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Sunday, 16 March 2008

Churches, barbeques anarchy - getting out from under Christendom

Currently preparing to teach a course pm Christianity and Australian Society and looking at the demographically gloomy future of the mainstream churches - I came across the following proposal from Robert Capon an Anglican priest who displays subversive, nay anarchist tendencies that might finally get us out from under the long shadow of Christendom.


... since I find that when I spoke earlier about death and resurrection I said everything I had to say in principle about the marginal church (only a dead church can rise), let me simply add a word here about how such a church might achieve that happy outcome in practice.

My program would be this. Whoever was in command over the dying institution at the next highest level of the corporate church ... would take the bull by the horns and kill it: close the church, dissolve its board, sequester its endowments, and sell off its property, putting the proceeds in escrow just in case the corpse ever rises and finds a use for them. Then the managers would explain to the remaining members of those churches that they were free to do anything they could think of (or nothing at all, if they so chose). A suggestion would be made, however, that they might think about holding a kind of wake on the next Sunday, perhaps in one of their homes, or in a restaurant or bowling alley that didn't open until 1:00 p.m. And if they took that suggestion . . .

Well, they might sit and stare blankly at each other to begin with. But with any luck, some free spirit (young or old) among them would break the ice with the questions they had never before been able to ask - namely: "Who are we?" "Why on earth are we here?" And, most important of all, "What do we think we'd actually like to do?" Having no model at all to meet the upkeep on and no known shape to whip themselves into, they would for the first time be open to looking for really new answers - honest answers - that could range anywhere from "We haven't the foggiest notion, but let's get together again next Sunday and see if anything's occurred to us in the meantime," to "We're here to be the church, I suppose - whatever that means," to "How about for openers we just try to stick with fellowship, breaking bread, and saying prayers? - maybe God will take care of the rest, if he wants any."

Those answers wouldn't sound like much of a start, of course; but then, a bunch of Galileans twiddling their thumbs in Jerusalem for nine days after the Ascension didn't seem like a grand opening, either. The operative fact is that a start can only occur after a stop. As Isaiah reminded Israel, the church's strength is to sit still: all the power, all the resources, and all the hope of the defunctly marginal lie hidden in the terrifying reality of their death. Only out of that can they live. But, having accepted that, they can model their life in any way that strikes their fancy: AA style, family style, support-group style, whatever. The only thing they need to guard against is the temptation to stop being dead, the longing to be alive and kicking again. Alive and kicking may be nice, but it's not astonishing. Dead and kicking, though . . . that's astonishing. That, in fact, is resurrection - and it's the only thing that can bring out the best in the church.
"The Church in the Marketplace of New Models" chapter 8, The Astonished Heart
Robert Farrar Capon (Grand Rapids, Michigan. Eerdmans, 1996) p.103