August 28, 2006
Church GPS: Where are we and where should we go?
David Fitch was recently invited by Trinity Evangelical Divinity School to speak on a panel during their new student orientation. Each of the five panel members was to present a response to the question: "Where is the church now and where should it go?" Fitch, who is a pastor, professor, and regular contributor to Out of Ur, shares his response with us in this post.
Where is the church now and where should it go? When I say church here, I speak about the evangelical church, the church where I have been born, become a pastor and an ordained servant of Christ. I believe we as a church in America are in trouble. I believe we've lost our way. I believe we have a.) accommodated ourselves to American culture in such a way that we have become another example of the mistake of protestant liberalism. And in the process, I believe we have b.) lost our calling that is given to all "the saved," that is the calling to be the embodiment of Jesus Christ amidst society and the nations.
In regard to a.) I believe the evangelical church in its attempt to reach those without the gospel has accommodated itself to the languages of individualism, the habits of consumer capitalism, and the organizational forces of American business. We could do this because we have viewed salvation as largely an individualist transaction instead of the participation of God's people in the cosmological salvation of God through the person and work of Jesus Christ. We could do this because we placed such faith in secular discourses like modern science and business technique (apologetics, business principles of leadership). In the process we have organized church life around the busy lives of Americans living the dreams of capitalism and democracy that leave little time for mission, community and worship. I fear the "church" for evangelicals has in George Hunsberger's words, become "the distributor of religious goods and services." As a result, I fear we evangelicals are becoming less and less noticeable and barely distinguishable as a people from the rest of our society who live as if God does not exist.
In regard to b.) I believe that evangelical church has lost the calling of God upon us to be the church of Jesus Christ in society. We evangelicals don't need the church to live salvation because we have personal salvation augmented by reason, science and immediate experience it seems. In some ways frankly, we can do without the Church. And so, the church in essence is left to be a sideshow to what God is doing for, in and through individuals. We no longer have a need for the church to be the social manifestation of His Lordship where He reigns over the powers of sin, evil and death, the very inbreaking of the kingdom of God, where His mighty works are made manifest and put on display before the world (1 Pet 2:9), where hospitality is such an overpowering ethos that the lost in this world are compelled by this invitation. As it is right now, we lack a way of life that people look at and see and say, "Look what manner of life has been made possible in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ." Our witness has been lost because we don't see "the church" as God's strategy for the salvation of the world.
Where we must go? Let us reclaim the practices of being His Body. I count these as community, hospitality, embodied witness, truthful formative worship, preaching of the Word, justice both internal and then external to His body, spiritual formation as a Body, and the catechesis of our children as a community. The church becomes a culture in order to engage a culture. The church is the social strategy. We cannot know what parts of culture, justice or works of righteousness are faithful in the world, until we have discerned them as His Body from which we engage the world and perhaps make partnerships in the world, all under the Lordship of Christ. In short, let us embody the mission of Christ, in not just what we do or say, but also in who we are.