Posted by: rogermitchell | December 13, 2011

Big thanks for all the feedback, and next steps!

In the last post I asked “what kind of mutual fellowship between God and each other is necessary to our operation as counterpolitical ecclesia?” As I then put it, it’s going to be that which encourages us in mutual participation in the Spirit of God who’s incarnated in Jesus, and our collaboration with him in outworking his desire for the multitude and the creation. I promised that the purpose of the next few posts would be to reveal more of this co-operative behaviour which is the consummatory and inclusive genus of being that Paul calls new creation. I then suggested that with the collaboration and comments of you the readers, we would be able to explore the ecclesia’s proper function and contemplate those relational connections that will facilitate and enhance its kenarchic role as gift to the rest of humanity.

This is something I’ve been reaching for through this blog for the last two years. So you will realise how excited I’ve been to stand back and watch the interaction that followed. The fact that I have been busy with relating to what I see to be significant existing expressions of the body of Christ during the ensuing two weeks while the political system has continued to shake around us, has made the interactive conversation on the blog especially poignant yet hopeful for me, as I observe the shifts taking place at both the political and ecclesial level. As a result I am more excited than ever at the prospect of pressing forward in our understanding of the ecclesia as counterpolitical activism.

As I see it from the discussion over the past two weeks on the last two posts below, there are some half a dozen crucial areas of engagement that I will aim to dig into over Christmas and the new year:

1) Unpacking kenarchy as it relates to Creation: in practical terms the responsibility of the ecclesia to initiate and support action to stop commercial exploitation of the earth’s resources, and in theological terms how the kenotic love between God and humankind relates to the rest of creation.

2) Exploring the key issue of the ontology of both human and divine nature. Or to put it another way, what’s the difference between the two? The previous point on the relationship of God and humans to creation will already begin to open this up.

3) How inclusive is the ecclesia? Can we distinguish between consciously new creatures and those Jesus called children of peace or peacemakers? And how do we see those who consciously or unconsciously identify themselves with the radical Jesus such as Noam Chomsky, Achyut Sharma, Mehdi Hasan and Terry Eagleton to name just a few!

4) What is the purpose of eschatology and how does it inform what the future looks like, for example in such matters as rural versus urban, and in the biblical contrast of the two cities? And what is the connection between eschatology as counterpolitical vision and the ecclesia as counterpolitical activism?

5) What are the vital components of the shared life of kenarchic people? What in practical terms does it mean to be submergent rather than emergent and how does what Paul calls apostolic and prophetic foundations apply to the ecclesia as kenotic community for the world instead of an alternative construct?

6) How do we create new space for the real presence of Jesus to be substantiated among the daily lives of the contemporary multitude?

The plan is to put together posts on each of these in the coming weeks, allowing for diversions into subjects provoked by contemporary events of course! In the meantime, please continue the conversations sparked by the comments on the preceding posts and/or begin to provide your own perspectives on the six topics I’ve listed and we can begin the dialogue even before I get properly started! That will make the process even more collaborative.


  1. I’m not sure if what I’m writing here has direct bearing on the questions posed in your blog, but I hope it gives some personal context which might be relevant. Also, it doesn’t consciously line up to the kenotic and counter-political questions, though I think we are in our praxis ‘working towards’ (to use an classroom phrase) these kinds of issues. I passionately believe that however we see church, it is only authentically built/grown/spread as ‘each plays its part’, ie. what we each choose to do with our time, money and other gifts makes it happen. This will be deliberate at the personal level (certainly for my wife and myself), but going out deliberately to build something tangible and intelligible which we can christen (!) church is another matter and, speaking for ourselves, we want nothing to do with that any more! So it seems to me that how inclusive ecclesia is will to some extent be a factor of the intentionality of each expression of church. As has been said, you can intentionally build community or you can build intentional community, but they are two very different things. Since I am involved (I believe) in the former, inclusion is determined by the natural development of relationship according to circumstances. In our local little network of relationships – those who have happened to begin to share life – some folk would call themselves Christian, some Muslims (and we’re just getting to know a young Buddhist family), and one or two would probably say they believe nothing in particular (I haven’t asked!). Some of us are Brits, some have come here to live from other lands (Iranians, Portuguese, Cubans, Vietnamese). I think of what we have as ‘church’ though some of them would be horrified at the idea. There is no identity or demarcation, we’re just friends. Though there seems to be a recognisable core emerging, we all relate to one another in many different contexts and combinations, as well as with many others beyond the shared ‘thing’ we seem to have. So a number of individuals and families have committed to gather together, those that are able, every two or three weeks in one home or another (moving round to share the hosting), just to eat and relax together, maybe talk, play games, dance sometimes. At an early occasion of many of us getting together for a meal (about 20 in total) we did ‘break bread’ with a big crusty loaf, and shared wine as a ‘toast’ blessing one another and the home where we met. I invited folk to access it in whatever way it had meaning for them, ie. as just an expression of friendship, or as remembering Jesus, whatever. It was very informal and quite fun, but we knew afterwards that it didn’t really work. It was too intentional meeting fo us! It nearly spoilt what we were by conferring an external form (ours) upon it. It felt like we were imposing something premeditated on something that was naturally fluid. The life was in the life blood of the group not some formal expression of our shared life. We’ve not tried it since, though it’s not fully out the window. But what we are really doing is learning to share life, to build community together, to look out for one another, and help those around us in need – especially those isolated from mainstream life. We are all exploring in different ways how we can live differently from .the crowd’. I don’t know where it goes from here. There is no-one in or out, it’s all an accident of relationship. But it’s church to me.
    Phil T

    • Thanks for this Phil. I think it’s directly relevant to point 5 above. And it’s certainly ‘working towards’ the kenotic and counterpolitical questions. The distinction you emphasise between intentionally building community and building intentional community is the key one, and as you say, they are two very different things. As I see it the former is the very nature of church, the genus of new creation in Christ. “If anyone is in Christ, he or she is a new creation” (2 Cor 5:17), Such a person will intentionally love everybody with kenotic grace, what I call kenarchy, and seek to build a loving community with them, taking the consequences into God through the cross just as Jesus did. As I understand it, this is ecclesia in and through every aspect of society and its context in creation.

      On the basis of this defining reality it is possible, and at times desirable, to build intentional communities, including some expressions of local church or ministry. But to be true to the genus of ecclesia, the overall impact and raison d’etre of such intentional communities has to be the overall health of the community of humanity as a whole. Tragically this is often not the case, and much of the reason for this is the fall of the ecclesia into a partnership with and allegiance to the hierarchical domination system of imperial sovereignty and individual autonomy. It is because of this fall and its persistent genealogy throughout church history, despite, and tragically all too often through, the institutional Church, the Catholic Monastic Movements, the Protestant Reformation and the Pentecostal/ Charismatic Movement, that the gifts of baptism, communion, preaching and charismata have often been damaged and devalued and now need to be used with caution.

  2. I’m completely with your comments, Roger, although I do think definite and indefinite articles are often telling! I would take the ‘a’ out of your first paragraph, and say that the person who is a new creation, who intentionally loves with kenotic grace, seeks simply to build loving community, but not necessarily a loving community. My point is that this individual, genuinely impacted and motivated by kenotic love and (importantly) unhindered by the controlling expectations and conditioning of the usual church culture and the restraints of the prevailing power structures around them, cannot help but influence those around them towards authentic community, and often is consciously working towards it with the love they have and with those their lives touch (of whatever faith or outlook). To me that’s the bottom line, the underlying dynamic. Of course, specific, self-conscious communities, as you say, have their place, but tend to require particular shape and servicing specific to their substance and purpose. You might say it requires a more premeditated, bespoke investment! To illustrate once more from a local situation (then I’ll shut up!), a friend showed me the other day a flow chart of how he and his colleagues were going to shape up a fantastic project they have set up which houses local homeless and addicted people, hoping the model they make work will help others to do likewise. It’s a great vision, working really well, meeting a specific need, particularly seeking to provide the specialist support needed for vulnerable people. I’m all for it. But it is labour intensive – even if a labour of love – and even if it can be multiplied, it is ultimately limited by the very structures that enable it to work – and there are some signs of burn-out showing with those most busy establishing the project. It seems to me that while intentional communities (back to that!) provide some order, visibility, focus, interaction with other intentional communities, the only way to really penetrate society with kenotic love is for an army (sorry, couldn’t think of another word) of kenotic love-carriers to invade, become one with and influence the whole of society towards redeemed community. ‘Nuff said! Back to the questions you pose….

  3. OK, let me be crystal clear. Let’s scrap the indefinite article. When I said “seek to build a loving community with them” I was referring to an inclusive community among and for the family of humankind and emphatically not an exclusive community of Christians distinct from it. As I see it, what I referred to as an intentional community could be a more exclusive community, but to be Christian at all it must primarily be for the good and blessing of the community of the family of humanity.

  4. This is a very interesting discussion, guys, but I wonder how, in such a community, you would answer Roger’s question 6?

    That is, how do we create space for the real presence of Jesus? That begs the question, what do we consider/believe is the real presence of Jesus? Is it simply ‘kenarchic love’ as expressed through people? What if people don’t know Jesus as a person, as a reality? Perhaps I’ve not understood, but for me, he must be identified in some way as at the centre of everything, surely? And so, people will feel the love, yes, but introduction to him as a person and as the Son is surely an essential of ‘becoming part of ecclesia’. I don’t say they can’t be introduced through love, which of course they can, but how do they recognise Him as the source of that love? The process of how that happens seems to me to be important. I agree that, as church, we seem to have created a reduced process of ‘salvation’ or ‘an altar call’ or whatever, but when Jesus is at our centre, he is worthy of being acknowledged.

    (I’ve not been up with previous posts due to time constraints so if I’ve missed something discussed previously, please do let me know.)

  5. I’m taking the presence as Jesus as a given here and have been thinking about the inclusivity of community, but you’re right, Jane – where and how we locate Jesus there is critical. For my money, I prefer to think of Jesus in the midst rather than at the centre for two reasons. One, the nature of kenotic love is to pour out, ie. away from oneself not draw folk towards. So if the kenotic nature of love is consistent, and if Jesus didn’t change character post-ascension, he will still be pouring out not drawing towards. This does leave a few untidy scriptures to work through – like him ‘drawing all men’ to himself, but I figure the ultimate purpose/nature of love is to unite/draw together, it’s just it really has to be the circuitous route of love (kinship) rather than the quick fix of sovereign coercion (lordship). Secondly, as Roger has been banging on about all the way through (I mean that enthusiastically!), the perceived image of Jesus as projected by church-state collusion over centuries is so blighted and far removed from the biblical/ eschatological one, that we are in constant danger of mis-communicating the real Jesus every time we talk about him due to this wholesale distortion. I confess I am often embarrassed to talk about Jesus because I know we usually start from such a gross misunderstanding that I’m embarrassed to be associated with the person (plus all the baggage) they think I’m talking about! I do quite frequently have fantastic conversations about Jesus with my Muslim friends in particular, but I’m convinced that it is the personal devotion and kenarchic lifestyle of Jesus followers that will best reveal, or at least set the scene for the Holy Spirit to reveal, the real Jesus, both to individuals, collectives and society as a whole.

    Phil T

  6. Jane thank you for being able to articulate what I have felt as I read these last few posts.I believe that our gatherings must have the radical Jesus at there center.And if we have that radical loving Jesus at our center we will be inclusive.
    For many that is a major challenge a very big challenge but one we must no flinch from..Placing this loving,giving God at our heart is essential if we are to engage in any counter political activism ,if he is not there then we will only end up in a confused muddle regarding his love for humanity.
    I know many people have been hurt by church ,in fact i would say we all have in one way or another ,but that does not mean we should deny its place in the heart of God.The gatherings just have to be able to share that love without owning it ,a good trick if you can pull it of.

  7. Phil – I do accept your point about Jesus in the midst rather than ‘at the centre’ and how that reflects a more ‘pouring out’ kenotic love, with which I agree.
    I was discussing this online conversation with some friends today over a ‘real’ lunch and we concluded that perhaps a way of discovering how ‘present’ Jesus is might be over a period of time when we discover how much nearer to Jesus (or aware of his presence or close to him or whatever) people, in whichever ‘contemporary multitude’ we are with, are now, than they were when we started relating to them (whew, it was hard working out where to put those commas!) Their changing position on the journey towards him (or away from him) could be the litmus test of whether his presence is sufficient in our midst to impact their hearts and spirits – which hopefully is what our aim is…
    We then thought that sometimes their trajectory might look to our flawed perspective as if they weren’t drawing closer to him when in fact they might be…as we know, sometimes the people who appear to be farthest away are in fact much closer than we realise. So, grace, mercy and humility needed in large proportions!
    Merry Christmas to you all.

  8. I really like that way of thinking, Jane – I’m sure it rarely is quite how we think it is. We ourselves are not always static and certain but often in flux as we journey with, in and towards Jesus (yes, all at the same time!). If we are honest, it doesn’t always feel like forward motion, but hopefully it is at least more steps forward than back!!

    I’m sure we still need to be careful and open to new possibilities about what we mean by an awareness of the presence of Jesus. For instance, can get maybe too hung up on the name? Muslims call Jesus ‘Isa’. The unknown god in Athens did not become the true God when Paul revealed who it was, but was already somehow available and perceived before Paul’s entry on the scene and his power-challenging proclamation. And, of course, there’s the conundrum of Aslan by another name! In Stephen’s Lawhead’s Pendragon Cycle, there’s the wonderful image of the mighty Merlin being confronted and overwhelmed by and then completely devoted to the Great Light, who he later realises is the Jesus of the new Christian religion.

    I often feel when hearing a snatch of lyrics in a song, or a scene in a play, or a particular ‘ring of truth’ in someone’s argument, or an act of heroic mercy in a news item, that the presence of Jesus is here for those who have eyes and ears to see/hear. I’m suggesting that Jesus is known by the presence of his love-nature, his wisdom and his acts of mercy in the world at many times and places, and that when the connection is made to the Jesus who walked the earth comes and there’s recognition, it is a wonderful thing. But it often doesn’t come soon or easily, rather gradually and through instinctively lining up with the divine agenda of kenotic love. As you suggest yourself, I am quite sure there are some, perhaps many, who will have followed Jesus faithfully and now left this world, yet were never while alive able to put a name to their glorious benefactor!

  9. I have been so impacted in my life by the Aslan/Tash concept…it has always held me back from rigidly assuming that the manifestation of Jesus, both as immanent and transcendent, has to be the way I see it. I’ve come to the conclusion that Papa is not fazed by our personal vision of Jesus…thank goodness. Big relief – that I’m not responsible for framing his persona!

    And yet…there is something of the mystic in me that knows that any increase in heroic virtue (to use Teresa’s phrase) and deeper experience of Intimate Love must come through first the Cross and then Jesus as the Son, expressed as he expressed himself in the context he was born in – Israel in the Roman empire and thence through revelation into our understanding of ‘being’ Kingdom…

    Hum. Paradox, as usual.

  10. Here’s an excellent article on ‘occupation’. it makes me think that it is time for those of us, so inclined, to ‘occupy’ the church. That does not mean going back to the physical buildings with all their programes and rules and regulations but to carve out new space as we occupy what has been taken from us (and God and the world) and called church. c.

  11. Just a thought, Cheryl. If the church is ‘the fullness of him who fills all things in every way’ (Ephesians 1), then to occupy church space must surely mean to occupy every space. I know you referenced the Truth Out article to make a particular parallel point about church space, but I can’t see any difference in terms of territory to occupy. In fact, reading the article you reference and thinking about the present apparent awakening consciousness of the mass Unheard drew conflicting emotions from me. On the one hand, it is exciting and encouraging to see the general refusal to cow any longer to empire – and there has been and will be a price to pay for that insistence. But on the other hand it was unsettling because I find myself asking: is this a movement reactive to the prevailing empire, or one that might go on to overthrow the idea of empire itself? As Roger has said (though my words not his), if the idea of empire is not uprooted, those who overthrow empire will be sure in time to become it. I think the paradigmatic lines being drawn at the moment are extremely unclear, and the outcome could be as anarchic as we hope it might be kenarchic! Maybe the challenge to kenotic grace is for those who believe in it (never mind whatever else they believe), who are seeking to live in it, to go into all the world to demonstrate it. Maybe we can help make the difference, tip the balance towards love. Hey, I give you…. The Church!!

    • you’ve eloquently expressed what I was trying to imply in a rather awkward way. If people ‘occupy’ the church, in terms of being it, acting it, living it, everywhere then indeed we will find church and hopefully also encourage better outcomes to the current discontent. Funny how all of this, OWS, and even those who are seeking the Kingdom rather than imperial church, struggle with explaining ourselves and being articulate. Interesting. c.

      • I agree Cheryl and I wonder if its because not only are we pushing into a new future but we have no language for what’s happening. I sense people would have felt the same at other tipping points in history…

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