Most of us, at one time or another, have put a lot of energy into trying to preserve long-standing forms and institutions. In my own case, I have been drawn to seek revitalization in my local Meeting and in my Yearly Meeting, as well as in wider bodies, like Friends United Meeting. These are institutions that have been around much longer than I have, but, though it is easy for me to take them for granted, they cannot continue to exist and operate without our time, energy and financial resources.
And it is right that we give these time-honored institutions some of our attention. We should seek the revival of our established fellowships and institutions. These churches and organizations have nurtured so many of us, given us a place to learn to listen to the still, small voice of Jesus in our hearts and, in obedience to him, to translate our faith into action. Our established institutions have benefited, and continue to benefit the spiritual growth of so many. There are still many hearts to be reached within the frameworks of our established fellowships, and lives can be changed by engaging in the struggle for growth and forward momentum in the religious communities and structures that we belong to.
At the same time, I believe that if we focus most or all of our energy on resuscitating stagnant or dying institutions, we risk failing to re-contextualize the Gospel to emerging generations. Just as in Jesus’ day, there are many of us who have the form of righteousness – who follow all the procedural rules to be “church people” – but who are not radically submitted to Christ.
The truth is, if we are under Jesus’ present leadership, we are in for some radical changes. He has new wine for us that will burst many of the old wineskins that sustained and strengthened prior generations. We are in a new cultural context in the post-modern West, and we are being called to engage with this new situation.
We can’t yet say what form these new, contextualized expressions of the Gospel will take; they will come in many different shapes and sizes, based on local circumstances and the purposes of the Holy Spirit. For our part, we must make a decision to be obedient to Christ’s guidance, even if it shakes things up, threatening the established way of doing things.
Are we ready for radical faithfulness?
A Few of God’s New Creations:
Capitol Hill Friends (Washington, DC)
Freedom Friends Church (Salem, OR)
New City Friends (Detroit, MI)
Old Town Friends Fellowship (Baltimore, MD)
The Underground Connection (Fountain City, IN)