A (Radical) Reimagination Movement
I’m a Christian. I’m a follower of Jesus Christ. I believe there is One Holy Universal (or catholic) Church. You’re either part of it or you’re not. There are no denominations in heaven. Christ is not and cannot be divided by our creeds, our labels, our slogans, our buildings, our programs, our clergy, or any other human strategy.
Nevertheless, I fully recognize that we all grow up “divided.” Every Christian grows up with a theological bias, born of our unique spiritual heritage and special cultural contexts. We all learn the Scriptures from good men (and women) who have taught us “part” of the Whole. Nobody has “Perfect” theology. Nobody. And when it comes to HOW we practice Christianity, there are countless (and good) flavors.
To be honest, I love them all. I love the emotional fire I feel in a Pentecostal church. I appreciate the commitment to social justice by the Methodists. I value the emphasis upon holiness by my Nazarene friends. I love the liturgy and commitment to Eucharist in a Catholic Mass. I appreciate the deep commitment to intellectual Christianity by the Presbyterian and the biblical passion of the Baptist. I have found solace in the spiritual disciplines of the Quaker, the Mennonite and the Amish. I’ve experienced nearly every form and type of modern Christianity and find myself in all…and, paradoxically, in none of them.
Personally, I grew up in the network of churches that emerged out of a 19th century “Restoration Movement.” These independent Christian churches and Churches of Christ have had a significant impact on the wider American church landscape. In the mid-1800s and, most recently, in the 1990s, no church grew faster than Christian churches (except the Mormons). And these non-denominational churches still enjoy attractional success. In fact, per capita, there are more Christian church megachurches than any other denomination. I love the independent Christian church commitments to the historic Faith and the emphasis placed upon the sacraments of Communion (weekly) and Baptism (essential). The movement’s greatest contribution is an oft-quoted proposal, erroneously attributed to Augustine, that all Christians should unite around the essentials (“matters of faith”), allow diversity in non-essentials (“matters of opinion”) and show love (“in all things, charity”).
With that said, even the Restoration Movement–which again claims to be non-denominational–eventually carved an ad hoc division or denomination within modern Christianity. All churches do. Every denomination is a separation from the rest in creed or ecclesiastical practice.
What some in my Restoration Movement family forgot is that we are still an outgrowth of Protestant Christianity. Our forefathers–Thomas and Alexander Campbell, Walter Scott, Barton W. Stone, James O’Kelly–were Presbyterian and Methodist churchmen. Consequently, we carried a lot of “Protestant churchianity” forward into our “nondenominational denominationalism.” In many ways, these independent Christian churches became part of the ecclesiastical machine. It wasn’t the intent of the founders but, in time, it happened. It always does.
In light of what’s happening in wider postmodern culture, I’ve come to the radical conclusion that it’s time for a RADICAL REIMAGINATION of the Church. We must recapture and reinstitute the Original DNA and Purpose of ekklesia. We do not gather to sing (although we can), we do not gather to hear a sermon (although that’s a good thing), we don’t even gather to give offerings (although that’s to be encouraged). We do not need a building or a facility in which to meet (although that’s acceptable). True ekklesia happens anywhere at anytime with anyone. The Restoration Movement attempted to restore the “ancient faith and practice” and succeeded to a degree, but yet remained committed to the Catholic and Protestant wineskin of “church in a box” (a gathering more defined by where we meet [space] and when we meet [time]). In this Constantinian wineskin of churchianity nickels and noses become the greatest barometer for success.
In contrast, Acts 2:42 gives the four reasons for a Christian ekklesia:
- to learn the seven-fold apostles’ doctrine (“one Body, one Spirit, one Hope, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God”)
- to experience radical Christian fellowship (connection, conversation, community)
- to pray in unison
- and to communally break (the) bread of Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper.
NOTE: If a Sunday “service” doesn’t include these four elements, it no longer reflects the Original DNA. For example, in most churches today the people don’t have a prayer. Only the priests and pastors (and other important guys on stage) pray. This is not what Jesus desired nor instituted.
The early Church operated “house to house” and was flexible and fluid to cultural change, even persecution. There’s nothing wrong with church buildings (again, a Constantinian 4th century innovation), but God does not live in buildings and neither should we center our ecclesiology around brick and mortar. The Body of Christ is PEOPLE not programs, it’s about FACES not facility, it’s about COMMUNITY and COMMUNION not a building, attendance mark, offering count, staff hire or service time.
The Church is alive and well on a postmodern planet earth.
But I believe it’s clearly time to radically restore Her to the Original DNA and reimagine Her within fresh paradigms that fill new cultural wineskins. The old wineskins just aren’t working anymore. Times have changed but Jesus has not. So don’t be surprised when He works his greatest miracles using new wine and fresh wineskins.
That’s why everything still boils down to a simple proclamation: I am a Christian. I am a follower of Christ. And I will die for this Faith before I let this faith die in me. I will not let a creed or doctrine, denomination or religious personality, define me. Jesus alone is my frame. And His Mission to go, preach, teach and disciple is my mission. I will pray like He taught me to pray. I will sacrifice my time, talent and treasure for the Kingdom. Jesus the Christ will be my First, my Last and my Always.
Here I stand, I can do nothing else.
Let the Reimagination Movement begin.