A New Church For A New World

This book is absolutely worth a read.

A New Church for a New World (see on Thoughtful Christian here)
by John M. Buchanan

I ordered this book from The Thoughtful Christian when I was ordering my Year C set of Feasting on the Word.  I got drawn onto the “bargain” page and this book was $3.

$3.

Y’all.

It felt wrong to buy a book for so little money.

But it also would have felt worse to let that deal slip buy, so I ordered it, it arrived and I read it in two days.  It is a quick read, but Buchanan manages to fit a lot of information into a small book.

The structure actually surprised me – the book is a lot more history than I thought it would be.  I assumed Buchanan would spend the book solely looking forward, but he did not.  He walked through the evolution of Christianity and used the history as a tool to discuss what the church needs to do moving forward.  This book would actually be a fantastic resource to use with confirmation or adult education looking at the Christian history!  Buchanan condenses the history in a clear and concise way, highlighting the really important stuff and creating a space for people to fill in some of the smaller blanks.

I really liked the historical foundation structure that Buchanan used.  First of all – what is the point of learning about history if we don’t use it to move forward?  Second of all (and more important, in my opinion) – I think learning the history lends some credence to why things are done the way they are now.  It is easy for my generation to look at the traditions of the church and dismiss them easily as irrelevant – but they are relevant to some people and they are relevant for very important reasons.  If we all took the time to get to know one another and talk calmly and humbly about the things that are important to us, then perhaps we wouldn’t argue so much about change.

Buy it … read it … let me know what you think!

***

“The task before us, therefore, is not unlike the challenges facing God’s captive people in Babylon: to remember the past, to keep faith with the present, and to face the future with confidence, watching and listening for the new things that God is doing.”

From its outset the Bible tells a story about a community of people.  In ways that are subtle and not so subtle, the biblical narrative is not only about God, but also about God’s people and, most importantly, their relationship with God and with one another.  As a matter of fact, this emphasis on God – in relationship with people – and the creation of a special community of God’s people is what is unique about the Hebrew Scriptures.  The Bible is not an abstract philosophic tome full of ideas, concepts, and propositions about the nature of God.  The way the Bible talks about God is by telling stories about God’s people:  how the people obey/disobey God, and how they are faithful/unfaithful, heroic/cowardly, honest/dishonest, loving/hateful, compassionate/uncaring, just/unjust.  Mostly the Bible tells the remarkable story of how deeply and strongly God loves the people, and how patient and kind and merciful God is in relationship with the people, how faithful God is to the people, even when they are unfaithful.

“The story of the early Christian church is heroic and inspiring.  Men and women lived and died for the new way of Jesus.  They showed the world around them a new idea of God and God’s will for humankind, and a new way to live with one another.  They showed the world compassion and justice and sacrifice, and the world was impressed. … Along the way the early Christians argued and fought with one another, were alternatively courageous and cowardly, faithful and conspicuously unfaithful.  In short, they acted like the church has always acted.  But they had something important going for them, namely, the promise of Jesus.  It was and is, ultimately, his project, his church – not theirs or ours.”

“The mystery of Jesus Christ on the cross, the Reformers taught, is the mystery of God’s love poured out for all people, a grace that is truly amazing.”

“What transpires inside church buildings is counterculture activity in the world of the future, activity with no market value and little entertainment potential.  It is called worship – the intentional bringing of life into God’s presence, the corporate offering of gratitude and praise to the Creator and giver of life, the communal listening for a word from the Lord and a renewal of commitment to live in the world as God’s people.”

“But beyond questions of style – robes or business attire, hymnals or pull-down screen, organ or praise band – the worship of the church will give the world a desperately needed gift: a reminder of the presence of the living God in the life of the world.”

“The church of the future will be effective and relevant to the degree that it understands itself as a beloved community.  The degree to which it does not look like and behave like a beloved community is the degree to which the world will dismiss the church as irrelevant.

“There is an evangelical imperative for the unity of the church.  The world can see something of the reality of God and the truth of Jesus Christ in the quality of human relationships that characterize the church.  Or, to put it another way, the world simply isn’t interested in our internal divisions and is bored by our incessant arguing.

“The world needs the gift of community.  The world needs a reminder that each life, each person, is precious, a beloved child of God deserving of respect, care, justice, and compassion.  The world needs to see what a community looks like, needs a place to go to satisfy the hunger for community. … The church is most thoroughly the church when it becomes a beloved community, and it is most effective as a proclamation of good news when it extends the hospitality of Jesus Christ to the stranger, the lonely, the lost, and the outcast.  Community is a gift of the Spirit to be received in gratitude.  It begins in the heart of the believer who knows herself/himself to be the recipient of God’s welcome and hospitality.  Sometimes community happens in the church in spite of us.”

“From the very beginning the story of God’s people is the story of a people with a mission.”

“It is both/and, and not either/or; God and neighbor, theology and mission, personal transformation and social transformation, evangelism and social action.”

“Studies of growing congregations, at a time when mainline denominations are declining numerically, consistently discover that the one characteristic that growing congregations share is not theology, ideology, or worship styles, but a sense of mission.  Growing congregations are focused on the world outside the walls of their buildings and are intentional about translating the theological affirmations they make inside into acts of compassion, love, and justice outside.  When institutional survival absorbs a church’s energy and imagination and resources, it simply ceases to be very interesting or compelling.

I believe it all.

Now I just need to live it out.

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