A few weeks ago, Hamo wrote an interesting post called ‘Why the missional incarnational church is screwed’. He quoted at length from the postliberal theologian John Milbank:
The church cannot be found amongst the merely like-minded, who associate in order to share a particular taste, hobby or perversion. It can only be found where many different peoples possessing many different gifts collaborate in order to produce a divine–human community in one specific location.
St Paul wrote to Galatia and Corinth, not to regiments or to weaving-clubs for widows. He insisted on a unity that emerges from the harmonious blending of differences. Hence the idea that the church should ‘plant’ itself in various sordid and airless interstices of our contemporary world, instead of calling people to ‘come to church’, is wrongheaded, because the refusal to come out of oneself and go to church is simply the refusal of church per se.
One can’t set up a church in a cafe amongst a gang of youths who like skateboarding because all this does is promote skateboarding and dysfunctional escapist maleness, along with that type of private but extra-ecclesial security that is offered by the notion of ‘being saved’.”
- From ‘Stale Expressions: the Management-Shaped Church’, Studies in Christian Ethics, April 2008 by John Milbank.
It would be wrong to focus on Milbank’s defence of the parish and how admittedly un-diverse many parishes are, rather than his critique of emerging-missional ecclesiology. I’m no great fan of the parish, but it’s these words and talking to Ian Packer while he was over that have helped consolidate my points of difference with EMC ecclesiology. As much as great things are happening with the EMC, I think it would be a mistake for me to lose the distinctive Anabaptist ecclesiology that I had clear in my head for a while and which Milbank has helped me begin to recover.
I need to re-articulate the fundamental point of disagreement between an anabaptist ecclesiology and the agenda laid out by Frost and Hirsch in The Shaping of Things to Come.
As much as EMC criticisms of church culture are valid, an anabaptist ecclesiology maintains that the church must be attractional. We mustn’t think the two choices are between ‘mega-church attractional beasts’ and ‘incarnational missional communities’. There is a third way…
The church is a counter-cultural community, a city on a hill embodying the gospel, a people called to be now what the world is called to be ultimately. It calls people into a new humanity living in the kingdom of God. It calls people to be baptised into this new humanity where their primary identity is no longer their subculture – whether that be skater, biker, twentysomething, mortgage belter, activist, gay, professional or artist (or Jew, Greek, slave, master, male, female) – but where their identity is in Christ.
The diversity of the church is part of the good news! It announces to the world that the old barriers have been broken down, the emnity between peoples has been overcome. Baptising subcultures as ‘churches’ misses this good news. It may even risk retaining an individualistic evangelical idea of what the good news is: ‘personal salvation’.
Where can this church be found?
It’s hard to find, and that’s why we need to articulate the hope, pray for it, and do what we can in the power of the Spirit to practice it.
For me, right now, it is found in Network Vineyard Church. Maybe part of my call is to help the church, right where I am, discover its call to diversity and to the body-life of the kingdom. I want people to know that when they break out of their comfort zone and reach across culture in church, they are partaking in the good news. It starts in small ways. It starts with who you talk to in the coffee break. It leads to you becoming family with people you wouldn’t otherwise associate with: different classes, different races, different outlooks.