Why the church isn’t a settlement

I have been enjoying Brennan Manning’s book, Lion and Lamb: the Relentless Tenderness of Jesus.  In it, Manning re-visits a metaphor for the church that has inspired me and other Circle of Hope leaders for awhile:  pioneering vs. settling.  It’s not because I like climbing around in canyons and riding horses without saddles that I relate to this metaphor (though I do like those adventures);  it is because I have experienced risk-taking, limitless, long-suffering love to be very the nature of God.

The metaphor is like this:  settlers see life as a possession to be carefully guarded.  They attempt to answer all the questions, define and housebreak the Supreme Being, and establish the status quo.  Their church is like the town courthouse.  It’s the symbol of law, order, stability, and security.  Every Sunday the settlers have an ice-cream party there.  God is like the mayor of the town.  He is remote, feared, and keeps things quiet.  Jesus is the sheriff, the guy sent by the mayor to enforce the rules and expose the bad guys.   The Holy Spirit is like the saloon girl, whose job is to comfort the settlers when they feel lonely.  The pastor is the banker.  He works with the sheriff to protect what the town values; he has a gun but keeps it hidden in his desk.  The Christian is the settler: “safety first” is his motto.  He fears the open, unknown frontier, so he stays out of the sheriff’s way, keeps his money in the bank, and never misses an ice-cream party.  For the settler, faith is trusting in the safety of the town and obeying it’s laws.  Sin is breaking one of the town’s laws.  Salvation is living close to home and hanging around the courthouse.

dysenteryFor the pioneer, the church is the covered wagon.  It’s a house on wheels, always on the move.  It’s where the pioneers eat, sleep, fight, love, and die.  The wagon bears the marks of struggle, but it moves on toward the future and doesn’t bother to glorify its own ruts. The old wagon isn’t comfortable, but the pioneers don’t mind because they are more into adventure than comfort.

In pioneer theology, God is the trail boss.  He/she is rough and rugged and full of life.  He/she eats, sleeps, lives, and fights with his people, often getting down in the mud with the pioneers to help push the wagon, which often gets stuck.  He/she keeps the pioneers keep moving when they get soft and want to turn back.

Jesus is the scout—forging a path for the pioneers by riding out ahead to face the danger first.  He suffers every hardship of the trail and is often attacked, but he makes the way for the pioneers.  By looking at the scout, the pioneers can learn what it means to be a pioneer.

The Holy Spirit is the buffalo hunter.  He’s a strange character, and the pioneers can’t track him scientifically, but he keeps them fed and alive.  Without him, they would die.  The cook (who is the pastor) dishes up whatever the buffalo hunter provides.

The Christian is the pioneer.  She is hungry for new life and will do whatever’s necessary to pursue it.  She dies with her boots on.  Her faith is obedience to the restless voice of the trail boss, the readiness to move out and risk everything on the trail.  Salvation is being more afraid of sterile life in the town than of death on the trail.  It is trusting the trail boss, following his scout and living on the meat provided by the buffalo hunter.  Sin is turning back.

Now this metaphor might not work for everyone and it certainly breaks down for me in the terms of U.S. history (namely the near-extinction First Nations and of buffalo, for starters).  The point for me is that God has called us to move with Him, not to settle down into stasis, but to be led by love—God’s suffering love that dies and rises for the whole world (not just for my family).  That’s why I am part of the movement here in Philadelphia.  The scout is making a way for us.

It is funny that in our quest for freedom from “the law” human beings tend to make other laws and systems of laws.  We are comforted by what we can predict and control.  But not really, and not forever.  I think we want more and we are made for more.  We are made for life in the Spirit.  Let’s not settle for anything less, in spite of our lust for comfort and fear of the unknown.  Let’s trust God to work that out in us.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” –Galations 5:1