more box theology

29 May

Havering on the Way_6

Faith is not the clinging to a shrine but an endless pilgrimage of the heart. Audacious longing, burning songs, daring thoughts, an impulse overwhelming the heart, usurping the mind – these are all a drive toward serving Him who rings our hearts like a bell. ~ Abraham Joshua Heschel

Lawyers schooled in the science of Roman law enter the Curia. They think in categories of Roman law…and this shows itself…in that they introduce for the self-determination of the Church a notion which had been unknown to the early Church but which henceforth is to shape the whole life and thought of the Church: the notion of the Church as a corporation. A new person has stepped in between Christ and Christianity – the Church as corporation, the Church of Christ ruled by Christ is no longer Christianity, but the Church only as a corporate institution. Christ bears sway in Christendom only through means of the Church, that is, the churchly organization. ~ Emil Brunner, The Misunderstanding of the Church, 1951

Tom: It’s a beautiful church, Jack. Have a look.
Jack: Where I come from the church has a lot to answer for. Temples of tears, Tom. Don’t go in them anymore.
(Joost rings the church bell.)  ~ The Way, Chapter 14

So where do boxes fit in the Way?

As summarized by Emil Brunner in his book The Misunderstanding of the Church, Church 2.0 has historically developed into a corporate institution that embodies the Way, an institution that as a corporation embodies Jesus, sacramentally offers Jesus to the masses, and that, more or less, becomes the sole door to Jesus and Abba and Life. Church as institution becomes the Way, the Point. The Church ceases to be people on and of the Way, and becomes an Entity to which all people must come, to which they must subscribe, pay, obey and serve. Church as mediator to the one Mediator. We could call it the Constantinian Exchange. The paradoxical, paralogical, uncontainable Ekklesia of Jesus exchanged for a corporate box of our own making. And this is an essential characteristic of Church 2.0 whether we speak of Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant permutations of whatever stripe or flavor. It’s a characteristic that is almost impossible to shake. The institutional DNA runs so deeply and subtily that, seemingly, anything we build to help facilitate Ekklesia ultimately develops into Church 2.0, altering and changing the very nature of Ekklesia.

Perhaps Church 3.0 is simply a more organic and creative relation between the Way and the boxes we would build, rather than the one displacing the other. Perhaps The Way provides us with just the right metaphor and picture:  Church as hostel. Albergue. A point of hospitality along the Way rather than something presuming to contain the Way or to be the Point. As I said in an earlier musing, it’s the punctuation interspersed within and around the flowing text of a life of pilgrimage.

Church as hostel. Small group as hostel. My home as hostel. A place where we look for and welcome weary pilgrims and celebrate the Journey. Of course, there are hostels, and then there are hostels. Hostels can be austere and impersonal and leave you wondering why you just paid fifteen euros for that meal and a bed. Hostels can be cathedrals of wonder softening the hardest of pilgrim hearts. Hostels can be a friendly table loaded with food and surrounded by passionate conversation where there is a seat for you because they have been waiting for you. And then there is El Ramon – when you realize that you’d rather walk on and sleep outside.

Hostel. Not a bad vision to ponder for the box we know as “Church” in all of its shapes and sizes: a place of refreshment for pilgrims who are themselves the real church.

Hostels provide a welcoming door that is also a revolving door. The way in is also the way right back out. In fact, the hostel needs, wants, expects pilgrims who stay there to move on. Hostels aren’t looking to attract permanent “members” – they are welcome places of refreshment for pilgrims who are, by definition, passing through. A hostel (the churchly institution) is a place where friendship and communion (Ekklesia) can be experienced in significant ways – but ultimately such friendship is formed along an entire pilgrimage of the heart along which the hostel is only a part.

But what a weary Way it would be without such welcoming doors leading to refreshing tables where “audacious longing, burning songs, daring thoughts, impulses overwhelming the heart, usurping the mind” are freely experienced by pilgrims who know deeply that they do not and cannot walk the Way alone.

Buen Camino.



Posted by on May 29, 2012 in Church, musings


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2 responses to “more box theology

  1. Anonymous

    May 29, 2012 at 12:53 am

    With the paradigm shift of the church building simply being a place of refreshment in which people pass through, then relationships need to be fostered and nurtured outside the walls of the building. Friendships that will last when involvement within a ‘ministry’ ceases. Those who choose to look beyond what we do, to who we are that are often the ones who travel the way with us. That is where true communion rests and healing flourishes.

  2. wordhaver

    May 29, 2012 at 1:00 am

    Yes! This is so crucial! I have neighbors who used to be an intimate part of the same church fellowship as I for several years, but when there were disagreements, they stepped out of the “hostel” and then promptly lost all connection with everyone. No sustaining friendships. Not meaning to blame anyone, but what a sobering fact to see that on FB we now share 1 mutual friend. Too often in our churches we share only working collaborations rather than the friendship characterizing the Jesus Way…


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