Posted by: rogermitchell | December 5, 2009

Intentional community

I had a good time with the Anabaptists and associated friends that I was with over the last 24 hours and their comments in response to my paper and the other papers given and discussion that ensued I found very helpful. But when I described myself as mainly but not exclusively working among post-congregational Christians like myself who don’t go to church as a primary commitment but are trying to work out how to be the ecclesia of God in the world I felt more than usually awkward which surprised me. On reflection I think my surprise was because in the past I always felt safe and among serious radicals when among Anabaptists and this time I did not. This is not at all meant to be a criticism of them, and I wish to emphasise this if any are clicking on this post. I was grateful for their welcome. The awkwardness may well have been internal to me. I think I naively thought that the commitment to the upside down kingdom and its facilitative servant lead would be fully at home with the concept of working this out beyond the congregation in the world. In discussion someone described ‘the living argument that is the ecclesia’ and I really liked that. But it seemed clear that it was not regarded as a distributed people but an intentional community and that my shift away from that as the primary expression of church fractured the core revelation of what an Anabaptist is. No-one said it to me, but I felt it strongly in a way that I have not felt it in other church communities among which I move and who at least see the post-congregational edge as a valid pioneer calling that meets the real needs of people who for whatever reason are pursuing their discipleship out beyond the congregation. This challenges me to confront again the question of why I am so uneasy with this casting of an intentional community as the necessary heart of the gospel testimony. Let me assert my conviction that there is a real place for intentional community. It is a valid and at times useful and important way of being the body of Christ serving the world. But once we say that this is the only or even best way of being the body we elevate a particular way of love relationship between God and persons over alternative ways and so create a law that opens up the way for imperial legitimation and takes a position over and against the free motivation of kenosis. It amounts to the claim that someone knows the way of structuring the servant Christ, rather than someone knows the alternative servant Lord. It seems to me that ecclesia is a relationship between the hypostases or persons of the trinity and human beings who choose to respond and receive the divine gift of love. With this of course comes all the potential and responsibility of the redeemed creation that goes with it. The outworking can be structured in a variety of ways, just so long as the structure remains submitted to the relationship and not the relationship to the structure. When that happens idolatry lurks close by and love relationship begins to leak away.

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Responses

  1. My husband has worked in the haematology field for over 20 years hence the analogy we use as we have moved out of traditional structures. We have felt our move to be more like the circulation of blood that flows between different structures bringing oxygen and taking away waste. We are not bound to one structure and we value parts of the different structures.

  2. Interesting comment. In my own life, less investment in a church has meant more openess to those outside of the church, incl. new friendships. I find I have an instinctual connection with those pursuing kingdom issues whether or not they are Christians. And I find myself less and less in synch with many who do call themselves Christians. And yes, Roger, this has set up a bit of an internal struggle for me. All you can do is walk forward, in all attempts at obedience, and trust in God’s grace that no matter what, He is redemptive. If we have got it wrong, He is redemptive. If we have got it right, He is redemptive. Thankfully, that is his nature.

  3. Maybe I am nieve but I love to see the people of God emerge from and beyond the congregation perhaps i am greedy but I would like both. When Jesus sent out the disciples he must have sent them out from somewhere. The scriptural imperative is to GO and I am very aware that the church has wholeheartedly failed to do this. We have been consumed with a mindset that people must come to us and that is so clearly wrong. I certainly do not want to detract from what God has called you to do I just want to suggest another angle!!

    • Good to hear from you Dave. I’m all for a mixed economy of ecclesia too. But I do think that shifting to the word ecclesia will help us realise that there is a way of being the people of God that is a distributed community from which different expressions of the body proceed. So we GO from this generic people that Jesus initiated, but no particular intentional community can say “we are really that.” Martin is beginning to develop this helpfully on his blog right now and suggesting that shifting from church to ecclesia may help some of the intentional communities you are encouraging to see themselves in a new and liberating way.


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