In my quest to find answers for why my practiced Christianity felt insufficient, I was consistently drawn to question the good news and determine what exactly made it so good. From the account of the Gospel’s the message of Jesus seemed to resonate with some pretty average folk. Sinners, lowest of the low, pretty unchurchy individuals (tax collectors, prostitutes, fisherman, etc.) were the ones who rallied around him. So much so that even the established and churchy who were drawn in would do so in secret. I wondered, what gem within his message and ministry was so scandalous to the religious establishment, yet profoundly infectious to the average and outsider?
I first looked to the gospel preached week to week from pulpits bearing the name of Christ, and how their messages could be summarized. In the broadest of terms, I found what I heard (and preached myself) came down to three basic categories. (1) Methods to living a better life by following biblical/spiritual teachings and perspectives, (2) awakening to inner or communal faults by the rebuke of the sinful areas in our lives, (3) pitching a better tomorrow in the next life that brings hope to this one. All of this is properly housed in the overarching and supremely important message of the nature of God’s love towards us. All of this fits in very well with church culture, which consists of a group of people reflecting on a future life, seeking a better life in the here and now, and hoping to identify problem areas in this life to do so. It is fruitful here, no argument.
In a context where I believe that I can be lost and where I am looking for a way to apprehend eternal life, finding as many opportunities to seek out my sins, find the proper teaching to correct them, and find the proper behaviors to being accepted by my peers, the dynamics of church make a lot of sense and almost feel natural. HOWEVER, taking this message to the uninitiated there seems to be disconnect. When I am not geared to live life in a way where I am expectant each week to receive something that will add to my cultural identity in making me a better version of myself before my peers, the context of these messages don’t land in the same way. Yet, this is where Christ’s ministry thrived, with the strikingly unpolished and common. Realizing this, I turned my attention to the struggles of humanity to see how the message and purpose of the church can be applied to the challenges that are common to humanity.
Much of what we see in the teachings of Jesus are built upon the reality that there is a Kingdom of God at hand, that is, present in the here and now. The fact of this Kingdom gives us a peace amidst the pain we actively face in this life. In the person and ministry of Christ the reality of this Kingdom would be manifested in how he would mend the things that were fundamentally broken. Often this would take place in direct and literal healings. Those who were sick and maimed would experience miraculous transformation. However, the deeper manifestation, and at times the specific healing, would take place hand in hand with the forgiveness of sin. It was an inner acceptance and process of being able to bring deep and dark shame to the light, and have it resolved in a meaningful and spiritual way. The Kingdom would accept us for who we really are, and offer us empowerment to become who we are truly meant to be. The good news of God’s practical and actual acceptance would resonate deep within the soul and become infectious to those around the transformed individual.
The demoniac spoken of in Luke 8:26-39 is an example of this. He has the deep inner pain of a legion of demon activity within him. The shame and consequence of this is worn upon his very flesh with scars from self-inflicted wounds (Mark 5:5). Jesus comes to his side of the lake, meets him at his home in the tombs, and sets him free. Afterwards the man understandably desires to stay with Christ, but Jesus tells him no. There is no need for further teaching, further training. He had already experienced, in a microcosm, the fullness of Christ’s ministry. So much so that he was sent to be emissary and ambassador to others in this region. Radical acceptance, radical forgiveness, an encounter with the Kingdom, led to the seemingly most unqualified of individuals being tasked with taking the good news to an entire community. He was not put in bible studies, or a discipleship track, he was transformed and went on to testify. And here is where we find the magic of the gospel: it actually works. For these regular folk living in a world of competing spiritual perspectives, a person arrived who dripped with the Kingdom. With manifested love, acceptance, and power they encountered and experienced transformation which confirmed that something sweet and genuine was taking place. Who could help but share, spread, and expose the good news to the world?
Now, this all took place without the parameters and process of cultural Christianity. I saw that this didn’t need them. This came down to a person to person level, of a community that has tasted and seen, and now shares their experience with others. This can happen at a large or a small level. This can be brought into the synagogue, the marketplace, or the devils mountain. The Kingdom breaks through and exists on all sides. When the simple good news is earnestly experienced and shared, it inevitably leads to fruit. So the problem became less about how the church organization did not reflect what I saw the good news to be, but how it was never meant nor had the ability to. Church really and truly can only exist in the organic space of human interaction with actual connection with one another. It can only exist in the relationships that drip acceptance, forgiveness in love. Can only exist in the people that the power of the Holy Spirit has been poured out in fullness and reality. In those that walk in the Kingdom, and bring it closer to this world. When Jesus spoke of the church to Peter he made it clear that it is to break down the gates of Satan as an invading force in this world (Matthew 16:17-19), not standing apart waiting for people to come.
The closeness of this Kingdom also dismantles any power sought by those who are spiritually practiced and pious over others. There is no exclusive group of the super righteous, because all have access to the Kingdom and to the Holy Spirit. This deeply challenges any power (political or spiritual) of an organization that seeks to monopolize faith and teaching. Heaven doesn’t belong to the leadership, it is in the hands of the people. There are no religious elite, because we are all a kingdom of priests. Spiritual hierarchy and power is lost, and self-righteousness now has no outlet. The church is within the regular, the normal, the flawed, the broken. The ones with shame, and scars, the ones who are unpolished and messy. The ones in connection with one another in love. Amongst this group is the acceptance, amongst this group is the power and transformation.
As this idea became clearer to me I began to seek if these Kingdom people existed outside of a weekly service. If the Kingdom is expressed and manifested in a daily space, with regular people, and in a way that would be a draw to those in deep darkness, infecting to all those around them.
Join us for Part 3 Coming soon!
During this phase of my journey I shared above there were several books and videos that had an impact on me that I would like to share with you all
A book by Neil Cole named "Organic Church"
A book by Ted Tekker named "The Forgotten Way"
A book by Richard Jacobson "Unchurching: Christianity without Churchianity" and a video series by this author https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uikd5uoMdpk