Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Unity and Pluralism

Here is the rest of the Newbigin quote that I stopped early in our last discussion, "We must surely recognize that need. (for unity) But the recognition of the need provides no clue as to how it is to be met, and certainly does not justify the assertion that religion is the means by which human unity is to be achieved."

Wow, tough words for most Christians to hear. I have been raised in the church and up until recently really compelled to work in the "organized church." Like most people, I recognize its failures, but have felt called to redeem or "fix" its mistakes. But now I'm struggling with a few questions.

First, is it worth it? Is it worth pouring ourselves into organized religion (as it currently is)? Is it worth investing our time and energy into the organized church?

Second, are we just gravitating to the church because of tradition? The church structure as it is right now has a rich history, are we just trying to redeem it for the sake of historicity and honor?

Third, (the big question related to pluralism) is it even redeemable? That is the question I am really interested in. Newbigin and I think many others might argue that the "organized church" is completely irrelevant in an age of pluralism. Does this mean that we "fix" it or that we start anew or do we find a "third way" or do we allow the tradition to manifest itself in a new way within a new age?


David said...


Jesus ministered in a pretty non-pluralistic society...although He was constantly going to the 'outsiders' with the good news...Smyrna, Samaria, the Romans...
As Christianity spread to the Gentiles, it was heading into a very pluralistic Paul was so good at adapting to (all things for all people...)
This is not new ground for Jesus followers. But how we do it, I still am not sure.
I do know that the current 'status' isn't gonna cut it.
For everyone it will probably look different, but I would venture to guess that a deconstruct needs to happen before a reconstruct.
It's possible we need to replace the whole engine and not just change the oil.

John Lynch said...

Awesome questions Mike!

I think it's helpful to realize that the Bible draws a clear distinction between "religion" and tools of organization. For example, James defines "pure religion" as "visiting orphans and widows in their distress, and keeping oneself unstained by the world" (James 1:27). In other words, it's more of a way of living than an institution or organization.

With that, it seems to me that your questions take aim not at "religion" but rather at the organizational tools that have evolved to become institutional Christianity - arguably a totally different religion than the religion of Jesus!

The organizational tools that began to take shape as early as the late 1st century have become as idolatrous as Gideon's well-intentioned ephod (Judges 8:23-27). That way of living has become a religion in itself... and it is with a loud and passionate tone that I and many others declare that we will not be so divided in our religious loyalities. We follow the Way of Jesus... not the Way of the Christendom Institution.

That leaves me asking two questions: 1) Which "religion" (way of living) do I choose? & 2) What are the best organizational tools to facilitate that way of living?

The tragedy of that seemingly clear choice is that the dichotomy is deceitfully more subtle and lines more blurred from the viewpoint of instutional loyalism. I lived for years in that paradigm without even seeing my own idolatry. Sneaky, to be sure. Fortunately, all it takes is a good, long, prayerful look at the actual life of Jesus to draw those dividing lines into dramatically convicting focus.

Did Jesus try to rework the institutional faces of Judaism (e.g. the Essenism, Saduceeism, Pharasaism, etc.)? Nope. He was too focused on the Kingdom Way; & He calls us to that same place. I don't want to waste time either deconstructing or realigning the idolatrous organizational tools of Christendom. I'm too busy trying to be singularly focused on the Kingdom Way of Jesus. That's the life I want to explore, know, understand, and live. The millions of other lifestyle options (including the high-instition Christendom road) are mere distractions I want to avoid.

"Let your eyes look straight ahead. Let your gaze be fixed directly in front of you. Watch the path of your feet and all your ways will be established. Do not turn to the right or the left but remove your foot from evil" (Proverbs 4:25-27).

John Lynch said...

One more thought...

For those like me who have been called to work (at least temporarily) in a high-institution context, I find it helpful to realize that it is a ministry "among the exiles" (Exekiel 1). My aim is to call these comfortable "Christians" (many not reborn) out of their idolatry and into the Kingdom Way of Jesus.

I thought that was important to add since I recognize that God does often call people to go into institional contexts without affirming the idolatrous substance often present in those places. May we be full of Him, effective and undistracted ... whatever our context! ;)

Revolution said...

I don't think broken systems are worth redeeming (look at my personality profile I just posted and you'll see what drives that tendency) but relationships are intended to be reconciled.

However, this is where it gets tricky in my experience. If the people who you are wanting to reconcile are in a broken system and their identity is very much attached to that system, the relationship will be very hard to reconcile because they will feel attacked and you will get frustrated.

So sometimes, in order to reconcile the relationship, you have to fully abandon and distance yourself from the system.

...if that makes any sense hehe