I’ve invited several people to write “guest blog posts” for this blog. There are several reasons for this: 1) To offer different perspectives. 2) To generate even more discussion and conversation between blogs. 3) To introduce other bloggers to my readers.
(If you are interested in writing a guest blog post, please contact me at aknox[at]sebts[dot]com.)
My first attempt at defining an Authentic church experience was 1100+ words long. This is not too surprising, actually. I mean, we’re talking about something that is the body of Christ and all that goes along with it. How many thousands of words are in the New Testament of the Bible that attempt to describe who Christ is and what the community of faith looks like? And I’m trying to squeeze it into just a couple of hundred words. Let me see if I can sum up.
First of all, what church is not: it is not a business, an institution, an organization, a formalized religion, or anything like this. Now, there are times when a church needs to do stuff like one of these other things, but church is not that. As I said above, church is the body of Christ and this means that there are three characteristics that are part of the church.
1. Not Native – Jesus was/is God come down here to this little ball of rock, water, and dirt. He was extraterrestrial, alien, weird, bizarre, strange, and deviant. What this world is, Jesus is not. He stands out as different in the way he does things, the kinds of words he uses, and the way, generally he understands life. As the body of Christ, this is also what the church is supposed to be. We are to think, act, talk, and do things radically different than anything that seems “natural” to humans. When it comes to the rest of the world, to borrow a phrase from one of my favorite songs, we’re “Jesus Freaks”.
2. Native – “Now hold on,” you say. “Didn’t you just get done saying how Jesus is NOT native?” Yeah, I did. But that’s the really cool thing about Jesus. He isn’t native to this world and he spent a lot of time showing people this strange, weird, bizarre way of looking at and doing things that is completely out of this world. But in order to show people that it is possible for them to do it, too, he needed to become one of them. He became like people, experiencing everything they experienced, and showed that, in spite of all the stupidity that is our world, it is possible to do things differently and, in fact, it’s actually BETTER to be that way. And he proved it, even to the point of dying and coming back to life. “See?” he says. “You can be weird and look at the amazing stuff that happens when you are.” As the body of Christ, the church is called to be native as well. There will be laughter and tears, births and deaths, joy and pain, and all the messiness that comes from being human beings. Like Christ, we need to be incarnations of that holy other. We need to be show that there is flesh there, too, and that we are this weird blending of this “other” way and human beings. This means that there will be people with purple hair and piercings and people with head-coverings and plain clothes. There will be all manner of different interests, perceptions, and preferences all mixed together in a chaotic mess. And that’s a GOOD thing because it means we are actually native enough that, in the midst of our mess, we act weird… you know, like loving each other in our disagreements when everyone else says we should split… and that weirdness gets the attention of the world around us so they say, “Wait a minute. What’s going on here?”
3. Sent – All this Native/Non-Native stuff means nothing if we keep it to ourselves. Lock it up in a church building on Sunday morning, make it only visible for a couple of hours in an obscure location, and don’t let on that you exist, and no one will ever know. Again, look at Jesus. He could have stuck around the temple in Jerusalem and expected folks to come to him. But people didn’t really pay attention to him because he was some holy guy up on a hill somewhere. They sat up and paid attention because he ate with them, sat with them, cried with them, laughed with them, walked with them, and talked with them. Now, Jesus did go off on his own on occasion to pray and commune with God. He needed time to re-center himself, to reconnect with God so he didn’t lose track. But the real work was done when he was sitting at a well, walking down a street, going through the city gates, etc. The church, as the body of Christ, should take note of this. We do a pretty good job of getting together regularly to focus on God and on who he is and what he has in mind for us. But we’re pretty lousy, generally, about getting out there and doing the real work. There are folks who do stuff, but think about how much energy, money, time, and resource is spent on a few hours of one morning on one day of the week. What if we spent the same amount of resource, proportionally, on the other 6 and a half days of the week? Think about it. As the body, we’re not supposed to be stuck behind walls. What were Jesus last words? “Go, into all the world.”
So, what is the authentic church experience? It is a bunch of weirdos and freaks who break every mold of the world but are still very much human. And this bizarre bunch of people interact daily, moment by moment, with that world, as an intimate demonstration that life can be different, that what we experience is not all there is, and that there is something better in store.