Our Ongoing Task
I grew up in a certain context. The church in which I grew up had its mind focused on the past as it attempted to restore The Church to its original foundations. We believed that if we could do church the way they did church -- once upon a time -- all would be well. They didn't have instruments; we didn't have instruments.
They didn't have women in leadership; we didn't have women in leadership.
They didn't own buildings or church vans or use amplified sound systems or wear suits and ties or have Sunday School or use hymnals to sing in four-part harmony; we didn't...well...obviously the restoration process had its limits.
My point is, we looked back to the earliest churches to find out what we should be doing and how we should be doing it.
I no longer believe this is a wise approach.
Instead, I believe the ongoing task of the church is to recreate the miracle of Pentecost: allowing people to hear the gospel in their own language. The questions "what should we do?" and "how should we do what we do?" should only be asked after we ask ourselves "why did they do what they did the way they did it?"
The "why" question gets us to a principle. Then we take that principle and figure out how to translate it into our current culture.
See, if we're all trying to go back and copy a particular pattern from an earlier time, then all our churches are going to look pretty much the same. And that's how it was when I was growing up. I could travel from the deep south out to California down to Mexico up to New York into Canada and across to England and find that one church looks almost exactly like another.
But I don't think that's how it should be. The gospel can take root in any culture and the expression of the gospel may look different. A church in California is going to be different from a church in Russia -- because the people in those places are different today. We waste time and energy trying to get Californians and Russians to act like Ephesians.
Trust me, the Ephesians didn't have it all together.
On the Day of Pentecost, Peter did not stand up and force everyone who wanted to hear the gospel to know and speak his language. Instead, by the miraculous empowering of the Holy Spirit, Peter stood up and spoke to them in words they could understand.
We should follow suit.
This means we need to plant a lot of different churches -- recognizing that the language of the baby boomers is not the language of millennials. The language of moderns is not the same language postmoderns speak. People who are married with kids speak a different language from college students.
The question we must ask is this: Do we love people enough to try to speak to them about God in their own language?
Not everyone speaks Church (we do have our own language, you know). Do we love people enough to enter into their world and understand the way they think and speak and act? Do you love feminists and progressives and GLBT people?
What if -- and this is a crazy idea but hear me out -- we only spoke to people we loved? And what if we reminded ourselves before we began to speak to anyone that we're supposed to love everyone?