In the communal ecclesia/community of being, we discover how to pour ourselves out for the persons (and needs) of our community as other members learn to do the same. This is not optional but necessary and desirable under the Lordship of Jesus and the formation of the Spirit. Admittedly, this is not always the most attractive or convenient practice at first. This is why church planting necessitates a beginning with disciples and discipleship.Read More
As I watched the emotional explosion hit social media last Thursday and Friday, following the House passing the AHCA, I sat watching the incompetence of the church. On one hand, the conservatives were gloating and celebrating, unconcerned with how this bill would affect millions of people. On the other hand, Christians of varying varieties were busy calling Trump names and expressing their disgust with the utter failure of the government to protect its people. From my perspective, one is right but both are incompetent. From these places, the church has failed to recognize and respond from a Gospel-oriented/present Kingdom reality.
The Gospel is an event that sparks a revolution of new creation. The missional conversation is filled with language of the alternative politics and economics of Jesus, imagination for an alternative social reality, and the church as a foretaste of Heaven. Expressed within this language is the idea that the Kingdom of God is making its appearance within the people of God. The people of God are the called out, formed, and sent-people manifested in local bodies of people known as the ecclesia (church). The ecclesia is organized, formed, and motivated by the reign of God. By “alternative” we mean alternative to the social reality within which the ecclesia currently finds itself. In this way, the Father, Son, and Spirit are cultivating the Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven. We, the ecclesia, as participants in this mission are the sweet aroma of Christ and a foretaste of Heaven.
Organizing the Ecclesia in the Politics and Economics of Jesus
This is the second post in a row where I have spoken of the politics and economics of Jesus. I realize some may be confused or unnerved by this language and idea because of our tense political environment. Friends and family relationships have been strained and even lost because of politics, so why in the world would we ever want to make Jesus political? I also realize the American idea of separation of church and state can confuse some when they read these terms. We have been raised to believe that Jesus is apolitical or that the church should not to interfere with politics. But when we say things like “vote your beliefs/values” we are confessing that Jesus is inherently political.
There are a few issues that need to be worked out regarding the politics and economics of Jesus. First, what do we mean by politics? John Howard Yoder argues the following:
Anything is political which deals with how people live together in organized ways: how decisions are made and how they are implemented; how work is organized and its products shared; who controls space, land, freedom of movement; how people are ranked; how offenses are handled.
In the same manner, we could argue that economics is anything that deals with how people manage their wealth, redistribute wealth, manage production and consumption. Whenever we find Jesus speaking into these situations, it is the responsibility of the ecclesia to discern how we may best submit to his words. It does not take much reading of the Gospels to realize Jesus has much to say. Nor does it take too long to discover how the ecclesia in Acts and the Epistles began responding to his rule.
Additionally, we must take an ecclesiological approach to the politics and economics of Jesus rather than one that mimics the prophets in Davidic Kingdom. The prophets of the Old Testament spent much of their energy and words speaking to and calling out the Kings of their day. In this role, they spoke truth to power and called Israel back to a holy form of living. In the death of the Messiah, we find the birth of a new creation. A new Kingdom is breaking in... and it is doing so, not through national governments but through the ecclesia (both transnationally and locally). This means that our most important responsibility is to organize ourselves in the politics and economics of the Kingdom. In doing so, we dependent upon God and his new creation, rather than the government. The church (ecclesia) does not need to be dependent upon the government for the care of her people.
What AHCA Reveals
Previous health care systems established by the church are good examples of what this looked like. To be clear, the church did not start health care, but it certainly expanded the idea and practice of it. Hospitals were often started and supported by the church, sometimes even being hosted within churches or monasteries, for the sake of her people as well as her neighbors and strangers. The Abbot of Cluny established a hospital and appointed persons to seek out the sick and hurting in their local communities and bring them in for care.
Today our practiced economics have been influenced by neoliberalism more than Jesus. We believe we must possess insurance through the market, and thus we put our faith in it by giving a portion of our wealth to a company in exchange for protection. When we see this as our only option, we inevitably submit to the companies as lord and must accept their terms. At this point, they can change the terms and raise the premiums, causing some to go without. This causes the people to cry foul and beg the government to intervene. In doing so, we are making the claim that the insurance companies are bad lords, and we then attempt to submit ourselves to the government. We say, “You can be a better lord,” or, “At the very least, please protect us from our lord's via regulation.” When we, the ecclesia, enter this hysteria, we inevitably tell the world that it is better to be American than Christian and/or that greater is the hope of the Oval Office than the throne of heaven. Our response and protest reveals nothing about the politics and economics of Jesus.
Is Jesus An Incompetent Lord?
When the multitudes had followed Jesus to the hillside, they were hungry and in need of food. The disciples wanted to send them away to find food, but Jesus told them to feed the crowd. With five loaves and two fish and Jesus’ blessing, the disciples fed the multitude and everyone was satisfied and there was some leftover. This miraculous story of Jesus reveals various aspects of the economics of Jesus and his Kingdom:
- The people are the responsibility of Jesus and his disciples. God, as the great provider, is more than capable of sustaining his people.
- Jesus and the disciples give of their resources for the sake of the people. I’m sure Peter was thinking, “Jesus, if we give up this food, then what will we eat?”
- The economics of Jesus and the Kingdom operates from a place of abundance, not scarcity.
When responding to AHCA and the health care crisis, the ecclesia does not throw a fit and call the government names. We do not tell people they are on their own. Doing so reveals that we have no alternative. It reveals our incompetence and suggests that Jesus is an incompetent Lord. Instead, we act from a place of abundance and offer the Kingdom of God as an alternative way.
Seeking An Alternative System?
What does this alternative way look like regarding health care? I’m not certain, but it starts with the love of neighbor and care of the other (Parable of the Good Samaritan). Our local ecclesia needs to practice the early church’s shared economics. And the national/transnational ecclesia could consider co-ops. What would it look like for the church to begin developing a universal health care system? This goes beyond my expertise, but not God’s. I know that he has given the Church skilled and gifted persons who can imagine alternative health care options. He’s done it before.
In the meantime, the local ecclesia must begin bearing one another's burdens. And this includes health care. Numerous Christian health care co-ops are available to assist. Between the local ecclesia and these providers there is much we can already do. Check out some of the testimonies from a few of them: Christian Healthcare Ministries and Christian Care Ministry. Once we have established alternative systems to support and care for our people as well as others, we can then engage bills and reforms like AHCA. But until then, our cries only reveal our incompetence.
I'm currently processing how the ecclesiological imagination inherited from Christendom (modernity, and more particularly Protestantism/Evangelicalism) influences our current church endeavors, and how a freed missional imagination may envision a more faithful embodied witness of Jesus and his church. I began by discussing some issues our church encountered along our missional church planting journey (Are we there yet?). Last week I suggested that hidden within our language and reasons for shutting the doors of a church reveals that our imagination for “what church is” is stuck on the practice of Sunday worship (Sunday is not Church). This week I hope to move us away from viewing the Christian life as an autonomous experience and move us toward a communal ecclesia.
The late Christendom, and more particularly the Protestant/Evangelical, imagination sees both salvation and the life we live as an individual experience governed by personal freedom. This imagination leads not only to autonomous churches but also autonomous Christian living. In this sense, churches are centered around (or founded upon) Sunday morning experiences where music creates an atmosphere for the individual to have a personal experience with the Word of God preached from the pulpit (or stage). Once an individual says yes to Jesus (gets “saved”) very little, if anything, often changes regarding the lives they live.
This is not church. The person remains an autonomous individual with no deeper invitation into community or participation as co-creator. Some may join a small group or volunteer on Sunday morning but their relationship with God remains strictly personal and belief-oriented. How God may be working in the world and/or organizing his people (including the individual) does not enter their consciousness. We need a new imagination to center our churches around. One that breaks free of autonomy.
The Gospel, Salvation, and Ecclesiological Imagination
The Gospel is about so much more than salvation and the Church is about so much more than a Sunday service. Some components of the Gospel are often ignored: the establishment of a new King in Jesus, and the politics and economy of his Kingdom. When we are planting or leading a church, we are submitting ourselves to the governing presence of Jesus that includes his politics and economy. As citizens of this Kingdom we are encouraged through our participation in the politics and economics of Jesus so much that we choose to leave behind our autonomy and learn to live in mutual submission to one another. In doing so, we become a Christ-embodied people of God (the church), called and formed to be a people for the world.
Regarding salvation, when we suggest that someone is saved we often think of what they have been saved from but we rarely think about what they are being saved into and for what purpose. Similarly, social justice folks often think of liberating oppressed individuals and people groups from their oppressors but rarely do they consider what they are being liberated into. These are questions the missional church must consider from the beginning. When we say we are planting a church, we are suggesting that we are participating with God in forming a new people who are both becoming and co-creating (with God) the new creation.
On Facebook the other day, David Fitch discussed the phenomenology of salvation: "The shift from accepting Jesus as Savior (and Lord) to submitting to (putting complete trust in) Jesus as Lord (and Savior) fundamentally changes the phenomenology (experience) of salvation. From seeing/experiencing God at work in me (first) to seeing God at work in the world (first) governing all things in Christ for His purposes. Into this I am saved." This shift also fundamentally changes the phenomenology of ecclesia (church).
When we say that we are establishing new ecclesia** (planting a church), we are in essence submitting to Jesus as Lord as he forms a community of people participating with God at work in the world via Christ’s governing. With Jesus as Lord, we begin to organize ourselves around his politics (way of being) and economics. The fruit of such work looks a lot less like a Sunday morning worship gathering and a lot more like local fraternal communities. I want to use the language of family here but my fear is that our view of family is still too nuclear.
A Debt Based Economy and the Church
One dominant narrative creating a significant amount of stress and anxiety for individuals is our debt based economy. The average student now graduates with close to $40K in student loan debt. (The figure would be much higher if you take out students who do not use student loans.) This means the average person is already $10K in debt after one year of adulthood. Add on car loans, credit cards, mortgages, etc., many many people struggle with stress and anxiety due to debt. Stress and anxiety cause many to feel as though they’re drowning.
In the world of autonomous Christian worship, the person drowning in debt, stress, and anxiety may come to a Sunday service seeking some form of hope, hear the message of “salvation” and say, “Yes! I need hope and salvation.” During the worship, the person may be crying out to God for help with the stress and anxiety while sitting right next to him are others thanking God for a new raise and bonus. Unfortunately, the thought of how the economics of Jesus could be drawing them together never cross their minds. In the economics of Jesus, the one who has much should discover ways to help the one with little. In this scenario above, the one who just got a raise and a bonus could learn how she may help the one filled with stress and anxiety.
In a communal ecclesia**, there are many ways for a person to be liberated from a debt based economy in order to learn to live into the economics of Jesus. At Hill City, we have discovered that as long as a person is in debt, they are not fully free to live fully live into the mission of God. A person in debt is more dependent upon their job, often forced to work longer hours, and their income is tied up paying banks interest while paying off loans. We are asking how to escape this reality so that we can spend more time with one another as well as our neighbors.
We have and are continuing to live together in order to share the burden of the high cost of living in Northern Virginia. Those in our community skilled in budgeting sit down with others to review their debts, spending habits, and teach them about money. And we are learning to share resources. My family couldn't afford to purchase a car several years ago, but we realized a neighbor also needed a car and had a different commuting schedule, so we pooled our money and purchased a car we shared together. This arrangement worked very well until yet another family gave us their old car when they purchased a van. When our neighbors, coworkers, and family learn of these stories they are always intrigued.
These practices are not in and of themselves church but they do begin to form and reveal the communal ecclesia in action. The person stuck in debt is not simply given the hope of Jesus but invited into our community as an act of his love. We make room for them in our home, share our resources, and learn to budget together. The result is a greater appreciation for the Way of Jesus and a stronger spirit of love and gratitude in the communal ecclesia. As the person feels more comfortable, their gifts and talents are revealed and bless the community as well.
The autonomous evangelical experience looks at the person with debt and says, “I will pray for you.” The autonomous progressive experience looks at him and says, “Your debt is an injustice!” But the communal ecclesial experience sees the person and their debt, invites them in and bears the burden with together.
**As I continue to work out a new imagination for the missional church I am interchanging some language. Especially language around the idea of church/ecclesia/local community. This is an intentional attempt to help break up our old imagination.
To be clear, when I am writing here about our motivations of revitalizing the Sunday experience and/or the 501c3, I am speaking of our inability to imagine planting a church where all roads don’t lead back to the Sunday morning experience, sound equipment, great music, excellent programs, and all.Read More