The scandal of invitation into The Church


(This is my response to this weeks re-imagining Vineyard value #6: “Come as you are, but don’t stay as you are”)

So in trying to re-imagine these values perhaps we need to understand what they are at best and run them against some of the current challenges the church is facing? So I'm going to work through this value in three parts.

Come There is an invitation in this value. To enter into a way of life with others, into relationship with Christ, in his Church for his mission with others.

We are invited into ways of life all the time, the issue is what do we give our allegiance to, our time, energy, money? Who and what captures our imaginations and what do we form life around? Christians are called to invite others into a new story, and new imagination for life, and to physically, emotionally, economically, and psychologically explore, resource and inhabit that way of life with others.

So many other communities capture our imaginations and make demands with regular involvement and practices. Football, dance, a choir, an orchestra, a motorbike club, basketball, chess or knitting community.  All involve a way of life with others.

And they demand commitments, obligations and orientations of our time, resources and our diaries with no apology. They involve learning the grammar, traditions, and practices of those communities, and require re-enactment and the performance of those things with others.

And where I live in a secular post-Christian context, it seems that the church has become just one club and society amongst many, in fact less than a club and society. Church is something that is to be ordered around our other allegiances (see this piece I wrote, 'Do Christians spend too much time in church?').

But I believe the Church is a centripetal movement, a confession of Christ that is a movement out of all and any other community. To enter into the Church is to make a final decision, for the ultimate community. A community that doesn't remove us from our other communities, but orders all other allegiances. Of course that presupposes a view of the church that is more than just a self interest group, club and society.

So for our vineyard church community, that invitation is something we intend to keep extending to others, in the belief that within it is something far great than any club and society, and hobby. 'Come' is the invitation of the people of God to all the world to enter into the ordering of a way of life together that will continue into eternity. The future age has a social presence, a community under the authority of Jesus Christ, that we are to invite people into now.

As you are The idea of acceptance, that the heart of the Gospel is that God welcomes us where and how we are, needs no updating. Anyone, in any location, in any situation is to be given the invitation, and told they are welcome to take part in the future age with God's people now.

And yes so often church has become a place of exclusion, people whose life location and orientation means they aren't welcome and accepted. Also the rampant individualism of consumer society means we are so quick to read all and any invitation as an act of exclusion. The consumer self finds it's strongest orientation in alienation, and the desire to seek signs of exclusion and offense. Put those together and no wonder we have problems.

But don't stay as you are And perhaps the most scandalous part of this value. The call to change and transformation in christ with others.

Again we are trained into isolation in western liberal consumer society. 'It's my life and I'll dam well do what I want with it'. Who is any one to tell me that I need to change?

The church should be the place to confess our sins, that we are broken, and in need of transformation, all of us. A community to practice accountability around our decisions, and life investments. A community that would hold a mirror up to us, and help us see ourselves in Jesus better.

It's too easy to read 'don't stay as you are' as something other than acceptance. The post-modern self that claims, 'here I am, I can be no other'. Yet the gospel and the invitation into the Church as the public of the Holy Spirit, the Body of Jesus, is the call to become like Jesus, something other than what we can make of ourselves.

Reality TV, and celebrity seems to so often set the agenda for who and what we should be like.  To become what people need us to be so we can then try and find out who we are, a cycle of endless self creation and promotion.

Christianity is the scandal and loving reminder to others that we are not free to be who we want to be. That we will only find out who we are in Jesus, and that no human has ever found the ends of the depths of identity in Him.

Conclusion So as an embodied value, and practice this value might be about remembering that we are called to let everyone know they are invited. To come where and as they are into an experience of the future, now. And that invitation is into the transformation of ourselves, with others, around the one who gives life and identity to all of creation.