The Kingdom of God…..

Of course all Christians recognize the phrase the kingdom of God from the Lord’s prayer. But the interpretation of that phrase seems to vary considerably depending on what version of Christianity you follow. Here is what Martin Luther said about it in his small catechism:

Your Kingdom Come on earth as it is in heaven:

What does this mean? 
The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also.

How does God’s kingdom come? God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.

Luther being a firm believer in a passive form of Christianity stripped any reference to our responsibilities in helping kingdom come to earth. I believe this comes from his belief in the  total worthlessness of all humans.  This epiphany  came when he discovered one particular verse in Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians: It is by grace that you are saved not be works…. Luther gave this one sentence in the Bible total priority over all the others, including even Jesus’ words and many have continued to do that since that time.

There are many today that take these words very differently. They believe that the Kingdom will come by the hands of those faithful who work for a better world. That Jesus’ commands to feed the hungry and clothe the needy are the kingdom to which he was referring. In other words they take these words as a call to action and not something to sit back and wait for. This interpretation is not new, some of the early church fathers believed it and to one degree the Catholic church still aligns with it.

The emergent movement that is now experiencing exponential growth is another of those groups. They firmly believe that Jesus’ commands are to be taken literally and as he said and I am paraphrasing here: Becoming a follower of Jesus changes everything.  Here is a quote from his book entitled A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren about the kingdom of God and its significance to the emergent movement.

Similarly, we’re discovering that the more we let Jesus’s message of the kingdom of God sink in, the more it begins to unsettle all our existing understandings and categories. It changes everything. Before this realization, we are like lawyers trying to save an old contract, adding more and more fine print on page after page, until the provisos are weightier than the original contract. (This is good work, I suppose, and must be done for a generation or two, but it is not the work to which I feel called.) At some point, though, more and more of us will finally decide that it would make more sense to go back and revise the contract from scratch. And that process has begun. It is nowhere near complete, but the cat is out of the bag; imaginations are sizzling, and exciting theological work is being done—by theologians, yes, but, equally important, by pastors, preachers, songwriters, screenwriters, producers, poets, dramatists, sculptors, photographers, painters, architects, youth leaders, community organizers, moms and dads, and thoughtful readers like you.

In the coming years all those who are currently disheartened by the legalistic and creed based versions of Christianity will discover that there is a movement emerging that takes the kingdom of God to a whole new level and gives it back its literal meaning. It changes Christianity from a “sit back and wait” religion to a an action oriented one  based on Jesus’ words.

The Church Is Not a Democracy….

We in the U.S. know that one of the primary foundations of our democracy is freedom of speech. That is being able to say something different from our leaders and not suffer serious consequences. In my opinion this is what has allowed our country to remain so strong over the centuries. Many times criticisms lead to change and though we might not realize it at that time that is good for us. It makes us better; it makes us stronger. Without freedom of speech I doubt our country we even exist today.

Anyone who has studied church history at all knows that it is not a democracy but instead has for most of its history a very vertical oriented top-heavy organization. When the leader of the church, or even most of his immediate underlings said something everyone was expected to quickly get in line with his words. Dissension is just not allowed.  Anyone who even hinted of a disagreement were quickly handled.  In the past anyone proclaimed a  heretic, which basically meant they didn’t agree with their leaders in some aspect, had all of their writings burned so they would not pollute the church.  And many followed their books into the flames.

Thank heaven at least in the last few centuries heretics are not so severely handled but that does not mean that they are not severely dealt with. Many think only of the Catholic church when they think of the power structures. No Catholic, especially the cardinals and bishops would go against anything that the Pope proclaims.  But this situation also occurs amongst the Protestant denominations as well.

If you even hint that you don’t agree with all the various creeds and statements given by your denomination’s leadership you will also be chastised or even kicked out. I know personally of a Lutheran minister who was brought back from an overseas mission and stripped of his sermon rights because he dared to join in prayer with those in other Christian groups.  It seems that most denominations and that includes the Catholic church (although they don’t like being called a denomination) just won’t accept any straying from the stated doctrine of their group. They all claim that it would stain their institutional purity. About the only denomination that I am aware of that doesn’t do this are the Quakers. But since they are adamantly opposed to creeds in general that seems a natural to them.

This lack of accepting fellowship with other Christians is one of the most serious problems causing the generally sharp decline in the institutional church.  Their arrogance in thinking that they are pure and others are not is driving away membership especially among the younger generations.  The emergent church movement, although not yet well-defined , generally prefer a very horizontal structure if they have a structure at all. Creeds and such are just not important to most of them.

I will be posting more about the emergent movement in the coming weeks. There are several books that are well worth the read if you are interested. I will be getting into that in later posts.

Rummage Sales

Before I get into the “details” I wanted to throw out another unique way of looking at church history.  Here is the way  author Phyllis Tickle describes church history in her book entitled The Great Emergence :

The only way to understand what is currently happening to us as twenty-first-century Christians in North America is first to understand that about every five hundred years the Church feels compelled to hold a giant rummage sale. And, he (Rev Mark Dyer) goes on to say, we are living in and through one of those five-hundred-year sales.

Now, while the bishop may be using a bit of humor to make a point, his is nonetheless a deadly serious and exquisitely accurate point. Any usable discussion of the Great Emergence and what is happening in Christianity today must commence with yesterday and a discussion of history. Only history can expose the patterns and confluences of the past in such a way as to help us identify the patterns and flow of our own times and occupy them more faithfully. The first pattern that we must consider as relevant to the Great Emergence is Bishop Dyer’s rummage sale, which, as a pattern, is not only foundational to our understanding but also psychologically very reassuring for most of us.

That is, as Bishop Dyer observes, about every five hundred years the empowered structures of institutionalized Christianity, whatever they may be at that time, become an intolerable carapace that must be shattered in order that renewal and new growth may occur. When that mighty upheaval happens, history shows us, there are always at least three consistent results or corollary events. First, a new, more vital form of Christianity does indeed emerge. Second, the organized expression of Christianity which up until then had been the dominant one is reconstituted into a more pure and less ossified expression of its former self.

While Phyllis Tickle calls the current age the Great Emergence from what I can glean it is also analogous with Harvey Cox’s the age of the spirit. The term emergence has been overused already and its meaning therefore is not yet solidified. We will get into that in future posts. I may also flesh out just what those five hundred year milestones are. A rummage sale seems to be a very effective way of describing the about-faces that the church has done throughout its history.

Until the next time I bid you peace….