I love community. I was the pastor of a ‘cell church’ for 11 years and simply delighted in so many aspects of the model.
I love being in community. In every phase of my spiritual journey, I have been encouraged to engage, being accountable to and submit to the authority of the groups I was a part of. I have done this with denominational pastor groups, Wild at Heart men’s groups, my PhD cohort, and many others.
I love the idea of community. As a young evangelical I romanticized the model of the early church that I read about in scripture and set my internal compass to always point north to community.
I talk about community. Even though I am now at a Mainline liturgical church that is almost entirely different from my days of ‘cell church’, we still encourage and facilitate and encourage community at every opportunity.
I study community. As a practical theologian my entire project – the whole discipline – is an interdisciplinary approach to engage how faith is lived out in real life communities.
I have a philosophy of community. Even the philosophical elements that I focus on the most are centered in community. The whole reason that I am intrigued by the thoughts of Ricoeur, Gadamer and Lindbeck revolves around their hermeneutic and how it impacts community.
My community credentials are not in question. Whether it is denominational, regional pastor peers, fellow theology students, or the people who minister within the congregation … I believe in communal discernment, accountability, and authority.
That is all going to be important to know with what I am about to say.
I read the oddest thing this morning. Geoff Holsclaw, co-author of the new book Prodigal Christianity with David Fitch, was attempting to stick up for Fitch in the backlash of Fitch’s comments regarding Rob Bell’s lack of accountability – and thus authority when he speaks – now that Bell is not a pastor. (Sr. Deacon Tony Jones had taken Fitch to the mat for it).
Holsclaw’s post was entitled Discernment: a lamb among wolves and it was really good stuff … until the end.
In the final sections Holsclaw says:
“Really, you want me to die to myself to discern God’s Kingdom in this situation?”
Yes, that is exactly it. And we do this because Jesus showed us how, and makes it possible through the giving of his Spirit.
Then, like a needle scratching across an old-school record player … it came to a screeching halt.
I started wracking my brain trying to think of single time Jesus model community discernment.
- When he was 12 at the temple? No. He chided his mom and dad for being worried.
- When his mom and brothers wanted to take him home? No. He distanced himself from them and said that whoever was with him was his new family.
- When the disciples wanted him to change plans on his way to Jerusalem? No. He called them satan and told them to get behind him.
- With the Pharisees? No. He was in constant conflict with the teachers of law.
Jesus is an unaccountable Cowboy without a community.
He never listened to anyone else – he always knew the right answer and was unwavering in his confident conviction.
He never went and humbly sought advice.
He never had someone change his mind in the midst of a conversation.
He is the consummate winner – the rogue hero – the wild-man philosopher bucking the system – forging his own way on the frontier of faith..
This is a terrible development!
Not only does Holsclaw’s thesis not hold water … Jesus is actually the example of the exact thing that Holsclaw is trying to move away from!
If somebody came into our town and starting acting like Jesus, we would say that was hurting the church community, causing conflict and division. He would hide behind ‘being a prophet’ and not respond to Matthew 18 church discipline and submit to any authority.
Jesus, seen in this way, is a maverick and a macho man who doesn’t need to listen to anyone except his internal dialogue. God talks directly to him and he knows the way.
Jesus doesn’t listen to his elders, his family, his religious community or his friends!
Look, I love what Holsclaw is calling us to … but to say that Jesus modeled this for us is just the wrong way to go!
Say he called us to it. Say that he envisioned it. Say that he opens the way. Say that this is the whole point of Pentecost and the gift of the Spirit. … but don’t say that this is what see in Jesus.