A New Vision of Church

Dean Alan Jones on a Bicycle at the beginning of the Stations LiturgySo I’m back in the blog-o-sphere. This past week really caused me to consider what I believe about the Church. In part this came because I encountered a bit of a hero of mine a week ago. I had the chance to buy Brian McLaren a beer and talk with him about the Church, being a “pastor,” and where Christianity might be headed in the next few years. Brian has been all over the world in the past couple of years, partly in researching his recent book, “Everything Must Change.” His insights into life in the developing world, and how people can positively participate in the upbuilding of our world were deep. He helped galvanize my desire to travel to South Africa this summer with my brother. (More on that on a future day).
My friend Laurel asked Brian what he thought were the biggest pitfalls or problems for young religious leaders and his response has played repeatedly in my head the past few days. He said young people fall down when they buy into the “ecclesiology,” that is the idea of what the church is, that is handed down to them. He said he believes we are coming to an important moment in the history of Christianity when we will redefine the Church, but in order to do that we can’t buy into the ecclesiology as it’s handed to us. Instead we need to begin with a new christology, which will lead us to a new missiology which will then produce a new ecclesiology. In other words we need to rediscover what Christ means to us, and based upon our understanding of Jesus to figure out how we believe God calls us to follow him in mission, the work of the disciples. Together then we will build a new Church, with a new understanding of what it means to be the beloved community..
Then later this week a liturgy I had written for the Camino Young Adult Gathering of the Episcopal Church which reinterprets the “Stations of the Cross” as an exercise in praying for the and learning about the Millennium Development Goals was published by ERD as part of their Lenten Resources. Almost immediately the conservative Anglican blogs began attacking the liturgy as “heresy,” “witchcraft,” and part of an overall liberal scheme to subvert the Gospel in the name of social action. I was glad to have had the conversation with Brian McLaren before becoming a celebrity in the conservative Anglican blog-o-sphere. It helped me see this posturing for what it was, attempts to defend an out-dated ecclesiology, attempts to protect a vision of what the Church was. Defending nostalgic images renders Christianity a museum piece. The Church must adapt, must engage in the great problems of our day, if the Good News of salvation is to shine in the dark corners of our globe. Liturgy can be an agent to engage people in deep ways in the Gospel work of liberation, or it can be an exercise in stuffy traditionalism.

Published by Mike Angell

The Rev. Mike Angell is rector of The Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion in St. Louis.

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