The skeleton gives shape, strength, and security to the body. This is a helpful image for describing some of the essentials of the church we plan to start in Worcester. My last post focused on the gospel while this one focuses on whole persons.
In an onion the layers of flesh stack upon each other and though they are related each is distinct. They are all bound together by an outer shell but can be easily separated. One layer can be rotten and slimy on one side yet whole on the other. Two layers under the decay the onion is intact and the discontinuity that exists between layers is striking. It is easy to live like an onion* with clear demarcated layers which are loosely related but do not significantly touch. There is the face you wear at work, with family, friends from different parts of life, online, at church etc. Anyone of these could be nearer or further from the core but none of them are necessarily related to each other or tied into a broader reality. Without some sort of integration that ties layers together, significant questions regarding identity, honesty, and faithfulness are difficult to answer.
Two of the gifts that comes from faith in Jesus Christ are an identity and story, both of which unite all the disparate parts of the self and of life experience. First, Jesus gives us an identity that is based on his actions and rooted in the supernatural transformation of a person. I came across this section of 2 Corinthians 5 early in my Christian journey and it has stuck with me, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” If you are a Christian, wherever you are, regardless of circumstances, you are there as a new creation born of God. The bible speaks of new emotions, thoughts, actions, and relationships which flow from a new nature. Every layer is impacted. Our work, families, cultural engagement, recreation, and much more are addressed in the scriptures so that the gospel transforms the whole person. This is usually a slow and challenging journey that is incredibly powerful, often picking up momentum over time. We want to be a church where a new identity in Christ unites and reshapes all areas of life.
Beyond a new identity that connects the different layers of life the story of Christianity unites various endeavors with a common purpose. Work, play, family time, hobbies, and community service can all be done with with the desire to enjoy God and display his greatness. Yes, there are sub-themes for each of these activities that exist underneath this larger rubric, but they can be surmised in enjoyment and display. The Christian story is big enough to unite all of life. This is a lot of theory. Here are some practical pictures:
-Worship: It is easy for a church to be intellectually stimulating but emotionally dry. We may challenge the will to act, but there is little awareness of our physical or relational nature. Rather than worship which reflects our natural imbalances I’d love to be part of a church where we think deeply, feel intensely, and act. In the service we might sit, kneel, raise our hands, bow our heads, or stand in silence because all of these postures promote and reflect significant postures of the soul. In worship we will sing with joy and confess our sin with sadness. Sometimes with simple words, other times with the language of our historic theology and hymnody.
-Rounded out: In relationship to God and others the stunted parts of us will grow. Becoming more like Christ will challenge each person uniquely. Those who did not like to read or care much for learning will find themselves enjoying learning and thinking. The emotionally immature or distant will find themselves understanding and experiencing a richer emotional life as fellow Christians help them see themselves. For others it will be breaking family patterns and learning a new normal. Discipleship will embrace will be geared towards the restoration of God’s cracked image in each Christian.
-Pastoral ministry: Rather than being a paid professional who is seen only through the lens of work, the church will see me as a fellow sheep and pilgrim following Christ. My interests outside of church, my family, and my own spiritual life will be cared for as we strive to do for all those in the church.
-Equipping: In the process of Christian development we will train, not only in the fundamentals of character and religion, but also engage Christians in reflection on their vocations and interests, all in the light of faith.
*In the first Shrek movie, the main character actually describes himself as an onion, putting the social penetration theory in popular language. I agree with aspects of this theory which describes the progression of intimacy through communication and interaction. As you get to know someone you interact more and more with the core of who they are as you break through the superficial.