I know, it is Holy Saturday today. I should be resting, mourning, lamenting, the death of Jesus. Not knowing what comes tomorrow when we go to his borrowed tomb.
However, my mind is whirring. In a little less than a month, Jennifer and I will be leaving upstate New York and heading out West — to something strange and unknown.
To acquire some new family.
And start a church.
I’ve been thinking a bit about that church, this worshiping community, will look like. And here are some of the things that I’ve been considering.
1) We’re going to begin as a bible study with communion with a solid focus on the story told in scripture. There will be a basic introduction to the Bible — what is it, where does it come, and who keeps it these days? — and then an introduction to the story of scripture as outlined in Nehemiah 9, the Gospel of Mark, and the Apostles’ Creed. We’ll start small, and probably do these studies in public places (coffee houses?) to begin with. As Jesus says in Matthew’s Gospel:
19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. (Matthew 18:19–20 ESV)
2) Our confessions of faith will be the historic creeds of the church – the Apostles Creed and Nicene Creed, and I plan to use Martin Luther’s Large Catechism as a teaching tool as well. Luther’s language is blunt and even earthy – he could be a profane man at times – and the large catechism teaches the faith by focusing on the ten commandments, the lord’s prayer, and the apostle’s creed. (The small catechism also includes teaching on baptism and marriage.) The creeds are important because they are condensed understanding of the story told both in scripture and the gospels (in much the way Nehemiah 9 is of the entire story of the Old Testament). However, they also connect us to the Church catholic and apostolic, however tenuously, and will anchor this little worshiping community in the tradition of the greater church.
3) Because, for better or for worse, this will be a Lutheran church. I was formed as a Lutheran, as was my wife, and no other expression of church or understanding of the gospel makes real sense to me. The teaching and the worship will basically be Lutheran. Worship will be liturgical, though I’m going to crib a fair amount of the liturgy from the Reformed Church in America. It will focus on God’s grace. the gospel is, as I understand it, what God in Christ does for us. We respond, and our response is important, but I want to focus the teaching on who we are given that God has reached out to us in Christ. I don’t want to teach about Jesus as much I as want to help people meet Jesus.
4) The New Testament does not diverge from the old, which is the story of God calling a people, their failure to be the people God called them to be, and God’s increasing movement toward that people – to do ALL of the world of salvation, rather than just some of it. This story – of calling, failure, and redemption – IS THE STORY I want people to meet Jesus in and find themselves in. To make this tale, of calling and failure and redemption, be the story that tells them who they are and what their lives mean.
This also means all of the promises God made to Abraham, to Israel, to David, and through the prophets, are resolved and fulfilled in the person of Jesus, in his life, death, and resurrection. There are no promises of God left flopping around yet to be fulfilled.
5) My understanding of God’s work is incarnational — that God uses the finite, flawed, and very limited means that are us to be grace, love, and mercy in the world. My understanding of God is also sacramental as well. I believe deeply that the power of God is present in ways we do not understand in baptism and communion. Jesus is bread and wine. Baptism does, by itself, save, because we have the promise of Jesus that it does. God uses means to communicate and convey grace, bread and wine and water and words are means, and so are our lives. We respond to God’s grace with love so we can show that grace in the world, and bear witness to God’s never-ending love for his people, and for humanity.
Our response to questions about God will be the same as Philip’s — “Come and see!” And I’m hoping we can get to that place in John’s Gospel where the Greeks show up and say to us, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
6) Everything else is adiaphora – not essential. I’m not a prophesy person, and I believe most of what is written in prophetic books about “the future” (Daniel, Ezekiel, and Revelation) has already transpired. We won’t focus on such books except to remind ourselves that God promises victory to those who persevere in faith because God is with us. These aren’t unimportant writings – Revelation is God’s judgment upon Rome in all its brutality – but they aren’t predictive writings. They don’t lay out a future to come. They give us assurance that God has not forgotten us in our suffering, and that we are not alone.
7) It will be important to read Paul normed by the gospels, rather than the other way around (which I think too many Christians tend to do). I also tend to read Paul prophetically, rather than as a lawgiver. That is, I read Paul in light of the failure of the church/people of God to be faithful. Are we still the people of God? What does it mean to be faithful? How does God deal with us when we fail to be faithful?
8) There are some tools we can use to let the world know about us – I’m thinking Facebook and Meetup, which is an internet app I’ve fiddled with but haven’t used. That will let people know we are out there. I also know there is some interest for some distance participation, and Youtube and Periscope will be good ways to accomplish that (and maybe even Skype!). The best way will be word of mouth – the witness of those who say “come and see!” I think that will happen too.
9) Mostly, our focus will be on what Jesus told us were the greatest commandments – to love God and love our neighbor. We will figure out what that means in the place we find ourselves in as we gather, as we teach and praise and proclaim. And live out our lives accordingly, as gathered, forgiven, and redeemed people proclaim the good news of a crucified king who saves the world.
This little community doesn’t have a name yet. Molly suggested Grace Church — a nice Lutheran name, though she likely doesn’t know that. I like exile motifs myself, like By The Waters of Babylon or Eretz Nod, but’s that a mouthful. And doesn’t entirely communicate what I think I’m trying to accomplish. I have no doubt the right name will find us, eventually.
For any of you out there who want to be part of this but aren’t in Spokane, or won’t be any time soon, keep track of us here. We’ll find a way for you to participate, I promise. In the meantime, you can always pray for us. And for the work we’re called to do.