When the Church Looks Biblical

As I get older I find that very little of what I say or teach originally came from me. Sometimes I can remember where I read or heard something that I am saying, sometimes I can remember that it was not my idea but I cannot remember where it came from, and often I suspect that I forget altogether and take the idea as my own. Those are probably  the best ideas. They hold so much truth that I “own” them.Bible

Such is the case when it comes to one of my favorite things to say in response to those who want to start or reclaim a “New Testament Church.” I know this isn’t my idea, but I now claim it as my own. My response is this: “Which of the crazy, sinful, messed-up New Testament churches do you want to be like?” The reality is that most of Paul’s letters were written, in part, because there was a major problem in a particular church community. Even if we go to the earliest, and claim the first church in Jerusalem that we read about in the beginning of Acts as our ideal, we have to stop short in our reading. Otherwise we find racial tensions, people deceiving the church, and administrative problems.

Such has always been the case with the church. It isn’t a perfect community, but it is a community formed around the worship of a perfect God. Currently I am re-reading Eugene Peterson’s book, Leap Over a Wall, about the life of King David. In it I am finding a lot of inspiration for my current preaching series on 1st and 2nd Samuel, following the life of David. While reflecting on the story of David at Ziklag, Peterson writes this:

Every time I move to a new community, I find a church close by and join it–committing myself to worship and work with that company of God’s people. I’ve never been anything other than disappointed: every one turns out to be biblical, through and through: murmurers, complainers, the faithless, the inconsistent, those plagued with doubt and riddled with sin, boring moralizers, glamorous secularizes. Every once and a while a shaft of blazing beauty seems to break out of nowhere and illuminate these companies, and then I see what my sin-dulled eyes had missed: word of God-shaped, Holy Spirit-created lives of sacrificial humility, incredible courage, heroic virtue, holy praise, joyful singing, constant prayer, persevering obedience. I see “Christ-for Christ plays in ten thousand places,/ Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his/ To the Father through the features of men’s faces.”

The phrase “biblical through and through” grabs me! A “biblical” church, if it reflects what we see in scripture, is made up of a thousand stories of sin and redemption, failure and hope. To be “biblical” in this sense is not to be moral, or to have good exegetical preaching, but rather to be in relationship with a Holy God that continues to work through the messy community of redeemed people that we call “the Church.” I wonder if all those “Bible” churches had that in mind when they put it in their name? Hmm… “Tidelands Bible Church.” That has a nice ring to it!

The Story

We were sitting down to dinner last night and our youngest son (6 years old) agreed to pray and give thanks before we ate. He takes this “giving thanks” quite seriously and will often pray a long list of “Thank you for…”s. Most of the time I really enjoy hearing all of the interesting things he is thanking God for. “Wii”, “water,” and “babies” often top his list along with the usual “food” and “family.” Sometimes his list goes on and on and if the rest of us are especially hungry, and our food is sitting in front of us waiting to be eaten, we become quite charismatic and began mumbling encouraging “Amen”s hoping to wrap up the prayer!

Last night he ended with “…and thank you that boys are no longer mean. Amen!” My wife and I opened our eyes and gave each other a look that translated into “What is that about?” I was worried that there had been an incident at school or on the bus that we didn’t know about. But after questioning him we finally discovered that he was talking about The Story of God. Let me explain.

If you’re not familiar with The Story of God, this is something developed by Soma Communities in Tacoma to be used with Missional Communities. The resource is free and can be found here: Story of God Resources. We are currently working through the “Story Formed Way” version in our missional community. We weren’t sure how it was going to work with the kids since it really is not the “kids version” of the story. However, the kids have really been engaged, especially when we do the retelling! The Story of God is a form of “chronological Bible storying” that presents the overall Biblical narrative in condensed, oral story form. Another way to describe it would be a sweeping “big picture” of the story of redemption.

Back to my son’s prayer: He was apparently very disturbed (and rightly so) that in the beginning of The Story there is a repeated theme of people “doing what is right in their own eyes” and that “their every thought was evil.” Now that we are deeper into the story and have arrived at Jesus, he is experiencing relief that, in his own words, “boys are no longer mean.” What I love about this, is that even though he doesn’t have the theological or church language to talk about sin,  evil, redemption, etc., he is grasping the story! He is getting the “good news” – the Gospel! And not only that, but he is personalizing it! “Boys” and “meanness” is something that he can relate to in that he has both experienced it and he has been the mean boy at times.

I have no idea how we will look back on this later. We haven’t even finished going through The Story of God once yet, and ideally we will do it once every year in our missional community. I just have a sense that we are onto something that I have longed for since the day that my children were born: that they would know God’s Story and see themselves as an ongoing part of that story in the world!