Fresh Winds and Raised Sails: New Paradigms of Faith (Part Two)

Christus Pantocrator in the apsis of the cathe...

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Mick Turner

continued from Part One…….

Increasingly, we see more of the old faith structures crumbling, often from their own ineffectiveness and lack of relevancy. As this process goes forward, we also are witness to many of the walls and barriers that formerly separated people and cultures falling as well. To say this is God’s will is a vast understatement. Jesus’ entire ministry was an example of reaching out to those considered unclean or unapproachable. Jesus stressed unity at every turn and this theme was echoed time and time again in the writings of Paul.

This process of tearing down walls of separation and creating avenues of connection and unity has at its heart a desire to resurrect and implement a fundamental Christian principle that has generally been lost in the American church. Our nation was founded on and developed through a people driven by a central cultural icon: rugged individualism. The positive progress engendered by this peculiarly American value is without question. However, we must understand that no matter how theologians, preachers, and laypersons alike have tried to marry this individualism to the Christian faith, they have created a form of Christianity that runs counter to the faith envisioned by Christ.

Fortunately, more and more of these new, revolutionary disciples are coming to understand that a core mission fueled the practice and the success of the early church and it is precisely that core mission that was mentioned at the beginning of the preceding paragraph. The way of living increasingly exemplified in the lives of this new breed of disciple is rooted in the ancient Christian practice known as the common good. Author and social researcher Gabe Lyons explains:

This simple phrase means “the most good for all people.” Aristotle first conceived it, but Thomas Aquinas, a thirteenth century Roman Catholic philosopher, honed it well as a Christian conception of how Christians ought to live alongside others in society. This strict definition of the common good – the most good for all people – doesn’t prefer one human being over another; instead, it values all human life and wants what is best for all people, Christian or not. It motivates these next Christians to care for all people, whether young or old, disabled, impaired, unborn, or otherwise different from themselves in race, religion, socioeconomic status, or worldview. . . . . . . .Practicing this common good mentality – where good deeds are also seen as integral to Christian mission – can actually have a positive impact on culture at large.

 

I find it highly refreshing to see this long-standing Christian conception of “common good” begin to reemerge into the light of day. As mentioned before, our culture’s obsession with individuality, coupled with Capitalisms “every man for himself” ethic has submerged the spiritual principle of common good, relegating it to the spiritual hinterland where it only makes an appearance as a trite platitude around the holidays. When you look at the life of Jesus, you quickly see that he placed common good at the very center of his worldview and more importantly, his daily lifestyle. As his followers, we are called to no less.

We began this article by looking at the ten questions posed by Brian McLaren; questions which we can use to frame our discussions of how we, as followers of the Master Jesus, may proceed. As we look at these questions we also discover that our personal spiritual formation and the corporate mission of the church are intimately connected. When things are working as they should, the latter provides direction and support to help facilitate the former. Experience has shown, however, that this is rarely the case. As the future unfolds, rectifying this kind of spiritual misfiring has to be rectified if the church hopes to survive.

More often than not, when we analyze the factors that contribute to the church’s failure to follow Christ’s command to “make disciples,” we find old, time-worn paradigms taking center stage. “That’s the way we’ve always done it,” and “If it was good enough for Grandma Becky, then it’s good enough for me,” or similar refrains echo down the vacant pews in near-empty sanctuaries. Still, one can hope and the new, vibrant kind of Christians we have discussed in this article give us a reasonable foundation upon which we can base that hope. And the church, with all its warts, blemishes, and even its scandals, can still surprise us at times with its resiliency and its ability to transcend the ball and chain of irrelevant tradition. These are special times when something sublime – something mystical – something life-changing is taking place. McLaren describes these experiences this way:

Rare moments come to us in our journey when the penny drops, the tumblers click, the pieces fall into place, the lights come on, and our breath is taken away. The old paradigm falls away behind us like a port of departure, and we are won over to new possibilities, caught up in a new way of seeing, looking toward a new and wide horizon. The Lord has more light and truth to break forth, we believe, and so we raise our sails to the wind of the Spirit.

 © L.D. Turner 2011/All Rights Reserved

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