In the face of dying paradigms, it is tempting to try to reassert the old ways of doing things and demand allegiance to what were once the normative patterns for governing our life together.
But, what if, instead of reacting to the winds of change by striving to reassert control and affirm traditional rules and regulations, we step back from our fears and simply listen to what is actually going on? What might we hear if we open to the realities of peoples’ lives and try to respond with sensitivity and respect?
Is it too threatening to let go of our accustomed ways of doing things for just a moment and encourage our churches to be responsive to the reality of what is, even when it does not conform to our prescription of what should be?
Our identity as church is a fragile shallow thing if it depends upon continuing to do things in the same old way. The key to being able to listen sensitively to the world around us and accommodating to that world in the way we do church, lies in our ability to find a more profound sense of identity. Our true identity as church does not reside in how we do things. Our identity resides somewhere deeper than conformity to a rigid belief system or the demand that there can be only one pattern for the unfolding of the spiritual journey.
Where did the earliest church find its identity in the days before normative patterns of doing church had become enshrined in dogma and church practice?
In the New Testament book of “The Acts of the Apostles,” while Peter was speaking, the Holy Spirit came unexpectedly upon a group of Gentiles. This was clearly outside the Christian community’s self-understanding. It was a contradiction of their established sense of identity. They were
astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles” (Acts 10:45)
Their paradigm was shattered.
In response to the evident work of God’s Spirit, Peter asked,
Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have? (Acts 10;45)
Peter was able to open to the new thing God was doing in their midst. Community identity was able to expand to embrace the new reality God was clearly bringing into being. The earliest Christians refused to enshrine their identity in laws and practices. Instead, they found their identity in deep trust and confidence in the work of God’s Spirit in unexpected and surprising ways.
Today Christians must acknowledge that God’s Spirit is at work in places we might find astonishing. God’s Spirit is moving in the lives of people we might have believed were outside the parameter of God’s embrace.
We are being challenged to find our identity in a place deeper than rules and regulations. We must open our eyes and discern where the wind of God’s Spirit is blowing, even when that Spirit seems to be at work outside the predictable boundaries of our traditional paradigms.
When we identify God’s Spirit at work, even in surprising places, we must cooperate joyfully with that work allowing our structures and our energies to serve the emerging work of God in the world. In this way dying paradigms become nurse logs for new life. As we sit lightly to our familiar road maps, new life will emerge and we will be empowered by God’s Spirit to live into a vibrant future as God’s people.