Final Thoughts on Living Incarnationally: Missional Church that Resists the Suffocations of Modernity

It is last week of Advent and our church has gathered in the presence of His Coming for three Sundays. We’ve spent time together on Sundays in silence, before “enfleshed” artwork, heard the Scripture, sat around the Table of His presence praying “even so Come Lord Jesus,” we’ve preached on “living Incarnationally.” At the end of every time together we’ve been “sent out” into the world to live incarnationally. At the beginning of our gathering we hear stories of wonder of real engagements in incarnational mission. This month, we’ve heard great stories of God working in the prisons, at the Retirement Center, at the Soup Kitchen, in the workplace cubicles of someone in our gathering, in China through a business someone in our gathering has started. Incarnational. It’s been a great time of hope, faith, love and joy. Hope you all have been blessed as well during this great season.

Here on the blog, I’ve been posting about the Incarnational Way and the Missional church movement (which I count myself as a member). I have asked whether a total rejection towards buildings, sacred space (Art) and the importance of the worship gathering can indeed work against the presence of the Body of Christ “incarnating” in the world. Maybe I’ve seen in our church this advent season that an old building, beautiful artwork and the gathering in worship all can truly be incarnational as well as breed incarnational mission into our community. These past weeks on the blog, I have thoroughly enjoyed the conversation. Thanks to everyone for letting me talk about these things without telling me I can’t be missional/emerging if I subscribe to the SOMETIMES Incarnational value of buildings, sacred space and gathering. For me these things all need to be discerned more carefully, sometimes rejected but not always. The critiques of missional writers towards excessive buildings sucking us dry, too much indwelling of sacred space and the consequent ignoring of God’s sacred working among the poor and lost, and the disgusting attractional mentality in many evangelical (mega) churches, are all great contributions of missional writers. So I heartily cheer that we need increased discernment anytime we buy buildings, create sacred space or spend too much time “producing” a gathering “experience” to answer a consumerist need.

And so having said all this, having applauded all of the challenges made in the name of missional church, here’s one last challenge: Let the missional church become a place of resistance incarnationally to the enslavements of modernity: individualism, consumerism, and transactional-ized “for me” salvation.

It was 400 years ago, amidst the battlefields of Europe in the Religious Wars, that Descartes crawled into a large wood burning stove, holed himself up in there, and wrote the famous words of Meditations 3: “Now will I close my eyes, I will stop up my ears, I will avert my senses from their objects, I will even erase from my consciousness all images of things corporeal; or at least … I will consider them all empty and false.” Thus began the trek towards modernity and its attempt to secure truth in the foundations of the thinking mind separate from the world. The hope was we all come to the truth as individuals with no need for authority, mediation or of course war.

But this ignored the Incarnation – which Gods works in flesh and blood, creation, in the real lives of people. To disembody the gospel from the senses, from the way we live together in the Spirit, from God working in contingent history and indeed creation …to make the gospel a content to be translated, spoken, argued about (and lived only secondarily), missed the whole point (of the Incarnate God). Instead, this modernist turn “toward the subject” enslaved us to self-doubt, separated us as individuals qua individuals, shaped us towards hubris and arrogance, and led us into even more wars (Descartes was hoping to rid us of Religious conflicts).

This is why I resonate with the incarnational emphasis of our missional movement. But at the same time, this is why I warn against the rejecting of the incarnational presence in the formative gathering in place, time, beauty and liturgy (as I have argued in my most recent 3 posts). Without the gathering, we could all be cast adrift into the seas of modernist individualism. We could be left alone to resist the consumerist nihilisms of our day. Without formative practices in time, space and history, even in bands of twelve, we might succumb to Gnostic – even narcissistic interpretations – of the gospel. I’ve seen it happen. I believe the forces of hyper-modernity -late capitalism are so over whelming, that missional church planters have little chance to build communities of resistance and mission without the basic core practices of being “the Body.” And I don’t believe the gathering, a building in its proper usage and missional context, and sacred space need work against “missional” all the time. Indeed, done with discernment, each of these becomes the location of His presence in powerful ways.

I love what Michael Frost says in his recent book Exiles. “,,,if the sum total of my communal experience of following Jesus is limited to occasional, irregular gatherings of people who have neither asked for a commitment from me nor offered any to me, something is surely missing.” (p.144) His proposals in the chapter on “Fashioning Collectivities of Exiles” are simply awesome. And although I don’t believe it is the only way, many of his proposals I have followed in leading a former community to Life on the Vine (Metanoia Community). And many of these articulations we follow at Life on the Vine to this day. (The great thing about them BTW is that these guidelines can be followed by groups of twelve!). All this to say, we cannot do Incarnational by ourselves. We cannot do missional without being Christ’s Body. We need to enter the practices of being the Body (gathering, worship, hospitality, potluck meals?).

So at this great time of Advent, on the eve of celebrating Christ’s birth – let us truly manifest His presence, in our life together, in the way we celebrate, see and live missionally in work, play, engaging the poor, homeless, destitute, lonely, lost, sick and dying. Lord Jesus Come!

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