Another area in which we need to discover what allegiance to Jesus means is in the thing we've called the church, especially if we've named it as a particular brand of church. Now, I don't think there is anything particularly wrong about a people having a particular charism that lights them up, an aspect of Jesus following which shines more brightly for a community. This is where the variety and broad spectrum of the 'church' serves us well. But we need to keep watch.
I've quietly observed (and sometimes not so quietly observed) that the thing we call church is horrible when it goes wrong. When a movement settles into a Constantinian ecclesiology where order, human tradition and human partisan identity are valued over and above the movement of the Spirit, the Word of God and the mission of Jesus, we're in difficult ground. I say that confidently as one who has previously lived in that trap.
I watched just a short video by the profound theologian, Stanley Hauerwas, this evening and spent a bit of time thinking through the challenge it presented. Hauerwas basically makes the point that to follow the Way of Jesus should "scare the hell out of us". It is something that is going to make our life and existence awkward both in relation to 'the world', in which we are resident aliens, and to an extent, in the institution of the church which has taken the Way of Jesus and made isms out of it. He says that going to a church is something we should do because we're fleeing to the safety of like minds....the following of Jesus can only be done in community in which we are part of an ongoing story, history, that we don't get to make up. The Way of Jesus involves a cross before it involves glory, this is what we have received.
Basically, Jesus comes to end religion, dogma and any system that sets itself up in opposition to him. It can be so easy to accommodate so much stuff out there. Anything that sets itself up against the Lordship of Jesus is an impostor and simply not true to who he is and the Way he establishes. As followers of Jesus, the challenge is for us to continue to embrace the heretical imperative, the embrace the disfunctional life of being a 'fiddler on the roof' as we walk he path of radical obedience whilst the world and even the church looks on.
Kingdom life is life in the upside down Kingdom. It is alternative because it is not 'of' or 'rising out of' this world...in fact, its a Kingdom which is the perfect encapsulation of all that God wants to do and which he invites us to pray 'Your Kingdom come, your will be done!' None of the normal earthly kingdom rules apply.
This is especially so in the realms of leadership. At one point, Jesus says to his disciples in Matt 20:
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
He means what he says. Our pattern is different because its not how things are done in Heaven but yet we find it so difficult to see beyond. To embrace the Way of Jesus is to call to account all that we are, to submit it before him and others and to lead from the place of humility instead of confidence in our own systems.
To take Jesus at his word here, and to live it, is a call to transformation.
NB No denominations were harmed or injured in the writing of this post, but we may just have to put them down.