A video of the PC(USA) stated clerk Gradye Parsons interviewing Brian McLaren has been making the rounds among some of my church-planting friends this week. I watched it this morning and was greatly encouraged by three things Brian says in the video.
See the video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kvtpZEXA2dM&feature=player_profilepage.
(1) A minute and thirty seconds into the video, Brian contrasts two paths Christianity could take regarding social issues like war, poverty, and environmental stewardship. Rather than being complacent about these, he says, “If there’s a vibrant, dynamic Christian identity and community in the United States that is sending people into the world with love for their neighbors, with a desire to be peacemakers, with a desire to care about poverty and care about the planet, we’ll have a very different future.” Near the end of the video he returns to this theme, not just in terms of what issues should be priorities for the church, but in terms of our basic identity as Christians: “To be a follower of Christ, to be a true Christian, is to be someone who is joining God in God’s love and healing work in this world. And so we’ll realize that being a Christian, every time we show up on Sunday we’re being equipped and deepened in our identity as God’s co-laborers, God’s co-conspirators for the healing and transformation of the world” And Brian points to care for the environment, the justice for the poor, and peacemaking as three key places where we’re called to work with God for the transformation of the world. Amen. Following Christ means participating in his work of transforming the whole world.
(2) Church-planting: Midway through the video, Brian says he believes “one of the most important behaviors and practices for mainline denominations is going to be to encourage the development of new congregations that are different. Creative, new congregations and congregations that are focused not on competing with existing churches for a share of the religious market but that are focused on helping people in the fastest-growing religious sector in America, the spiritual-but-not-religious, the ‘Nones’. How do we help those people rediscover a vibrant faith in Christ and a life transforming community of faith? Those new communities to me are where the future really is.” Again I say enthusiastically, Amen. I find this very encouraging because this is exactly what we’re trying to do at The Upper Room. And we should give credit to Pittsburgh Presbytery and the PC(USA) for encouraging and supporting our admittedly different way of being church.
(3) Two minutes and fifteen seconds into the video, Brian starts to talk about the need for creative new ministries. As mentioned above, denominations should give “permission and, in fact, encouragement for creative innovation and creative exploration”. But Brian says that requires us to “go back and rediscover what is it about the Gospel that’s precious? What does it really mean to be a Christian? What is our identity and mission in the world?” I added the italics here because I think we really need to think deeply about these questions. What is the Gospel? I think McLaren is headed in the right direction by saying we have to “go back”. How has the church answered those questions throughout history, and what would the early church have said? Reviving ancient traditions of the church is helpful (as McLaren’s contributions to the Ancient Practices series of books suggest). Knowing what it really meant to be Christian in the early centuries of the church will help us rediscover what it means to follow Christ today. For us at Upper Room, this has translated into discovering our identity as a sacramental community. Baptism is the mark of Christian identity which unites us to Christ in his mission through death and resurrection. Celebrating the mystery of the Lord’s Supper each week enables us to c0-labor with God.