Let me just say it straight, up front: I see no need to reinvent the church. What I do see is the need for God’s People to act more faithfully as Christ’s Church.
No doubt the church in the West has many new things to learn. But for the most part, everything we need to learn is what we’ve already forgotten. The chief theological task now facing the Western church is not to reinvent or to be relevant but to remember. We must remember the old, old, story. We must remember the faith once delivered to the saints. We must remember the truths that spark reformation, revival, and regeneration.
So, again, despite the assertions of the Emergents and Seekers and cutting-edge tweekers, I see no need to reinvent the church. God is still at work, just as he has been at work through the ages.
We would, however, be wise to remember what the Reformers of the 16th Century pointed out:
The Church is constantly in need of reforming itself to become more conformed to Scripture.
To do this we need to be aware of:
- What God says in Scripture His Church is to be
- What God has done through history to build His Church
But while I do not believe we need to reinvent the church, I do believe we must always contextualize the ministry of our congregations to be relevant to the cultures where we live; and to be relevant to any cultures in which we may minister.
Consider what missiologist Lesslie Newbigin observed:
If the gospel is to be understood… if it is to be received as something which communicates the Truth about the real human situation, if it is as we say “to make sense”, it has to be communicated in the language of those to whom it is addressed and it has to be clothed in symbols which are meaningful to them. Those to whom it is addressed must be able to say: “Yes, I see.”
The desire for Relevance does not necessarily change or minimize the Truths of our Faith. Instead it is an attempt to express and communicate the historic Biblical Truths in ways that are meaningful and applicable to contemporary and changing contexts.
In other words, we want to embrace and embody the historic Christian faith in ways that are relevant to the culture(s) in which we live & minister.
Just as a missionary going to a foreign country would be expected to adopt the language, dress, and appropriate customs & mannerisms of that culture, so we ought to be sensitive to our culture (and various sub-cultures). We use our freedom in Christ to adjust & adopt appropriate forms that will enable us to speak clearly to the people of the glory of Christ, and of the eternal truth of the gospel.
But while we must be contextual, we must be contextual without negating or neglecting the foundations laid by our forefathers in the Faith.
This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ – Jeremiah 6.16
Do not move an ancient boundary stone set up by your forefathers. – Proverbs 22.28
Here are some practical principles:
- I affirm God has worked through His church throughout history, and that the church is God’s primary mission agency. Much wisdom has been gained through the ages, and we are wise to learn from those who have come before us.
- Therefore we must be committed to doing ministry & theology, with intentional continuity with the Historic Christian Faith, under the authority of God’s Word.
- At the same time, we must seek to be sensitive to our culture and contextualize our ministry accordingly. We must also be careful not to fall into the traps of syncretism or cultural accommodation, or any other practice that compromises the gospel of Jesus Christ.
- Relevance also means that we should be sensitive to specific (sometimes unique) issues facing our contemporary culture(s), and the context in which we live and serve, and to speak prophetically to those issues in accordance with faithful Biblical theology.
In short, we are informed by the past, and we should be connected to our heritage, but we must be a living community of learners, willing to adapt and change in order to be both more faithful to Christ and more effective for the sake of His Kingdom.
And rather than reinventing, and becoming like the Emergents, we can adopt convergence. Convergence means that we take the best practices and resources of the past and integrate them with contemporary expressions in the context of our community.
This is, in large part, what it means to be Missional. And being missional does not require reinventing, just a little recovering and a little sensitivity and a lot of application.