The Church and the Problem of Homos
The church has had its issues with homos down through the centuries- homoousios, homoiousios and homosexuality being notable examples. Recently, I’ve been wondering if there is another problematic homo emerging for theological and ecclesiological thinkers and practitioners: the problem of homogeneity.
In my last post I wrote about the fascination with the word ‘Missional’ as an adjective for churches and leaders in current conversations about the church. One of the apparent offshoots of ‘Missional’ ecclesiology is that very specific communities appear to be reconstituted as church (Surf Church, Biker Church, Messy Church and Student Church being just a few examples). There are some exciting stories about community, hospitality and connection that come as part and parcel of these narratives, but I have this nagging question, ‘Is that really church?’
Perhaps the most radical feature of the church in the first century was the scandalous heterodoxy of the thing: Jews and Gentiles, Barbarians and Scythians, men and women, slave and free all together in one place, worshipping one God and being built together as a foretaste of the coming future age inaugurated in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Arguably, the heterodoxy of the early church is responsible for a large chunk of the New Testament’s content, as Paul and others wrestled with the pressures and new responsibilities that resulted from the overflow of this thing that God had done in Christ and the Spirit.
So how does the ‘Missional Church’ fare when it comes to heterodoxy?
One rural expression of ‘Missional Community’ in the UK that exists as a part of the Fresh Expressions model of church talks a lot about listening to people- what they want, what they need, what they imagine a church to be for them- and then invests a lot of time in making that a reality. All well and good perhaps, but isn’t this just the old canard of the early 20th Century Social Gospel repackaged and localised for a 21st Century context? There are undoubtedly positive elements in some of these communities, but I wonder if something significant is being missed- the significance of a radical, subversive heterodoxy that can only come from the proclamation of Jesus as the crucified, resurrected and ascended king.
God’s family in Christ was never intended to be a religious version of the social structures of our late-modern, western, liberal family values (whether in urban, suburban or rural contexts) because that can never produce the deeply transformative life that the gospel calls us to. Neither can it work to say that the church with a capital ‘C’ is heterodox, thus absolving us of responsibility to build deeply diverse communities of disciples in every place. Rather, precisely by being a deeply diverse, heterodox community in every place, the church is a foretaste of the age to come, not a celebration of what Paul calls ‘the present evil age’ (Galatians 1:4).
So ‘Yes!’ to gathering the village for a party, ‘Yes!’ to loving and serving your neighbours and ‘Yes!’ to mission- but let’s be careful how we build the thing we call ‘Church’ lest we find to our loss that what we have built is less than ‘fireproof’ (1 Corinthians 3:15).