Theology

The Church is Not a Triangle

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In my last post I reflected on the Love God: Love neighbor command (The Jesus Creed) and its implications for those seeking to join God on His mission in our neighborhoods. I concluded that when God’s people live God’s love amongst their neighbors, together seeking a holistic way of being, knowing and doing, they embody and thus alert others to the Kingdom of God come near right where they live.  As Scot McKnight explains

When Jesus stands up tall and announces that the kingdom has drawn near, He is saying that a society shaped by love is about to take the dance floor and show us how to dance.[1]

Embracing the Jesus Creed then, is about joining the dance (which is in the center of the neighborhood) and about inviting others to learn to dance with us.

“If each believer understood discipleship in this way and took their biblical mandate seriously, we would have lots of people growing and becoming more and more like Jesus– and hopefully at some point coming under his Lordship. It’s not our role to convert them, but to disciple them![2]

McKnight’s dance imagery illustrates not only that the whole Body will be discipling and being discipled but also the communal and equitable nature of this discipleship. If you are having trouble envisioning this, don’t think of Western European ballroom dancing so much as indigenous circle dances or children dancing.

A Body of Equals

Whereas we previously may have emphasized private faith practices, we now realize that to be fully formed followers of Jesus, we must be nurtured in, with, as and by the Body and, the people and places where God has sent us. Accordingly, the Body needs all the body parts so that all can be mutually encouraged, built up, challenged, blessed and blessings for the sake of the Kingdom; that is, the mission of God. In order for this to be so, all the body parts must be received and embraced as equal (1 Corinthians 12):

Equal!

It is astounding to note (in light of the history of the church in the West over the last 50+ years) that already in 1967, Hans Kung was challenging the hierarchal structures of the church.

The church is not a triangle.

The church is not a triangle. Click To Tweet

Where’s the Hierarchy?

Kung notes

Hierarchy [does not] occur either in secular or New Testament Greek at all…Why is it that the New Testament avoids these then current and seemingly obvious terms related to rulers and the ruled?

…Precisely because that is what makes them unusable…The particular place and function of the individual in the community was comprehensively described with a word which carried no overtones of authority, officialdom, rule, dignity or power; the word, diakonia, service”.[3]

Kung asserts that “If the Church is the true people of God, it is impossible to differentiate between “church” and “laity” observing that the latter “simply does not occur in the New Testament”.

Why is it that the New Testament avoids obvious terms related to rulers and the ruled? Click To Tweet

All members of the people of God have been called by the message of Jesus Christ to faith, obedience and complete devotion in love; in this too; all members of the Church are equal.[4]

In the Church of Jesus Christ, who is the only high priest and mediator, all the faithful are priests and clergy.[5]

I wonder how different the church and world would be if we had heeded Kung’s admonition decades ago. What if we all treated each other as equals? Could not, should not the church model relationships organized not in terms of power, popularity and position (the triangle) but a round mutuality, conversation and shared wisdom. I call this “circle leadership.”

Circle Leadership

When we form a circle, we invite all to listen and all to speak as those with equal voice. It’s not only about equal rights but about mutual respect and equal responsibility.

All those who claim to follow Jesus are appointed and sent as priests in their neighborhoods (Luke 10:1). We are all the called, equipped and empowered diakonia- no matter our skin color, age, gender or expertise. We dance together! It’s a circle dance and the circle is getting bigger and bigger and it has no beginning nor end, for the Alpha and Omega is the Lord of the dance!

In fact, as many of us likely are aware, Orthodox traditions have always described God in this way—as a Loving Community of Being or as Perichoresis. Perichoresis is a Greek term that literally means ‘around dance’ (Greek peri =“around” + choreio = “dance”) and it refers to the mutual indwelling and relationship of the members of the Trinity.

God is a CIRCLE of relationship- perfect, harmonious, reciprocal, equal and personal in loving, giving and receiving. There is nothing in the Triune One that is hierarchical or utilitarian, perfunctory or abstract. Parent-Child-Spirit is a circle of holy, loving relationship into which we are invited to–made to– participate – because Love is always extending itself, to share with our neighbors…the Jesus Creed!

I am learning to dance in this Circle with joy in spite of my stumbles and missteps. I long for more ‘people of peace’ to join in God’s dance circle in our neighborhood. I also pray for more Christians to understand themselves as– and live as– those in that Circle; as those called and made to be the “priests and clergy” of their neighborhoods such that we: Circle around, with and among; not over and above; We join hands with any and all –equally—including each other;

We humbly serve our neighbors as “the diakonia”

Learning to love God and neighbor –

And loving to dance in an ever widening circle!

It’s a mission and a vision which inspires, challenges and empowers me to ‘circle back’ again and again.

*     *     *

1. McKnight, Scot One.Life- Jesus Calls, We Follow (Zondervan 2010), 53.

2. Hirsch, Alan and Debra Untamed: Reactivating a Missional Form of Discipleship (Shapevine, Baker 2010), 146-147.

3. Kung, Hans. The Church (Image Books, 1976), 496-497.

4. Kung, 169.

5. Kung, 559.

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