Monday, December 20, 2010

The Forgotten Ways - part 1

When you are in seminary you read a lot of books. Some are good, some are hard to stay awake through, others change your life forever, and some just give language and vision to the things you already believe to be true. This falls into the last category for me. Although this is a read that could certainly fall into the "change your life forever" category for some who haven't thought through these ideas yet. It was the most helpful thing I have read thus far in graduate school. I would like to spend some time unpacking it for you. This will take several posts, but its something I think may be very helpful to some of you as it was to me.

I would first like to say, Alan Hirsch is a practitioner. This is helpful to know. He's not one of these guys who only works in the theory world. These theory voices are helpful, but its hard for me to take them without a grain of salt when they haven't staked their lives on their ideas like Hirsch has. Practitioners have not only thought deeply about their ideas, but they are living them out in the real world with real people and have the ability to see real results... good or bad. So remember this as you read the following posts (or better yet if you have time, read the book).

Hirsch lays a foundation by saying, "There are primal forces that lie latent in every Jesus community and in every true believer." He calls this missional DNA. He says we should ask the western church, in light of our current situation, "Will more of the same do the trick? Can we simply rework the tried and true Christendom understanding of church that we so love and understand, and finally, in a ultimate tweak of the system, come up with the winning formula?" I sense a bit of sarcasm in that there seems to be an obvious answer to the question. No.

Hirsch argues, and I fully agree, that we need a whole new vision of reality, "a fundamental change in our thoughts, perceptions and values especially as they relate to our view of the church and mission."

He spoke about how the early church did something absolutely incredible that makes no sense to most westerners as it went against all odds to grow into the most significant religious force in the Roman Empire in only 200 years. In the year AD 100 there were as few as 25,000 Christians. In AD 310 scholars say there were over 20,000,000 followers of Jesus. And just imagine their cultural climate... They were an illegal religion. They had no church buildings. They had no New Testament. They had no professional paid pastors. They had no programs or seeker services. AND They actually made it hard to join the church! So how did they grow from being a small movement to the most significant religious force in the Roman Empire in 2 centuries?

Hirsch says that this is not a freak historical event. He gives the example of the underground church in China. When Mao Tse-tung took power and purged the church, killed/imprisoned all the leadership, took control of the buildings, etc. there were only 2 million Christians in China. Since then there are now more close to 100 million! They have no professional clergy, no official leadership structure, no central organization, no mass meetings yet despite (or maybe because of) these things they have grown like no other movement the church has seen since Constantine came to power. Hirsch says, "I can only suggest that they found it in themselves… this potent coding (missional DNA) is placed within them through the work of the Spirit and by the power of the gospel in the community.” They simply needed a situation to force them to find that which was already in them.

Thank you Mao Tse-tung. You tried to stamp out the Kingdom of God in China. But you cannot stamp out the Spirit's fire. When you try, it simply fans the flames. 100 million Chinese flames and counting.

Stay tuned for more on The Forgotten Ways...