something that would “blow our minds”, turn our lives around and give us a purpose to live for. David sowed us that Jesus was exactly that, but to do so he was also forced to make a break with his former church traditions. He also had to “drop out and turn on” and once he did he discovered a whole new world which he never thought existed.

From this “dropping out” of David and the COG, came our particular brand of the gospel, one free from the usual trappings of Christendom, one down to the basic core of Christian experience, without the religious elements usually associated with it. Truly, ours was a revolution and our Gospel was markedly revolutionary. We were, in that sense, the closest thing to a truly indigenous, spontaneous outgrowth of Christianity, as opposed to a mere split off from some traditional institution.

Nobody ever gets it right on everything and we made our share of mistakes, but none can deny God’s role in our coming into being. It wasn’t just some person’s initiative, but there was some indescribable “mystical” dynamics working behind it all. Those who were there know what I am talking about.

We were inexperienced and naive, but were carried along by a powerful wave of spiritual experience. There was also lots of love and camaraderie but the initial freedom and spiritual high was soon threatened by unavoidable circumstances. As the movement grew there came the need to organize and, eventually, to institutionalize.

People are people and when endowed with power or position, there is a good chance that they will be corrupted by it. We were no exception to this and so there was “Let my people go”, “Old Bottles”, “Follow God”, the “Blob War”, the RNR and many other such moves aimed at correcting or avoiding the usual pitfalls that all new societies encounter when they become structured and institutionalized. We tried many models, hoping to find a system that would work for good, but each only corrected earlier problems and caused new ones. Thus the pendulum swung from one extreme to the other, from total liberty, almost anarchy, to the highly structured and hierarchical, and back again. Concerns for the maintenance of our social experiment were ever-present and began to color our gospel, as it did with others before us.

With the passing of time the world was changing and the following generations were different as well. We were also spreading around the globe and meeting people from other cultures, so it became obvious that we needed to adjust, relate, change our methods and adapt our gospel accordingly. What didn’t change, however, was our stance towards traditional Christianity, our placing no value in its structures, programs and conditions for “conversion”. We remained without clergy, buildings, baptism, theological degrees, supposed “Christian” morals and, instead, made Love the core of our lives and message. We also refused to limit God’s love to its traditional orthodox definition. By so doing we remained unacceptable to most churches, who simply viewed us as “heretics”.

As we became parents and our next generation grew up, we faced a new challenge. While we had freely chosen our lifestyle on the basis of our shared experience, our next generation was merely born into it. As they became aware of the world around them they also wished to choose for themselves. Their inherited culture made little sense to them, the art, music and literature featuring mostly our founder’s teachings, appeared corny, dated and bigoted. In a nutshell, they saw the society in which they grew, much the same as we saw the one in which we had grown. We tried, through different programs, to help them adapt and fit in, but to little avail. Reality was that we had become just as unaccepting of our children’s different choices as the “bad system” had been with ours.

Ours was a condition common to all fundamentalists, be they Christian, Jewish or Muslim, where the departing of a son or daughter is perceived as a threat to the community and a work of the “enemy”. For a while this was our mindset and it made it particularly hard for our departing youth to move on, practically, emotionally and psychologically. In some cases, this suffered transition, lead to a total rejection of their families, roots and upbringing. It took a while for us to grow past this mindset but we finally did, thank God!

The inevitable transformation

There is an inescapable process by which all reformations, revivals, and movements, eventually flow into institutional Christianity. As much as we didn’t like it, we were also heading that way and all attempts at staying the course failed. The reality of the matter was that our revolution had past, we had become parents and wanted to pass (or impose) the torch to our next generations, to ensure continuity, survival, support, acceptance, numbers, as well as financial stability. We adopted various policies and means, even entrepreneurial managing strategies and the offering of career opportunities within our established hierarchy in order to avoid the unavoidable.

These inner concerns became evermore absorbing and pulled us ever deeper into a Christendom mentality. It took the failure of all self-preserving strategies to finally wake us up, to realized that our inward focus had seriously debilitated us. We tried to reverse the process, but did so by the same means which were part of the problem. By doing things the same way we were destined to obtain the same results, no matter which new program we devised to save the Titanic, whether it was with the Shakeup, Activated, Brazil Gns, Offensive, Reboot or now the Mission. Why? Because the time had passed, the wave had crashed, the wind had gone and we had no clear idea of what our gospel should be anymore. There was nothing “bursting” out of us anymore, the explosion had passed, the revolution had ended.

Our present situation and that of Christendom

The passion that motivated us in our early days has cooled off, leaving in its stead a mere call to duty. The experience of the divine which drove us to tell everyone about it, has also faded, being replaced by doctrine and apologetics. It is indeed all very normal and part of a natural cycle, but for those who lived through the original explosion there has been an identity crisis. Like surfers who caught “the big one”, some keep waiting for it to happen again, looking everywhere and wondering where the new surge might come from. Is it going to be healing, end-time, back to the Bible, Jesus saves, Pentecostalism, universalism, some sort of new gospel or what? Some even look at ancient theology and traditional “orthodoxy”, wondering if that’s the formula for an enduring experience of the divine, not realizing that it is mostly the formula for Christendom.

Although Christendom may still appear strong and numerous, all its major and emerging congregations are undergoing similar crisis. Many have tried the full “Vanity Fair” (ml 170) options, hoping it would help them survive, but it hasn’t. It’s only because of their greater size that some last longer, by mere inertia, so they appear as if standing when they are not. Even those Christianities who seem most vibrant and forward-looking are merely re-proposing the same old ideas with a modern twist, while remaining moored in an old mindset that will inevitably doom them.

In all honesty, as unpolished as it was, I think our former stance on traditional Christianity is more fitting than ever. The only difference now is that we are no longer looking at it from the outside, but from within. We are humbled by our own failures and that’s good for us, but the fact that we finally joined them does not make reality any better. The whole of Christendom is imploding and we along with it, with the only difference that for us it will be quicker because of our limited size.

Post-Christendom

There is now widespread talk about “post-Christendom”, the time when Christianity will be marginal. Churches and scholars are theorizing how, if and in which form it will survive. It is true that statistics show Christianity still growing in developing countries, and that the decline seems to affect mainly the west, but it’s a matter of time before developing countries will also begin the same process, and already there are signs of it.

Some statistics do show growth in some western churches, but it doesn’t make up for greater losses in others. What happens is that most church leavers do not return but a portion will find refuge in fundamentalism and the reactionary stance of some congregations. The downward trend is contributing to greater inner migration, favouring some churches over others, but the overall trend is negative nonetheless.

All churches, traditional and emerging, are painfully aware of how unpopular and unattractive Christendom’s legacy has become. All are trying to reinvent themselves and eliminate its toxic elements, but it’s nearly impossible because Christendom constitutes the paradigm through which they understand themselves. As Leith Anderson commented in Church for the 21st Century, “98% of our behavior is rooted in one tradition or another. Those who operate at the 99% level are considered to be the old-fashion traditionalists, and those who operate at the 97% level are called avant-garde non-traditionalists”.

Though it is mainly a matter of perspectives, most agree on what makes Christendom so unpopular, especially in western countries, where its history is better understood. In spite of the intense debate on future possibilities, no real alternatives, free of Christendom’s contagion, have emerged.

Our experiment

Of all recent movements we probably came closest to being a Christianity born outside of Christendom. Most of our folks came from outside of it and our founder, though from within, was definitely heading out as well. We did not originate from an established church but were born out of a direct swelling of God’s spirit responding to the desperate search of a seeking generation. We were carried along by that initial impact and remained in the outer fringes of Christendom for a good while.

We did try to stay free of Christendom’s toxins and gravitational pull, but eventually we succumbed to the inevitable, to that of our own making. Clearly, no explosion could keep on exploding and no revolution could keep on revoluting. What’s left of it now are the effects, the people who saw it, the writings, art, music and history, which are not the real thing, just like Christendom is not.

Christendom, in fact, is not Christianity, but Christ is! He’s the eternal “I am” who is experienced moment by moment in the present. As such Christ and His kingdom will always remain indefinable, rather invisible and never static.

Christianity is never a fixed reality but a moving one, and yet people wish to take hold of it and somehow control it. To do so they create institutions which perpetuate their understanding of it, whether in writing, tradition or other form, and that’s how Christendom develops. The end result is “visible Christianity”, a static picture of something completely other, which is everything but static.

To a degree this is how things have evolved with us as well.

What can be salvaged?

What can we gather from this, and what useful things can survive from our particular experience? Is there something we contribute to the future and what, from our past, can still define our gospel today?

I am convinced that our unique contribution and greatest assets derive from our being out there, outside of traditional Christianity. Paying no attention to conventions or doctrinal orthodoxy, we did that which none had dared to (not in our time, at least) and, most remarkably, we saw God do it. This is something which we cannot take lightly but must remember and seek to understand better, for it might hold the promise of things to come.

Granted, we made mistakes and learned many things the hard way, but seeing God out there with us doing the unthinkable, gave us a unique understanding of Him. What we did experience was in fact a God unconstrained by the parameters of traditional Christendom. Moreover we didn’t just study it or devised it in a theoretical way, to the contrary, there was very little of that. We mostly experienced God through practical application and the theological implications of what did happen is something we still need to work on.

A pearl of great price

Within our collective memory there is then a precious kernel, a wealth which is hard to fully understand or appreciate. We tend to become so focused on the exterior, the institutional part, or the recent loss of it in the form of communal homes and structures, that we fail to realize that what’s left is much greater. Perhaps that’s even why we lost them, so we could focus again on better things, like God himself.

What is God to us? Are we fully aware of what He’s all about, or were we so dependent on our structures that we even confuse Him with it? Whether individually or as a group, it is time to sort things out, to discern God’s footprints in our lives and history.

Encased as it is in our memory and writings, yet God’s role can be hard to recognize. It all depends on what we are looking for, if it is a formula for a better and enduring institution, then we will not find it, because at no single moment did we ever possess such final truths. If instead it is just Him, His love and truth that we are seeking, then the footprints of His passing are all over, begging us to keep on walking.

No last word

No written record can ever contain the “last word” on anything. Those Christianities that have attempted to view the Bible in such a way have become mired in it, confused by its multiple interpretations, stuck within subjective biblical exegesis and unable to move past it. The same would happen to us if we regarded our written record as final.

The spirit did liberate us from the chains of traditional Christendom, but no freedom is ever the “last word”. Freedom is a process which can never be complete in this life, therefore it cannot stop, for when it does bondage then sets in. The liberty which is in Christ cannot stop liberating or it will reverse to bondage to the law. Even a supposed “law of liberty” can become a new chain when made final, the “last word” on freedom.

The New Testament itself cannot be the “last word” and still remain new. If it stays as is and excludes all new wine, it undermines the very foundation upon which it stands, reverting to the old. “Sola scriptura”, meaning “scripture alone” might have been a liberating concept in the days of the reformation, but today it’s just another recipe for Christendom, as if it meant “tradition alone”. Christ new life always sprung from some new wine and through some new man.

Remember what David said in “Old Bottles”, that there are only two directions in which to move, forward or backward and that there is no standing still? How true! Standing still is Christendom, while “movement is the sign of life”. Christ is movement, He may not change, but He’s not still. That’s why we cannot look back nostalgically and try to keep our past alive as if that was it. Its main value is merely as a witness to a process of liberation, the liberating dynamics of the God of freedom, who constantly leads his people out of slavery.

We must remember our past, but not to make it the “last word” or it will become another binding tradition. God is in time and moves with it, as the wind does, and anyone wishing to follow Him must continually shed the weights of the past to be as a “diamonds of dust” floating in His air.

No past, ours or the churches’, and no doctrines, ours or the older orthodox ones, will ever grant our being and staying at the forefront of God’s action. The future belongs to God and will be impacted by the moving of His spirit, independently from human expectations.

In a way we are passed. As a movement we’ve had our moment and have fulfilled our call for the hour. We are blessed to have partaken of that time, to have been carried by His wave, when it came. There will be more waves and some of us could ride them, but God does not owe it to anyone.

It was all a matter of being there at the right time, when His wind blew and lifted us up. At the end of the day, however, it doesn’t really matter who’s up or down, for we are all as dust and none of us is any different from the other. What made the difference was His wind and His light, so whether we are high or low, on the wave, or on the shore, “we are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do” (Luke 17:10).

What gospel and for which purpose?

As a group we may survive in some form and the possibilities are an interesting subject, but here I am just trying to understand which gospel emerges from our experience. The future shape of things is not what concerns me, but a vision and a purpose for the present does. To say that it is the mission is not quite enough if I don’t know what I am preaching, and the purpose for it. Perhaps what could help to define this is a comparative sort of “via negativa”, seeing first what isn’t a fitting gospel and purpose.

Numbers?

Many Christian institutions have programs to expand their numbers, obtain membership, baptisms, etc. Whether these work or not is beside the point, but when the focus is numbers, whether preserving those already in, preventing their migration to other churches, or winning new ones, if the main focus for preaching is that of advancing an institution and maintaining its place in the religious landscape, that’s not really the gospel.

These noted motivations, accounting for most church programs, belong to a “Vanity Fair” mentality rather than a “Love Never Fails” one. One may wonder if we did also fall into such motivations and programs, and the answer would need to be affirmative. Perhaps also this was unavoidable, but it’s good to recognize it for what it is and see the difference with what brought us into being.

Early Christianity never advanced through such programs, but was like a contagion spreading from one person to the next. Its appeal was of a completely different nature than what developed in the Christendom era. It is in fact when numbers grew and other interests became more prominent that “church programs” began to appear.

John Drane, in Cultural Change and Biblical Faith, speaks of those places where Christianity is still thriving and says “The Church is growing in the two-third world today largely through the unspectacular witness of ordinary Christians, often children and women. If we could bring ourselves to learn from them, that would be really good news”.

Apologetics and Theology?

I am reminded of the picture in “Glamor or glory”, the kids outside playing with a bonfire while the fancy furnace inside is cold. That’s what institutionalization does; it creates this fancy structure, this body of rules, of theological formulations and apologetics, a furnace built according to orthodox specifications, but without fire.

While the early Christian contagion was spontaneously transmitted from person to person, the new furnace of Christendom began to rely on apologetics to compensate for the lack of heat. It directed the apologetic message to the masses unaffected by the Christian contagion with the aim of persuading them by rational demonstration.

When the experience of the divine was no longer the leading cause for conversions, the new imperial church began to rely on intellectual and philosophical arguments to support the validity of its programs. Apologetics, though meant at first as a defense against unfair bias, became later a set of arguments aimed at convincing, converting and maintaining converts. It became a sort of forceful attempt at demonstrating that which God had chosen to keep within the realm of faith and mystery.

Theologian Jean Luc Marion in “Prolegomena to Charity” writes: “Let us suppose – in what is an extreme and unthinkable case – that an apologetic discourse were to attain such degree of rigor that it could claim to convince necessarily a normally rational mind. What results would in fact have been gained? The voluntary moment of adherence would come up only as a simple consequence of the evidence, by a sort of moral necessity, following the principle that from a great light in the understanding there follows a great inclination in the will. What is called “conversion” is played out precisely in this consequence, which ought to be self-evident, exactly because the proof claims to have established their result. Who has not come across these minds who, fine connoisseurs of dogmatic and Christian spirituality, intellectually disposed to expound them and justify them, never cease their whole life long to avoid the consequences and to dodge, by the inky cloud of a limitless sympathy, the adversity of a faith decision? So long as the will does not freely will to love, apologetics has gained nothing. Consequently, in not recognizing the most decisive factor, an apologetics that means to be absolutely demonstrative would, by its very success, be condemned to the most patent failure. What can be demonstrated has no value, Nietzsche claimed; for in saying it all and even too much, we say infinitely too little… Only the will can allow itself to be convinced, and all constraint of reason by reason remains totally heterogeneous to it, remains on the threshold and decides nothing. Apologetics, in using reason alone, can, in the best of cases, constrain reason; but even in this event, it will not for all that convince the will, and will fail in its duty at the precise moment when it believes it is fulfilling it. As for confusing everything, and hoping to constrain the will, because reason cannot do it, one can aspire to do so only by having recourse to force; but force, no matter how subtle it might be, emphasizes and confirms all the more the exteriority of its violence, which it never stops extending. If it wants to leave nothing outside rational constraint, apologetics loses any adherence of the will, which alone can allow itself to be convinced. In short, it is only by admitting the irreducible gap between constraint (of reason by reason) and conviction (of the will by itself) that apologetics recognizes its proper task, which begins beyond any demonstration. Not only when demonstration reveals itself to be impossible, but also when it seems fully established. For it is then up to the will to let itself be convinced, in its heart of hearts. Thus, because it accedes to its proper task, apologetics finds itself destitute: without reason, for by right all the sufficient reasons in the world do not suffice to convince a will. In clearly distinguishing constraint from conviction, apologetics runs up against its originality and its destitution: it becomes possible as such only in admitting the impossibility of a necessary success. Its identity coincides with its failure”.

Personally I see how this principle worked in my own life. I remember all too well how my first encounters with opposition used to get me very upset. For days to come I would hold mock arguments in my mind and build my own apologetics to give reasons for my views and prevail over an opposing party. I also remember my first arguments with Jehovah Witnesses, how I tried to use all my Bible knowledge to prevail, but to no avail, ha!

I remember arguing with atheists, evolutionist and all sorts of people who challenged my views. Then I remember when my own kids grew up and began to challenge my faith as well. Sadly, I used that same tactic, same apologetics and same reasoning, but to no avail. Actually it had the opposite effect, the more I insisted and the more they resisted.

At the time I couldn’t understand why God didn’t work my way. I could not see that He had worked differently even in my own life. So there it is, plain as can be, the manifestation of my own self-made Christendom, bigotry, pride, and horrible misrepresentation of what really changed my life. Had I forgotten? Yes, I had!

What I see in Christendom, then, is what I see in myself. I cannot point a finger at the Family, or traditional Christianity and judge, for when I do my own glaring faults stare right back at me. Being more tolerant, inclusive and not having a judgemental attitude, however, is not synonymous with being naive and deceiving myself. It does not mean ignoring the facts and slipping into some dreamy ideas about Christendom, in a sort of “west is best” attitude; thinking that after all it is “Christian” and “look at all those bad heathen instead and what they do”. Such “positivism” is also an unfair judgement, and is alien to the gospel.

The head or the heart, which comes first?

Relying on some argumentation, be it from apologetics, theology or other, in order to convince or convert, defies the very intents of the Gospel – where Jesus often instructed people not to tell anyone what they had just seen and heard – where He spoke in parables, which you might say are just the opposite of apologetics – and where He often prefaced his sermons with the cryptic words “he that hath ears let him hear”. Obviously, he never intended to persuade anyone, but only directed his words to those who were ready for them (had ears), which is never the majority (Quality or Quantity ml 23).

It’s not a question of Gnosticism, where only the few who achieve to “higher knowledge” and understand “secret things” can be saved. It is simply the case of a Father who conceals until “the fullness of time comes”, “until the time of reformation” when “in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order” (Gal 4:4 – Heb 9:10 -1 Cor 15: 22,23). We are God’s workmanship, the fruit of His labour, lambs of His flock, grain of His field, or whatever metaphor we wish to use, but God gathers “every man in his own order”, when he’s ready.

How contrary to His methods we have sometimes operated! How resolute we were to convince, cajole, pressure, and almost forcefully, with implied warnings of God’s judgements, we tried to dissuade our youth from “turning away”. How we separated ourselves from those who “backslid”, or even just felt attracted to the “system”, for fear that they would contaminate others.

Now we can almost laugh about it, but not then; now we finally see it as the dark side of religion, but not then. Sad as it may be, it was a Christendom of our own making and, for anyone wondering if it could have been avoided, history tells us we couldn’t. We were bound to go through it, just as we were bound to repent from it, and thank God we did.

In early Christianity people freely choose to adhered to it on the basis of their personal experience and desire. Things changed when there came the necessity of a state religion that could, not only fit the masses, but even be imposed upon them. Clearly the Roman Empire could never enforce an inner conversion (not even God can or wants to), all it wanted was more unity and control, which it thought to achieve through a single state religion.

By various means a form of “Christianity”, known as Christendom, was finally imposed. This program for a “one world religion” (katholikos was the word, meaning universal) made use of various resources, amongst which apologetics provided arguments for the validity of Christianity, and theology made it more appealing to the philosophically minded upper classes.

There were other forms of “persuasion” but apologetics and theology produced the arsenal of rational arguments necessary to bring about “willing” conversions, to “Christianity” first, and to orthodoxy (state doctrine) next. That’s what brought about the rational behind Christendom and that’s what still support it today.

The upside-down effect

I am not exactly sure what came first, if it was theology that turned Christianity’s original appeal upside-down, or if theology was the natural outgrowth of a Christianity already upside-down. Perhaps it’s a bit of both but Christianity’s original message and attraction was not that of later theology. Its first appeal was very simple and inviting, demonstrated by love and a transcendentalism which surpassed reason and went straight to the heart.

From the fourth century onward we see a change in which theology begins to define the things of God, the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, the Nicene Creed, original sin, eternal damnation and more. Its main function, however, is not that of explaining the mysteries of God, but to provide a single belief system which the empire can impose, even through fear, if necessary. It is in fact from that point onward that fear begins to appear as a leverage point for mass “conversion”.

Thus the gospel gradually began to sound more like this: “God is just and you are a sinner, therefore you deserve to burn in hell. Since Jesus died to save you from God’s wrath, you ought to convert and hope to be spared”. It could scarcely be called “good news” because, by making eternal damnation the default settings, it worked on people’s natural fear of death and intensified it.

The end result was medieval Christendom, and a good number of fear-induced psychosis that still trouble religious folks today. Much could be added about such fears and how they turned Christianity upside-down. If you look at the earliest Christian figurations and compare them to medieval religious art, you’ll see exactly what I mean.

The medieval gospel could scarcely generate a “willing” conversion, but only fearful submission and religious endeavour. For a will “converted” by fear, reason, or other forceful means, can only be superstitious or presumptuous, or both – but it cannot produce love, which is antithetical to fear and subjugation.

If God were to endorse such a gospel, then He might as well force everyone to do his bidding. Might as well turn everyone into automatons who “love” and believing in him, whether they like it or not, which is what the medieval church aimed for. The tragedy is that the toxins of such Medieval Christendom still constitute the greater percentage of today’s “gospel”. No wonder so many resent any sort of evangelism.

Our original foundation

Our particular origins, background, and early experience were somewhat disconnected from all that, almost a refusal of Christendom and its theological and apologetic arguments. Ours was a mystical experience, a spontaneous resurgence of that early experience of the divine, and it lasted a while.

Eventually things cooled off, as is always the case. The typical process transforming all new charismatic movements into religious institutions did its work. The original spontaneity of our communal living, our sample of a functioning Christianity, ran out of steam and became increasingly structured.

Concerns for structure and community building demanded increasing attention and the more problems with it and the more “solutions” we tried. It was these very solutions that gradually solidified things and became the greatest inhibitor of what had characterized our early experience. By trying to induce spirituality through management (shepherding), programs and legislatures, we were falling headlong into the Christendom mode of operating.

The revolution for Jesus, Love and freedom

Love was what attracted us, love was the reason we joined, love was what kept us and love was the nature of the God we had come to know. Love was also what drove us out to tell others about it, for our hearts were bursting with enthusiasm for what we had found. Then came the chain, with its “policies”, rules, statistics, quotas, percentages, offices, and the infamous blobs. Over and over we struggled to free ourselves from the tentacles of institutionalization. Scores of letters were written to put love back at the centre of our faith, to free individuals from too much control and help them follow God according to their personal faith.

Even our sexually liberating ideas, FFing and our Law of Love, were all based on a theology of love and freedom. But even freedom became “policy” so that when abuses and problems arose, they could only be corrected by more policies, which further escalated our institutionalization process. Sure, it’s better to have rules than abuse, but the added accumulation of them, touching almost every aspect of life, eventually produced our own middle ages.

Ours was a gospel of liberation, of love freely and spontaneously demonstrated in tangible ways, not by legislation, peer pressure or other forms of social conditioning. Our gospel was characterized by freedom and the liberty to live love to the full, but today we can scarcely speak of it without fear of being misunderstood.

Perhaps it’s due to real or perceived abuses of past liberties, but our theology of love, in spite of how central it used to be, is now hush-hush and a source of embarrassment. Too bad, because by hiding it, it becomes increasingly harder to distinguish our gospel from that of Christendom, especially the motivations for it.

In spite of abuses and some resulting bad labels, the core principle of our Law of Love was indeed good news. A vast amount of good came from it and many of us can attest to experiencing God working through it. Obviously, as with all human experimentation into uncharted territory, a fair amount of trial by error was to be expected. Clearly this does not make the hurt some might have felt any less, but neither do the abuses erase the good and the fact that we did see it work. Whether aspects of this experimentation will be kept and developed is not the point, but what is most significant to our present consideration is that we experienced God outside of Christendom’s orthodoxy.

God is not in a box! We cannot embrace a gospel that does not take that into account, or that is even contrary to it and reduces God to medieval representations. Having once flown, even if no longer able to, the memory remains and we cannot deny it can be done.

So how can we revert to an enslaving gospel, one that binds, that induces fears, that imposes twisted morality and a judgemental attitude on that which God has created and endorsed? How can we return to the arguments of apologetics to sustain our faith, when we had a living experience of it? How can we resort to theology, even one of fear, to define our doctrines on the nature of God, if we have truly known Him?

So what’s our gospel and mission?

So what’s our gospel? Love first and foremost! Our theology of love, as theologically undefined as it may be, is embedded in scores of writings and in our history. Ours is a gospel of love, simplicity and liberation! It is outside of traditional orthodoxy and the fixed morality of Christendom. It is one free to expand outside of biblical exegesis and drink in new wine. One that believes in a practical everyday Christianity, without the added artificial elements of religious buildings, ceremonies, baptism, mass evangelism and all the usual props of Christendom. One that is sexy and erotically alive for God and desires no compromise with defunct Christendom. One that stays outside of it and therefore is more appealing to the un-churched, to those disillusioned by religion, to people of other cultures and even to those who think of themselves as atheists. That I feel is our speciality, our shared legacy bequeathed to us by David.

Even if TFI was seriously hampered in its ability to continue as an organization, the legacy we speak of is something that goes well beyond it. Many have partaken of it, both in and out of TFI, and it still lives in them. I believe it holds the kernel to the type of gospel the world needs in a post-Christendom era. In a sense we have barely begun, if we recognize the value of what we have, eschew historical toxins, ours and Christendom’s, and keep growing and moving with the Spirit we have known.

Christendom is as dated as the Old Testament and holds no appeal or validity in today’s world. As Stuart Murray states in his paper “Christendom and Post-Christendom”: In a pre-Christendom society, Christianity is “news”, presenting another religious and social option. There is a freshness and challenge about it that demands a response. In a post-Christendom society it is difficult to persuade people that Christianity has anything fresh to offer. The assumption is that it has been tried and found wanting, and that wherever else answers to spiritual questions are to be found, it is not in Christianity. Evangelism in a post-Christendom context is faced with the task not just of persuading people that Christianity is true but of even gaining a hearing for something widely regarded as passé.

Christendom might be passé but God is not limited to operate by its prescribed methods, as David once said: To hell with the “proper way!” The proper way is of Man! The unexpected and the improper, the unconventional and untraditional, the unorthodox and unceremonious, contrary to Man’s natural expectation, this is the way God usually works! (Did God Make a Mistake? – 1971)

So God adapts to each generation and creates new life within it in whichever way He chooses, as He did with us in our beginning. That same liberty which we’ve had in His love, counter-current as it may have been then, the world is now embracing but without love, and with worse results than we’ve ever known. The solution for them is not to return to the past, but to know the God who is love and let Him transform their present.

While Christendom tries, by its morality and apologetics, to turn back the clock and “save” this lost world, or rather their place of influence in it, the seer fact that they are living in the past prevents them from it. We, instead, might have the way forward and the gospel the world needs today, Jesus without Christendom, freedom in His love and a Love that lasts forever.

Advertisements

From → Mission

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: