This morning I read a terrific blog entry by Scott a recent church planter here in the Calgary area as he shared a radically different picture to what the gathering looks like. I quote:
"The gathering begins as this odd assortment of people sit in a large circle (the people consist of the homeless, students, proffesionals, christians and non-christians). Everyone is made to feel welcome and new folks are warmly introduced and invited into the community. A song or two usually kicks off the evening as someone plays the piano and everyone sings a classic hymn. My uncle then opens with a corny, cheesy joke and then tells stories and illustrates the gospel and God's truth through real life events. A prayer closes the evening and then everyone takes their place for the evening to serve and minister to those who need food and shelter." (Click Here for the Full Article)
What a great picture of the gathering!!! Seeing this kind of view to encountering fellow travelers at the well, I can't help but feel a connective significance to the character of Nicodemus in John 3 and the wonderful sense of freedom, grace and acceptance he must have felt with Jesus and the other disciples.
Of course I then find myself asking the question; if I am in the "temple Pharisee" of today (as Hirsch would say a "bounded set church" rather then a "centered set church") what answer shall I give Jesus when he calls for me to be "born again" and join in the gathering of Christ followers? In truth, like Nicodemus, my heart leaps with excitement and anticipation yet at the same time I stumble in fear at the thought of my family and friends reactions not to mention the uncertainty of any future realities!
My fear comes from this sense that any kind of open view of worship, like that which was expressed above, would be found to radical and push me to the boundries of unacceptance in the community I am already in. At the same time I see and recognize those who long to free themselves from these bondages of "atractional church" yet are unsure or unaware of anything outside of the acceptable model to what it means to be a Christian.
In honesty, I can't help but wonder if many Nicodemus' like myself exist in the church today (both in the shape of church staff and "laymen") but, are unable or unwilling to take the next step because of that fear as to how wives, children, family, frinds, and even Church community, will react. Perhaps, they might even find themselves practiceing some form of twisted missional emergent "ministry" under the umbrella of the name and logo but, find its freedoms still within the confines of bounded set church expectations; either unware by delussional practice or acknowledged without the ability of knowing what they themselves can do outside of their scholarly traditions. Admittingly, I can see this as part of my own fears.
Dispite the fear, my heart also leaps at the excitment of letting go of all the "church" baggage and truly seeking out a missional calling and what it means to be a follower of the incarnational Christ. It brings this glimps and sweet taste of seeing everything as new and "real" in every sense of the word while giving a true sense of purpose and directional fulfillment. The diversity of encountering God's creation and interacting and connecting with people and the environment is no longer limited by the burdens of self impossed expectations or outer obligations and instead is given a freedom to relational interconnection through the human condition and the journey of mutual Christ centered salvation.
No wonder Nicodemus and those who spent time with Jesus so long ago could not wait for his return! No wonder that in the authentic gatherings of today we still sense that awsome encounter and foster that longing and desire for Christ's return! How glories and wonderful that Gathering will be!!!
"Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him." Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."
Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?" Jesus answered him, "Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life."