August 18, 2015

Enemy Church

Ok, I have yet to see the title on the Christian bookshelves or the best seller lists yet, but the whole idea of Enemy Church is still making royalties from many a book that has a different title, but the same spirit.  In fact I reckon if you hold a lot of those book up to the light at a certain angle, the words “enemy” and “church” might just appear in subtle embossment.

Do you know what I mean by “Enemy Church?”  No? Well let me offer the astonishing insight of Eugene Peterson to explain. His five wonderful books on pastoral theology are superb, the last and latest a stunning 2010 read of Ephesians called “Practice Resurrection” says this:

“Romantic, crusader and consumer representations of the church get in the way of recognising the church for what it actually is.  If we permit – or worse, promote – dreamy or deceptive distortions of the Holy Spirit creation, we interfere with participation in the real thing.  The church we want becomes the enemy of the church we have.” (pp28-29)

Wow.  That last line. Kicks you right in the guts eh? Oh it doesn’t? Well it should.

 I am coming to the worrying conclusion that so many conferences, so many books and so many online discussions about the church have, wittingly or unwittingly, been designed to create an enemy church: an implacable, zealous, over-bearing, impatient and, above all else, self-righteous enemy of the church that actually is.  They never actually put it like that of course.  That would be too crass.  That would give the game away.  No, it’s always couched in something more accessible, more likely to gain a hearing from romantics, crusaders or consumers shall we say.

And I am not letting myself off the hook with this one.  I have, in my zeal often rallied around the flag of an enemy church, ready to rush the barricades and take things back to what they were like in, in, well, in whatever era I thought the church was best.

I have also been part of an enemy church that did great damage to the actual church. How so?  Well imagine ten values that you come up with that describe church.  Ten values that you think are based on the Bible, missional and cutting edge compared to those other churches.  Now imagine a good deal of your people only make the cut with four of those values.  They’re kinda weak, less zealous Christians than you, and there are six of those values that you don’t think they come close to – or not close enough.

What needs to be done?  Well, they’ve got to go, don’t they?  And go they do.  Shouted, shooshed, shooed, shaken off, berated to go back to lesser churches, dragging their tails behind them.  That mob that does not know the law, they are accursed eh? I wasn’t there when it actually happened (and it did happen), but I often wonder if I would have had the godly temerity to stand up and shout “STOP!”

Here’s what Peterson goes on to say:

“It is significant that there is not a single instance in the biblical revelation of a congregation of God’s people given to us in romantic, crusader or consumer terms.  There are no “successful” congregations in Scripture or in the history of the church.” (p29)

But hey, don’t let that stop us writing, printing, reading and espousing books that make up for such biblical and historical oversights.





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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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