I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself,
if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received
from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
In one of my favorite movies (They Might Be Giants, with George C. Scott and Joanne Woodward), there is a delicious moment after “the good guys” have marched triumphantly into glory, when George C. Scott (alias Sherlock Holmes) halts the procession, turns, and asks, “Would those of you who know what this is all about please raise your hands?” The assembled crew look at each other with blank stares, and in the end nobody raises their hand.
That is a humorous moment, but for me it is also very painful because I have often wondered through my many years in the church: How many of us really understand what all the fuss is about? And the other side of that coin is also troublesome: Is the reluctant response of so many church members (poor attendance; minimal giving; meager participation in the affairs and relationships of the church) due to the reality that so many members do not have any clear picture of what we are doing, or why it is important?
In any case, clarity and good communication are always big issues in every church.
“Will those of you who know what we are about please raise your hands?”
I cannot tell you what we are about, but I can talk about what I hope we are about.
1.) I hope we are a church that wants to be an intentional ecclesia – a gathering of people loyal to Jesus, and who want to band together to help each other to understand and live “The Christian Life.” This is far more complex and difficult than most people want it to be. It is also more exciting and fulfilling than we ever dream it will be in the beginning. Most of us, I suspect, already know this on both counts.
2.) It follows (at least in my awareness) that we must be bold and courageous enough to break from many of the assumptions, practices, and beliefs of the vast majority of Christian groups and churches in our time. This is not a “new thing.” It was true for Jesus (obvious), and also for Peter and Paul (and their friends), and for most of the most sincere Followers down through the ages – Luther, for instance. Institutions tend to go stagnant, and then repeat the patterns of what our best leaders broke us out of all along the way.
So we will not pretend to believe the constructs that continue to cripple so many Christians still today: the Virgin Birth; the Second Coming; the creeds of ancient times that perpetuate the fear of Hell; pretending we understand all spiritual truth in all the dimensions beyond this one. The Holy Spirit of the Risen Jesus is paramount in all our expectations and hopes for being faithful and obedient in our own time. We fully intend for the Holy Spirit to be in charge of our lives in every way and all the way – and that means we are no longer in charge ourselves.
3.) We have an opportunity to explore not only the streaming advantages of current technology, but the relationship of two churches very close to each other in polity and beliefs and approaches. The New Church and Community Church, Congregational are sister churches with a few differences that may be very useful to both. Many of us already have membership in both churches, as both are covenant-membership based. I hope that trend will continue and expand. We shall see fairly soon whether The New Church will attract new members beyond the geographical area of Corona del Mar, California. If not, we will eventually devolve into Community Church, Congregational. However, if the Spirit wants us to have a larger impact, we might be coming into an exciting time. An online church would seem to match the needs and possibilities of a great many people in our time. Of course, we would have to find authentic ways to let more people know that we are here and what we are about.
4.) The most important upcoming event is the TNC Retreat from October 30 to November 1. Hopefully many people from both churches, and even Countryside Church in Omaha, Nebraska, will attend. The theme is PROMISES. If we receive and make some authentic promises, there is hardly any limit to where this might lead us. Remind everyone you know that this is a retreat not to miss, and that scholarship assistance with expenses is far better than failing to participate. Of course, some may have to remember that God is more important than ghouls.
5.) Finally, neither TNC nor CCC has ever officially decided or committed itself to a specific “mission” beyond following Jesus, the Christ, into the New Life our Resurrected Lord sets before us. I have long suspected that the Holy Spirit calls churches as well as individuals into specific plans and purposes for which they are especially designed. My top hunch regarding our special “calling” is that our specific purpose is to highlight and implement ways that help people to find and move into their VOCATIO. It is a steep assignment, requiring more resources and prayer and spiritual awareness than most normal congregations could contemplate or come up with. But the repercussions are equally astonishing. One Christian deeply involved in their true “calling” – like the Apostle Paul, for instance – has far greater impact than any number of generic efforts to “do a little good” here or there. Plus, it seems to me that the church everywhere needs to be reminding all of its people that the Holy Spirit has a special “calling” for each and every one of us. (Ephesians 4:1) It is enough to make one’s spiritual mouth water.
Years ago I was hopeful that CCC was about to see and move in this direction with clear commitment and purpose. Ah well. But now I am hoping afresh that TNC and CCC will see this mission together – and go for it together.
So is this a Fall Greeting, or a Greeting about the Fall? Whichever and whatever, I do pray for God’s richest blessings to fall on each and every one of you.