Posted originally, in a longer form, on Jonny Rashid’s blog here.
Building an alternative church is really about discernment of God’s mission in the world. How do we hear what God is saying? What is the alternative? And how do we discern it?
The Wesleyan Quadrilateral was how John Wesley decided we discern. Have you heard of it before? Wesley cites Scripture as our primary source of revelation with tradition, experience, and reason as the other parts of it. I think that’s a good basis. Circle of Hope has a similar idea, though it isn’t based on Wesley’s, strictly speaking. We say it like this: The truth in and from Jesus is revealed in many ways: through the Bible, through the members of the body, through the creation, through the Holy Spirit.
🕮 Through the study of the Bible
Some of us are going to bring more expertise to this than others, but you do not need to be smart or fully trained to do this. And to all the scholarly types, remember, you can’t and shouldn’t discern the Bible alone. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read by yourself, but you shouldn’t conclude by yourself. I’m currently taking a Koine Greek class (which is the common Greek used in the Bible) and it is a useful tool, but I’m afraid too many scholars think their expertise is all they need. They need more than that, and they need the group project of studying the Bible.
The humility that it takes to study the Bible and learn and apply it today is elemental to listening to God. God has been speaking for people for thousands of years, and we have a rich tradition from which to draw. The Bible is the heart of that. It is an authoritative compilation that has guided the church for millennia. Its lasting influence is noteworthy on its own. Some of us will commit more time to studying it than others, but we are all capable.
When a lawyer asked Jesus to summarize the heart of God’s teaching in the Bible? He offers a simple, but never simplistic, thought:
‘Which commandment’, the lawyer asked, ‘is the first one of all?’
‘The first one’, replied Jesus, ‘is this: “Listen, Israel: the Lord your God, the Lord is one; 30 and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your understanding, and with all your strength.” And this is the second one: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” No other commandment is greater than these ones.’
Of course, the question that follows is how we apply loving God and loving each other. Circle of Hope looks the parts of the Bible that model peace, mutuality, and self-giving love as the basis of our church. How the Jerusalem Church acts in Acts 2 is essential to our life. But so is Jesus’ instructions in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. We find more themes like this in the radical and mutual actions of the church in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 13, and the whole corpus of 1 Peter.
The Bible has even more clues, but it is not alone sufficient. We need each other, too.
👂 Through listening to the body
Our entire church right now is engaged in a discernment process. In a sense, this is among the oldest things Christians do. In the book of Acts, the Apostles get together at the Jerusalem Council to discern the future of the church, how to make it distinct from other philosophies while also making it inclusive of different people. This balancing act is tricky to do, but the tension it creates grows us. And we do it best in community.
So we listen to each other. We are always listening, sometimes formally, and sometimes not. But our general posture should be humble enough to be hearing one another all the time. That requires silence, for one. The backdrop of our lives should be silence, especially if we want to hear beyond the loud voices of the world around us that seem to dominate the airwaves.
Another part of this? Study the culture around you. Pay attention to the zeitgeist. See what the world is offering, become aware of current philosophy and be prepared to learn from them and challenge them. Our church needs to be an alternative to the world today, not just what it was in 1996. We need to touch the wounds and the wounded of the day and bring about liberation and reconciliation.
🌳 🕊 Through the creation and through the Holy Spirit
The silence of which I speak is helpful, especially, in listening to the voice of God in creation and to the Holy Spirit around us. We need worship, prayer, contemplation, and silence to hear from God. We need an interior life to find peace and not to react out of anxiety, or react to the evil in the world. My advice? Starting journaling, maybe even just once a week. Schedule a quarterly personal retreat, we have a list of retreat centers here. Develop a spiritual friend. In the meantime, you may want to listen to Ben’s talk about it.
Something new, something distinct
We are looking to create an alternative church that doesn’t polarize us. We want to bring people closer to Jesus and that requires a distinct, radical message. It is not one rooted in the banality of neutrality. We need to discern the way of Jesus, the way of love. And we need your help to do it. There’s room for you at the table. This whole group project requires more voices and more ears. Can you help us listen the where the Spirit is going next?