"If the decline of the Church is ultimately caused neither by the irrelevance of Jesus, nor by the indifference of the community, but by the Church's failure to respond fast enough to an evolving culture, to a changing spiritual climate, and to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, then that decline can be addressed by the repentance of the Church." (Mission-Shaped Church, 14)We Christians are an arrogant tribe. It's proven every day by complaints about the public school system and accusations of the backwardness of "culture" contributing to the decline of the church's numbers and influence. It's before us with every Fox News report on the "War on Christmas." In a culture that, historically, has so privileged Christianity that not even a political election can be won without the candidate at least pretending to be a Christian, we still think we're the victim of society. In this country, every time we place the blame on the people who don't go to church for not going to church, and every time we present ourselves as a persecuted minority, we reveal our arrogance, our privileged entitlement to be the dominant voice and to set the terms for every engagement. Regardless of the fact that, sure, we did used to have more influence, the underlying (and often subconscious) assumption that the church should have the power in America is nothing but arrogance.
Drawing from the church's own normative theological sources (particularly the Bible), such arrogance is incompatible with Christianity in the first place. We value power, we value authority, but the only kind of power and authority the church (if it is the church of Jesus Christ) should value is the power and authority of Jesus--a power revealed in the weakness of self-sacrificial love, an authority demonstrated by the incarnation and the washing of feet. We miss all the irony of mightiness for we lose the fundamental truth "only love is mighty." Eberhard Jungel wrote, “...godly power and godly love are related to one another neither through subordination nor dialectically.... God's lordship is to be understood as the rule of [God's] mercy and God's law is accordingly the law of [God's] grace” (God as Mystery of The World).
Therefore, the terms are set for the church's engagement with the world, not by its own mission or message, but by the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.
This kind of mightiness is exemplified in the incarnation in which Jesus comes to us, encounters us, on our own terms and in our own experience. Rather than call the world to ascend to God, God descends to the world. So the church according to the Word of God and in the power of the Holy Spirit, rather than calling the world to ascend to it, expecting the world to enter its doors and listen to its voice, must descend to the world and allow the world to set the terms for the church's engagement.
That means then when people stop "coming to church," the primary blame must be placed not on the people who aren't coming, but on the church itself for missing the presence of God outside its walls and outside the presupposed understanding of its mission to the world. By our sense of entitlement to the position of authority in our culture, we have missed our own calling to ministry, our own calling to be the church to the people who don't accept our authority. Rather than telling the story as, "they rejected the church's invitation," we need to start telling the story of the church's failure to see that the invitation itself is to the work that God is already doing in them. We must repent of this failure and begin to look for God in the lives and hearts of the people who have rejected us. In doing so, we may discover that it is we who have rejected them.
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