November 2010

Editorial- What is Church?

November 4th, 2010 – by Laura Lehman Amstutz and Jeremy Yoder

What is church? It’s a simple question with a complicated answer. In English,  the word “church” connotes the building, the people, or some set of beliefs and practices. While we are certain that church is more than any one of these things, it’s difficult to find the language that really names the essence of what church is. The Bible, after all, uses a number of metaphors to describe this emerging community of faith. Jesus Christ referred to the church as a “Kingdom.” Paul referred to the church as a “body” – a living organism made up of believers, each an essential and distinct part of the body. Whatever the image, the Bible depicts the church as a unified whole – a communal expression of God’s restorative relationship with humanity.

In this issue of Work and Hope, four young writers address the meaning and function of the church. Tim Baer shares the pain of not finding a church home,  Patrick Nafziger tells us how church makes meaning in his life, Maggie Page shares how people have enacted church for her, and Keith Wilson explores the importance of obedience. There are probably as many stories of what church means as there are people who read this page. Somewhere in this kaleidoscope of experiences and definitions, a picture emerges of people gathered together to worship, to make meaning, to care for each other. Church is a community with a special purpose and a distinctive mission in the world, driven by God.

Brian Gumm reviews Beyond the Rat Race by the late Art Gish, a 1972 critique of the engagement of church with culture. Art was a prophet and provocateur, who sought to live out the Gospel of Jesus Christ is everyday ways. His tragic death in July means that the next generation will have to pick up his legacy and move forward.

We hope you enjoy this issue of Work and Hope. If you’re interested in contributing, either to an upcoming issue, or as a guest blogger please email workandhope@emu.edu Ω

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What is Church?- Home

November 4th, 2010 – by Tim Baer

My first church home, twenty miles north-west of Baltimore, was a large evangelical congregation that met in a public school auditorium. It was there that I met Jesus, His followers, and His call to prayer. I was nineteen, played drums in the socially conscious indie-punk band “The Soma Solution”, wore an orange Mohawk, and smoked a pack of Camel Lights every day. Even with my left-of-center roots, the idea of God had never seemed absurd to me, but Jesus had been different matter and the Church was something I wanted nothing to do with.

It only took a few months for me to understand why. After I started attending church, people stopped taking my phone calls. The youth group that had seemed so inviting, barred me. The morning Bible study for teenagers asked me not to come back. It was my age – too old for teenagers, too young for adults. The church had a void and offered me nothing. I was accountable to no one and felt abandoned in my immature faith. I felt abandoned not just by the church, but by the people I had come to depend on.

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What is Church?- A place to make meaning

November 4th, 2010 – by Patrick Nafziger

I have a shoebox in a closet.

It’s full of cards and notes I’ve received since leaving home.

I don’t keep everything–just the ones that really mean something. But by now that box is getting full. When I go to add a new card to the box, I notice it won’t close right anymore.

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What is Church?-Where they have to love you

November 4th, 2010 – by Maggie Page

I want to be honest with you, so you should know that I’m not a “real” Anabaptist, meaning I was not raised in nor am I technically a member of an Anabaptist congregation. On the other hand, I am in one way technically more Anabaptist than many of you, in that I am, in fact, “twice baptized”, the literal meaning of the word. I was first baptized as an infant in a small Methodist church in Virginia, which didn’t take too well. Nineteen years later I was baptized again by my best friend in a river in the woods in the small Minnesota town where we attended college. There were maybe 10 of us, mostly college freshmen, standing on the banks and in the waters of the Cannon River in between final exam sessions. Someone brought a guitar, someone snapped some photos, and those of us in the river risked frostbite to form a makeshift but beautiful family.

In the six months leading up to my baptism I had attempted suicide, been hospitalized for a drug overdose, ended a two year romantic relationship and nearly failed out of school. Those kids- because that’s what we were- who were with me in the river that May were literally the only reason I survived my first year at college. I honestly didn’t much care for these friends at first. They were Christian, they went to Bible studies nearly every night of the week, and talked about things like abstinence and transubstantiation at the dinner table. When the shit hit the fan, however, they were there. They put everything on hold when they saw someone in need. They cared about me and cared for me, not because I loved them, or because it was easy, or because it gave them any reward. They loved me because they were, and are, Christians, and that’s what Christians do.

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What is Church?- Community of Obedience

November 4th, 2010 – by Keith Wilson

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.

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The Theological Legacy of Art Gish (old books need love too!)

November 4th, 2010 – by Brian Gumm

On that day this past July when Art Gish was tragically killed on his farm in Ohio, I was on another farm a few states away in Iowa, reclining on a porch swing at my in-law’s, reading his 1972 book, Beyond the Rat Race (Herald Press; sub. page numbers are from this ed.).  It was my first substantive engagement with Gish’s writing, and that it was being done on the day he died was both humbling and sad.

The lives of Art and his wife, Peggy, are a contextual recapitulation of traditional Brethren nonconformity, and Beyond the Rat Race offers us practical and striking insights into living out our faith in Christ amidst a coercive and fallen world. For being published nearly 40 years ago in the late days of the Vietnam war and following in the wake of hippie culture and broader social upheaval, the book remains startlingly relevant. Indeed, the corrupting cultural currents that Gish identifies and critiques have in some ways become more deeply entrenched in American life and are therefore harder to discern and resist in rigorously Christian ways.

Especially eerie this side of the Internet is Gish’s passing remark about then-contemporary media theorist, Marshall McLuhan, who Gish saw as “(advocating) deeper devotion to electronic fragmentation for those disorganized by society,” then adding, “But we will not find reality by turning ourselves into an electronic package” (p. 117). What is Facebook and other social media on the Internet but a contemporary venture into just that? To say nothing about the foundational role of advertising on these networks!

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