Human beings – created in the image of God – are not isolated, but commingled organisms. Whether we like it or not, we are deeply bound together. For “church” or the kingdom of God to exist, there must be an acceptance of this binding as a spiritual fact; a spiritual reality made possible by the Holy Spirit and our common pursuit of obedience to the truth found in Jesus Christ. I find the truth, the way, and the life to be in Jesus and what he taught (and continues to teach through the Spirit), and hope that many of us can agree on this. If so, we can agree that obedience to this truth, to these precepts is not only a good idea, but the only idea that will result in peace and that elusive sense of purpose we all yearn for.
Obedience is a tricky word in my experience, and can carry a mountain of godless baggage. I see it like this: there is a path toward wholeness, a path that leads me home to the “perfection” or maturity of spirit that my Creator envisioned and called forth long before my biological life began. To find and stay on this path is what my deepest heart – the heart beneath the scars and shame of sin and a broken world – longs for and strains toward. Obedience requires me to trust that the teachings of Jesus and the moving of the Spirit know better how to articulate what is best for me than my own broken will.
Church happens when a group of people agree on some version of this concept of obedience to a good God. We are taught to meet together and work side by side toward the pursuit of the kingdom and the peace it has to offer the world. We must each surrender our misguided wills and earnestly seek to obey the Light of the World. However the whole exercise is incomplete if we attempt to do it in a spiritual vacuum of a solely private experience of transformation, homecoming and obedience. The paradox and mystery is that as we find God in sacred solitude and perform our spiritual work that penetrates beneath the layers of dysfunction and brokenness, our illusions of a walled-off interior life dissipates, and we become part of a reality together that looks like this kingdom of God.
I believe Anabaptist theology gets pretty close to understanding how this ought to look on the outside. However, I believe that the truest manifestation of what “church” is might be a community that works like a Benedictine monastery. The communal work together creates the outer physical representation of a deep spiritual striving and searching on the part of each individual. If this living organism also pursues fidelity and obedience to the teachings of Jesus, we soon find ourselves driven from within (not by obligation or tradition) to be the beacon through which Jesus’s hands and feet do the saintly work among the world: peace, justice, feeding, clothing, healing, truth-telling, joy-giving. Church is people loving Jesus with wild abandon together and being obedient to where that takes them. Ω
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