The Language of the Kingdom

   "Learn from me, how difficult a thing it is to throw off errors confirmed by the example of all the world, and which, through long habit, have become a second nature to us."
    Martin Luther

It was nearly 18 months ago that I was driving down Highway 33 and saw a sign on one of the large Mennonite buildings warning, "Don't wait for six strong men to bring you back to church." I groaned inside, wondering what that sign would communicate to the average reader in our community? "Church" is a place where we are married and buried, a place that offers religious "services" in exchange for a hefty monthly donation. Furthermore, it is a "building" and a location, not a living community.

There are many "Christian" words which are current in western culture but no longer seem able to bear the weight of biblical revelation. These words have been so corrupted by our western cultural context that they no longer communicate what we think they communicate. Words like "Christian" and "church" carry so much baggage that we can no longer hear a biblical perspective in our culture.

Other words are in common use among Christians, but are so corrupted by institutionalism that they have little connection with biblical meaning. Words like "evangelist," and "pastor" are loaded with cultural history. Other words like "missionary," and "church planter" never occur in the New Testament, but describe a role that exists in our own minds but did not exist in the minds of Paul or Jesus.

More broadly, terms like "sacred" and "secular" indicate that the problem exists at the very center of our twisted culture. The Cree, a large First Nations group, lack a word for "sacred," because for them all the world existed under the dominion of the Creator. Unfortunately, we European settlers had already been corrupted into another form of thinking. We may see singing as sacred, sex as secular; we may see praying for someone as sacred, helping a single mom with her children as secular (less spiritual, less important). We rank life according to these false divisions because we have not understood the full meaning of the incarnation.

There are two more terms which have lingered at the heart of this debate for me: clergy and laity. Clergy are the guys (almost always) who know it all, do it all, and direct it all. They preach, teach, marry and bury, lead the meetings and are divorced and depressed at incredible rates. No wonder: how could they possibly function as the supermen they are supposed to be? Clergy are our evangelical priests, the active ones, generally well-educated professionals who keep the audience entertained, the carpeting up to date, and the tithes flowing. The laity, the rest of us, are the passive recipients of the grace of God through His messengers.

Laity was once a good biblical word. It applied to the whole laos, the entire people of God under one Shepherd. When we lost this essential quality of unity and equality as children of one Father and a people walking side by side, we lost the essence of community. It became possible for "Christians" to be passive hearers of the word, living their sacred lives on Sunday and their secular lives on the other six days. A "disciple" became a rare occurrence, since the clergy were paid to be spiritual while the rest of us paid them to do their work.

The Grace of Postmodernity

   For these and other reasons, what a grace to us the postmodern transition has been! It is becoming increasingly difficult to think in modern terms. Having lost the secure concensus of the modern world, we are forced to creatively rediscover the foundations of our faith. Some of those foundations were resting on shaky ground.

   We have rediscovered that all of life is sacred. We know that we are all the people of God. We are becoming clear about the heart of the Gospel and the call to "follow." All over the world new communities are forming, often around informal gatherings where people are getting face to face with one another and learning to be "spiritual" in practical ways as well as the more traditional ways.

   A few years ago I sat down with a church leader to tell him about a particular venture with which I was involved. I had known this leader for a few years already, and knew him to be a man of heart and compassion. I respected him as a teacher and a leader, and still do.

   As I began to try to describe some of the particular problems I was running up against, and as he began to offer some feedback and ask some questions, I began to feel uncomfortable. This wasn't the discomfort that one experiences with lack of trust, or with conflict, or any of the typical scenarios we can experience when sharing information and seeking guidance from another leader. It was just.. odd.

   It wasn't until the next day that I began to make sense of my experience the previous day. I realized that in my meeting with the leader the day before we weren't really communicating, because we were speaking out of two different cultures. In essence, we were speaking out of different paradigms, and while we were using most of the same key words, they meant different things to each of us.

   A few weeks ago my wife and I were talking about the many changes the Lord has brought to our lives in the past two years. As we shared what God had been doing among some poor families recently, we both expressed our unhappiness with the word "ministry." A shining example of Christianese, it seemed loaded with cultural understandings of position and advantage. It implies people with power doing something to those without power. It implies that those with status impart something to those who are nothing. It implies superior position and superior knowledge, inequality, and perhaps professionalism. In short, it smacks of cultural imperialism, not the servanthood and sacrifice and friendship of the One who calls us to Himself. As Jean Vanier put it,

   "The same question comes up at L'Arche.. is the community made up of the helpers who freely choose to come, or is it above all the handicapped people who did not have this free choice?

   "We do not want two communities - the helpers and the helped; we want one. That is the theory, but in practice there is a tendency for the helpers to make their own community and be satisfied with that. Truly to make community with the weak is harder and demands a certain death to self."

   Neither do WE want two communities. We do not assume that the poor have nothing to give, but rather the opposite. We assume that they may give us more than we can ever give them. They call us back to simplicity, and they call us beyond our narrow focus on self.

   Finally, a few days ago a friend brought me a paper written by a friend (we'll call him Tom), where he raises a plea for biblical language. How can we share a biblical language when so many of the good words given to us in Scripture now come loaded with cultural baggage? But if we don't find a way to share a common language, how do we maintain a common community, and a common sense of purpose? In short, without a common biblical understanding, how can we communicate, and commune, as a people of God?

   Tom begins his discussion by asking a related question. To paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill, "We create our words, and then our words create us." Friends, we have a problem here! I'll quote Tom,

   "I have seen in my own life the effect that the words of others to or about me have on my perception of who I am and how I should function. Sometimes I'm called an "evangelist," other times a "pastor" or "missionary" or "church planter." Depending on which circle of friends I'm with certain terms are either in or out of vogue. I then find myself tempted to live up to the set of expectations that come along with the words used to describe me.

   "Then there's the issue of translating the gospel into another culture. In my case, incarnating the life and teachings of Jesus into a Muslim context. There are certain words which have no meaning in our context.. or worse.. have nearly the opposite meaning."

   Tom argues that the most profound communication principle is that, "It's not what I say that matters, it's what the other hears."

Biblical Language and Christian Culture

Rake the muck this way, rake the much that way, it will still be muck. In the time that I am brooding, I could be stringing pearls for the delight of heaven.
Hasidic wisdom

   This morning as I drove downtown I noticed a sign on one of the large Mennonite buildings warning, "Don't wait for six strong men to bring you back to church." I groaned inside, wondering what that sign would communicate to the average reader?

   There are many "Christian" words which are current in western culture but no longer seem able to bear the weight of biblical revelation. These words have been so corrupted by our western cultural context that they no longer communicate what we think they communicate. Words like "Christian" and "church" have a lot of baggage in our culture.

   Other words are in common use among Christians, but are so corrupted by institutionalism that they have little connection with biblical meaning. Words like "evangelist," and "pastor" are loaded with cultural baggage. Other words like "missionary," and "church planter" never occur in the New Testament, but are meant to describe a role that exists in our own minds but did not exist in the minds of Paul or Jesus.

   Tom does a great job of pointing out that the term "Christian" is no longer helpful. While it appears three times in the New Testament, it is never used by Paul or Jesus and is never encouraged to be used by his disciples. If we were concerned with the teaching of the new Testament, we ought to be called followers of "the Way," which is used four times by Luke in Acts to refer to the early believers.

   Tom reports that George Barna did an extensive survey of Americans asking them to define what a "born again Christian" was. The most common synonym selected was "Conservative Right Wing Republican." While the situation in my country (Canada) is somewhat different, our own cultural baggage applies.

   The term "church" is equally problematic. Most of us can tell stories about our frustration with the use and abuse of this term.

   Most of us also know the Greek on this one. We know that ekklesia has been translated "church" for many years now, and we equally well know that it is generally used by believers and non-believers to talk about a building and a location. We often hear that "the church is a people," yet the term continues to be used for buildings and locations.

   The literal meaning is "called out ones," though a common NT use is "assembly." Ekklesia also refers to all the believers in a given city (as, "the church of God at Corinth" 1 Cor.1:2).

   The word becomes richer as it is defined in many metaphors throughout the New Testament. The most common of these are "the body of Christ," (and Jesus the Head), the bride of Christ, (and Jesus the groom), and a living Temple (with Jesus the cornerstone).

   Unfortunately, it's our experience of church that dominates, and our experience shapes the paradigm into which we try (with futility) to import a biblical meaning. In other words, it seems impossible to establish a biblical meaning for the word "church" when we lack the experience of biblical communities.

   This is rather scary, since it means that we allow our experience of church to define the meaning, rather than allowing the biblical meaning to define us. Tom asks,

   "So how did we get from being the "ecclesia" to simply being "church?" The word probably came from the German word "kerk" which literally means "cathedral." No wonder our language continues to back us into a corner!"

   Indeed it does, and our experience doesn't help us. Tom does a historical reflection here, nothing that the church as an institution - a thing, rather than a living and dynamic organism filled with the life of God - came into being under the rule of Constantine in the fourth century. As local churches formed, structures and hierarchies were designed to administer them. Constantine himself was careful to build these structures so as to maintain the type of religious institution that suited him. In short, he wanted to appear to be a good and "Christian" ruler while pursuing his own ambitions without interference. His own ambitions required the murder of his wife and son…

   In any event, it soon became difficult to separate the true church from the institution, as corruption and political ambition shaped the structures. The concept that the church was a living and breathing reality was lost by 325 AD.

   So in the year of our Lord 2001 we are caught in this nasty trap of saying things like, "Hurry up kids, we are going to church," and "What church do you attend?" I've been asked this question in recent days, and I thought that I might gain some satisfaction from reporting that in fact I don't "go" to church anymore, but we do have a home gathering where we share a meal and usually pray for one another. In fact, it doesn't give me much satisfaction at all, though it does go some distance toward getting me past the language problem.

   But if WE get confused by the term, imagine what the world outside our fortresses must experience. Tom suggests that we take an instant survey.. ask ten people on the street if they would like to come to church with you on Sunday. While most would politely refuse, the seven out of ten who don't already attend a Sunday gathering would think you have a political or moral agenda.

Community 101

"We are up against the real disintegration of the Western psyche. To compensate for the loss of control and meaning, we find a rigidity of response on both sides of most questions…"
Richard Rohr, O.F.M.

   This spring I read Gilbert Bilezikian's "Community 101." In his book he states that, "An increasing number of Christians are waking up to the fact that .. the church has become ineffective in fulfilling its mission because it has lost a sense of its own identity as a community. They realize that not every organization that calls itself a church represents the church as Christ conceived it." He goes on to say that he asked fifty junior and senior college students to write a one sentence definition of the church. Their answers varied from "people who are saved," and "places of worship" to "opportunity to put on a Sunday disguise" and "sanctified gossip centers." Zondervan, 1997, pp.48-49

   We find ourselves in a time when corporate concensus on the meaning of faith and the kingdom has evaporated. As Richard Rohr points out, this results in a retreat into subjectivity. Furthermore, "the ground for a common civilization and shared values is destroyed [and] we end up where we are today: pluralism without purpose, individualization but no community." (Holy Fools, Sojourners, July, 1994).

   With a loss of common ground, how do we describe what it is we are doing and where we go on Sundays (or don't go)? How do we describe the reality of our corporate experience, assuming we still have one and haven't given up on the expression completely? How can we accurately communicate to our culture the meaning and value of corporate experience?

   This is really a huge problem, because many of us lack an authentic experience of corporate Christianity. Perhaps that's why we have lived with the problem for so long, and why we haven't looked for a better term, in spite of our suspicion that it no longer communicates what it ought to communicate. Still others barely have the courage to ask the questions, especially when they experience the increasing rigidity of response from a threatened and confused leadership.

   The problem is more than one of language.. it is one of paradigms, experience, and culture. The old language is dying, but a new one awaits the rebirth of the church. Our experience has shaped our language, and now we must grow up, become adults, and face the formidable task of changing our experience. We must ask the Lord to reform the church in accord with HIS idea of it.

   Tom suggests that we quit using these loaded terms and instead simply describe our experience. They call their ekklesia a "community of faith." We call our gathering just that, the Saturday gathering and BBQ. Or we talk about what happens there.

   Perhaps the problem would look different, however, if we were busy being the church instead of going to a place to do church. Our actions follow our words, so we need to discipline ourselves to stop talking about "going to church." Then perhaps we can get beyond the old paradigm (that is really a new one) and move on to believing we are the church, wherever we are, 24/7/360.

   We no longer invite new friends to church. We invite them to our home for a meal.

Other Problematic Words and Phrases

"Any attempt to state the Gospel
in the dominant categories of a culture
leads to a distortion of the Gospel."
Tony Campolo

Church Planting

   Tom points out that this term never appears in the bible. The closest we come is Jesus in Matthew 16 ("I will build my church,") and Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:1-15. Paul says that "I planted the seed, Apollos watered, and God made it grow." He goes on to refer to the expert builder who lays a foundation of Jesus Christ.

   So "church planting" is in fact only sowing seeds and watering them. The foundation we lay is Jesus, not the church. When we do this, and when we lift Him up, He draws men to Himself.

   Tom asks, "if the seed we sow is the Word of God, and the foundation we lay is Jesus, and it is God who causes it to grow, and it is Jesus who builds it and holds it together, why do we call ourselves church planters?" (not to mention the ambiguity of the term "church.")

   Tom argues that the term focuses on our effort and importance in the process rather than Gods, and places the weight of the task on human shoulders. It also confuses role and function and forces us back into the old paradigm.

   The beauty of being free of such a term is that the task is so much less complex than we have made it to be. In fact, it is so simple that anyone can do it. Anyone, that is, who is called and anointed by God to love their neighbor.. Hmm, I think that means anyone!

   I'm not sure we should throw out the phrase just yet; at least it is an organic metaphor. My point is that it doesn't take a seminary trained couple to birth a church. It takes an available and willing group of servants, who know that the task is hopeless without God.

   Tom makes the point that "ekklesia" is such a dynamic term that someone working with the poor in the innercity is probably doing church. Being Christ to the poor is a high calling, even if there are no budgets or administrative meetings.

   What if we didn't worry about our names and titles and roles? What if it didn't matter whether God made you a pastor, evangelist, or helper but you were merely a disciple, walking in His footsteps? A faithful follower and lover of Jesus will bear fruit.. and what else is there to worry about? "Out of his inmost being will flow rivers of living water…" ekklesia will happen and the harvest will come.

Evangelism

   Here is another good word that has been distorted by cultural baggage. It's Greek form is "euangelion" which means "good news." As someone has said, we have made the good news, bad news. So what's wrong with the word?

  • 1. It connotes a set of methods that need to be taught in order for us to do it.
  • 2. It connotes something we "do to" others and raises the old power differential issue again
  • 3. With the addition of the "ism" to the end it leads us to think of methodology rather than lifestyle.
  • 4. It tends to be event oriented, "gospel gun" in nature instead of incarnational, day to day living among
  • 5. It connotes professionalism where it can only be done by those carefully trained and qualified

   A better phrase is "making disciples." We have a great model in Jesus relation to the twelve. It's a relational journey that lasts as long as the person wants it to last. It doesn't have a definable conclusion like evangelism does. The goal is not to get someone to say a prayer, but to invite them into your family. One of the reasons the western church is so weak is that we have many products of evangelism but few disciples. If we quit inviting people to church and start inviting them into our homes we are going to move away from the old model into a biblical one.

Missionary

   A few weeks ago my wife was attending a local conference when she was stopped by a lady who looked very familiar to her. Joan also thought my wife looked very familiar, yet as they traded possible connections neither could identify any common sources. Finally, it came out that this woman and her friend from Oregon both needed a place to stay, since their arranged accommodation had not materialized.

   That evening we listened as they told their story. Both were on the way to Africa as tent-making servants of the Lord. The elder of the two was returning after a year's rest. She had begun there as a teacher and had increasingly found herself pouring energy into kingdom work. Her "mission" was to live among the people and witness to the kingdom of God.

   But Linda was not at all comfortable with the word, "missionary." Not only could she not find it in the New Testament, it connoted a whole host of ways of doing things with which she could not agree. She was not embarking on a project, she was sharing the love of God. She was not intent on doing something that the Africans could not do themselves, she was intent on coming along side them and helping with whatever they together with the Lord decided was needful. She was not intent on merely preaching the gospel, but on living the example of Jesus love among the people as a servant. Neither was she looking for support from a particular church or denomination, rather, she trusted the Lord to meet her needs as He had always done.

   For Linda, she was simply a disciple obeying the call of the Lord on her life. At one time that had meant one kind of work, now it meant another. Dropping her neatly into a special class of Christian, the "missionary," might imply that she was special, or that others did not have a call to obedient discipleship wherever they might be living. This was a very important distinction to her, as it is to me! Whether we live in New York, Tokyo, or Buenos Aires, we have a call on our lives to live and to proclaim the kingdom of God.

   The word "missionary" actually comes from the Greek word "apostolos," meaning a "sent one," a messenger or ambassador. Usually we translate the Greek as "apostle." The problem with the word is that it doesn't mean what it once meant. In the country where a messenger of the gospel is working the word is rarely used at all; and back home it can result in all the misunderstandings of a special class, just as we do with our unbiblical clergy and laity distinctions. The missionary is sent, but we are not. Poppycock! We are all called to live and to proclaim the good news. (Note: a friend of mine did a study on the Greek word "kaleo" some years ago and found no support for a different call for some Christians than for others).

Covering

   Late in 2000 my family and myself resigned our membership in a church community and stepped outside the walls. In the process more than one elder asked us, "Who will be your covering?"

   We went to the New Testament. The word never occurs. We began to wonder what these men meant by the question, which we had always assumed was a biblical one.

   After some thought and dialogue I realized that the question had to do with safety and authority, and was based on the assumption that if we resigned our membership and were simply to meet with other believers casually, we would no longer be "under authority." We would thus constitute an "illegal" meeting and we would be unprotected, possibly in rebellion against God, and vulnerable to attack by the enemy.

   That was the positive side. All these godly leaders were convinced that the question had merit, and from one perspective it does have merit. It is true that those who are leaving traditional structures are initially at risk. Most who do so find their path confusing, guilt inducing, and loaded with stress. After all, in this process we begin to question much of the foundation of western Christianity. It's a bit like crawling out on a limb and then using a saw to cut it off yourself!

   Furthermore, those who leave the fellowship of the IC had better find another kind of fellowship. It is not easy or wise to be a "lone ranger" Christian, and the Lord never intended us to be so. Anyway, that was the legitimate concern of some elders.

   On the negative side, they felt that their authority was being challenged. They were correct; it was. Some feared the loss of financial support, particularly if the movement outside the walls became more widespread. It requires a great deal of money to support the structures and buildings of the typical large church.

   As we and a few others weighed this idea of "covering" I ran across a book by Frank Viola titled, "Who Is Your Covering?" In the introduction Frank states,

   "If the Bible is silent with respect to the idea of "covering," what do people mean when they ask, "Who is your covering?" Most people (if pressed) would rephrase the question as: "To what person are you accountable?" But this raises another sticky point: the Bible never consigns accountability to human beings. It consigns it exclusively to God (Matt. 12:36; 18:23; Luke 16:2; Rom. 3:19; 14:12; 1 Cor. 4:5; Heb. 4:13; 13:17; 1 Pet. 4:5). Strangely, however, the Biblically sound answer to this question ("I am accountable to the same person you are--God") is often a prescription for misunderstanding and a recipe for false accusation.

   "Thus, while the timbre and key of "accountability" may differ from that of "covering," the song is often the same. And it is one that does not harmonize with the unmistakable singing of Scripture. (Please note that there is a healthy form of accountability in the church, which we will explore later. But the brand of accountability connected with the "covering" doctrine lacks Biblical merit.)

   "What do people really mean when they push the "covering" question? I submit that what they are actually asking is, "Who controls you?" The common (mis)teaching about "covering" really boils down to questions about who controls whom. In fact, the modern institutional church is built upon this idea of control.

   "If we critically examine the "covering" doctrine, we will discover that it is rooted in a one-up/one-down, chain-of-command style of leadership where those in higher ecclesiastical positions have a tenuous hold on those under them. And it is through such top-down control that believers are said to be protected from error (a la "covered").

   "The concept goes something like this: everyone must answer to someone else who is in a higher ecclesiastical position. In the garden-variety, post-war evangelical church, this translates into the "laypeople" answering to the pastor. In turn, the pastor must answer to a person who has more authority."

   Frank goes on to reflect that this line of reasoning generates many more questions, like who covers the mother church, and then who covers the denominational headquarters?" The answers beg the question, for why can't God be the covering for the "laypeople," just as he is for denominational leaders? The real problem with the "covering" concept is that it violates the spirit of the NT; for behind the pious rhetoric of "providing accountability" and "having a covering," there looms a system of government that lacks Biblical support and is often driven by a spirit of control. (For more visit Present Testimony.)

   Suddenly aware of the convoluted structure of the demominational church and the less than biblical nature of the assumptions we held, we began to discover a new freedom and authority. We began to look again at our identity in Christ. By whose authority do I presume to proclaim Jesus to my neighbor? By the authority of the church on the corner, or by Jesus direct commission to all His disciples? By what authority do I question established thinking like that above? What does it mean to be a priest and directly connected to the head? How do I fit in the body now.. who and where and what is my "church?"

   If we throw off the authority of the institution, what kind of authority and what type of relationship takes its place? Do we now each do what we feel is right in our own eyes? Isn't that anarchy, and wasn't it the problem in the time of the Judges (see 21:25 of Judges)?

   It's striking to me that the commentator in Judges does not make it clear whether the lack of a king was really a problem or not. It is certainly equally striking that all of our thousands of Christian kings (pastors and denominational leaders) haven't brought us much closer to the truth, and in fact participate in a system which holds the church captive to false ways of thinking and being and often supports cultural accommodation.

   In spite of that, the question of Christian anarchy needs to be addressed by anyone leaving the IC. To whom will you be accountable? "Do not forsake the gathering of yourselves together," has to be taken seriously, as do accountable relationships beyond our own small groups.

   The concept of "covering" isn't a helpful one, nor is it a biblical one. But the issues to which the word points: accountability, relationship, safety, the call to assembly, the need for leadership.. are valid issues which have to be addressed whether inside the fortress or outside it.

This morning I received an email from Nick: "It seems to me we have abused and redefined the word "worship," much as homosexuals have redefined "gay."

In the Old Testament worship is closely tied to the priestly role, and specific times and places. In the New Testament worship is closer to lifestyle (Ro.12:1,2).

Little by little our language eroded, until we were left sailing cool Arctic waters on small icebergs. Once redefined, the landscape is remapped. Unfortunately, the maps are incorrect, and thousands of people fall off the edge of the world daily. That's why we need discovers, cartographers to explore the landscape and rebuild our language.

Language and the Prophetic

"Prophetic metaphor is incarnational language in the purest form. Though not reality itself, it becomes the most profound medium of reality. The future belongs to those who create and communicate prophetic metaphor." Thomas Hohstadt

Yesterday I sat with a friend and talked about hospitality. Henri Nouwen in "Reaching Out," writes that hospitality is not part of the gospel, hospitality IS the gospel.

We can use language prophetically to call forth a new reality. When someone says to us, "Hospitality IS the gospel," it evokes images that we may not have previously connected with the reign of God. We see old truth in a new light. The blinders of familiarity are ripped from our eyes, our confining theological boxes burst open and we are re-imagining the gospel. This is powerful stuff, and it is God's work. Ron Martoia reflects on the place of the prophetic in the life of a faith community.

"The three mirrors in the kaleidoscope are what provides the dance of ministry pieces and programs. The mirrors are the apostolic, the prophetic and the poetic. These three mirrors will reflect a very distinctive ministry dance and provide the direction, mission and vision for a church.

"The apostolic mirror says what do we see out there in our "sentness" role as a church. Most churches are very focused within their four walls. The word apostle means sent one. The church isn't to be gathered except to be sent out. As we go out into the culture, what do we see and hear that will enable us to address ministry in ways that are culturally sensitive? In other words, the apostolic mirror reflects to us all the cultural context can show us.

"The prophetic mirror reflects to us the new thing God wants to do in us and through us. Isaiah 43 says God wants to do a new thing. This mirror reflects to us God's heart at the moment and in the context of the apostolic mirror of the cultural context we find ourselves." Ron Martoia at The Ooze

We need that prophetic mirror. We need to be challenged to examine our use of language, and the cultural assumptions that distort a biblical view of the redeemed community and the world it relates to. We need to remember who we are.

I wonder if naming isn't one of the more neglected aspects of the prophetic vocation. We call reality into being with our words, and "naming" is one of the most prophetic of occupations. Naming is a primary function of language, and it is really at the very root of language and the human vocation itself.

Naming was the first occupation given to mankind. The Lord gave Adam the task of naming the animals. By assigning names to them he was calling forth something of their deepest identity. He was also de facto making a statement about God and humanity. If it is "sheep" then it is not divine, and it is not human.

Names are so powerful in the Hebrew world that they are changed when an identity making event occurs. Abram becomes "Abraham," the father of nations. Names are so powerful that the name of God was never spoken. The Hebrews believed that if the true name of God was spoken the universe would cease to be.

For much of history the name was not lightly offered. To give your name to someone meant giving them something deep and precious; it meant exposing oneself, placing oneself under the power of another.

How does this relate to the prophetic task?

Wilfred Drath and Charles Paulus wrote about leadership and authority in a book titled "Making Common Sense: Leadership As Meaning-Making in a Community of Practice." (Publisher: The Center for Creative Leadership).

We constuct knowledge from our experience, and this constitutes our understanding. Understanding consists of "a process of using meaning-making to construct knowledge about experience so that one is able to interpret, anticipate, and plan. Meaning-making makes sense of an action by placing it within a larger frame, and this frame is seen by the person who makes sense as the way the world is and thus guides [them] in their way of being in the world." (page 3)

The traditional view of leadership not only unrealistically isolates certain behaviors from their context, but confuses authority and leadership, a confusion of means and ends. Those we term "inspired" leaders are often the people who are able to express formulations of meaning on behalf of a community -- they "name" what people have in their minds and hearts.

Meaning-making involves both naming and interpreting, as well as values and commitments. We commit ourselves to what we value and what we understand as worthwhile. We make commitments to the meaning we see, to ways of naming and ways of being in the world. The process of leadership also involves these commitments.

"Prayer and parable are the stock-in-trade tools of the subversive pastor. The quiet (or noisy) closet life of prayer enters into partnership with the Spirit that strives with every human heart, a wrestling match in holiness. And parables [and metaphors] are the consciousness-altering words that slip past falsifying platitude and invade the human spirit with Christ-truth."

"This is our primary work in the real world... Words are the real work of the world - prayer words with God, parable words with men and women. The behind-the-scenes work of creativity by word and sacrament, by parable and prayer, subverts the seduced world. The pastor's real work is what Ivan Ilich calls "shadow work" - the work nobody gets paid for and few notice but that makes a world of salvation: meaning and value and purpose, a world of love and hope and faith - in short, the kingdom of God." Eugene Peterson, "The Contemplative Pastor."

Footnote: Names and Titles and Personality Cults

   "Pastor Bob," "Reverend Jim," or "Father John," Apostle George…." I don't believe the Lord is very impressed by our use of titles. Our use of such titles has not promoted the kind of servant leadership that Jesus talked about. He Himself did not want to be called "Rabbi." Why are we not satisfied in serving, so that we must use titles hoping that they will establish some reality that our service alone will not bring into being?

   We need to return to "esteeming others better than ourselves." While titles sound very professional, they haven't made us more of a community, and instead contribute to a class system that undermines our very foundations as communities of faith.

How are we going to talk to each other if we quit using familiar terms? I submit that we are already having problems communicating, since these terms have such a wide range of meaning across communities, and most of it is divorced from biblical meaning.

   It's time to recognize that this problem is serious. It's time to return to biblical language.

   Our language defines our reality. We create language, and then our language creates us. We use words to communicate to others as well as to ourselves what it is we do and who we are.

   Every time we announce that we are "going to church" we are making a confession that is not true. We can never "go" to church because we are the church. We can gather with the church, and we can be the church. If we ask, "What church do you belong to?" we reinforce in our minds and in the mind of the listener that the church is something other than the body of Christ. Essentially, we reinforce a lie.

   Some of you who read this are going to get into trouble. You are going to begin to change the way you refer to certain realities. Initially it's going to be tough. Some will not understand you. Your explanations will seem to get longer and longer. Some will fear where you are going, sensing that their familiar Christian world is at stake. Some of you will be reviled and persecuted; some may even lose their jobs. I remind you of the words of the Master, "Woe to you when all men speak well of you."

   Others will find this process intensely satisfying. As you "come out of the closet" with your frustrations and sense of futility, you will find new allies and new friends. Your life will start to make sense. You may even find real community.

   The call is simple. I challenge you to talk the same in front of the gathering on Sunday morning as you talk to your good friends on Sunday evening. You might even go further.. you might talk the same way to your believing friends as you talk to your unbelieving friends. That way, you might be doing some significant communicating! In the process you will be showing forth a deep and biblical faith in a kingdom that is not made with hands and cannot be shaken, as you hope for the city that you have not seen.

"Therefore, Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate.
Therefore let us also go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach.
For here (outside the gates) we have no eternal city, but we seek the one in the life to come.
Therefore through Him let us continue to offer the sacrifice of praise to God,
   that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His Name.
Keep doing good works and sharing your resources,
   for with such sacrifices God is well pleased."
Hebrews 13:12-16

   If you enjoyed this article, see also The War of Unknown Warriors."


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• © 2005 Len Hjalmarson.• Last Updated on September 9, 2005