17 March 2012

New and old in church life

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We can clearly see old and new in church structure and life. We take a look at how the two relate and how they can benefit one another. Coventry Cathedral illustrates the topic beautifully for us.

The intricacies of the oldIn this fifth part of the series we examine the old and the new in church life. By 'old' I mean traditional forms of church while 'new' implies relational and organic church. I'll explain what I mean by these terms in the next few paragraphs.

Old forms of church - During the last 2000 years church became formalised and adopted many different traditions. People came to think of church as a religious building with the customs and rituals attached to it. It was a place you could go to.

Churches also became organisations - Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Methodist, Baptist and so on. What was intended to be simple has become complex. What was supposed to be one has become many.

New forms of church - When church began in the first century it was very informal. People met in homes and shared their lives together (relational). At first there were no special buildings, nothing was formalised, there were few traditions and no denominations. The 'new' forms of church are a return to this early simplicity. The emphasis is on church as a living organism (organic) rather than an organisation.

Old and new together - These two forms of church life cannot easily be separated in practice. Traditional buildings and formats often include or give rise to newer practices that may be simple in nature. An example of this would be the Alpha movement with its origins in the Anglican tradition. On the other hand even the simplest organic forms of church have some structure, traditions, ritual elements, and some degree of human leadership.

The simplicity of the newThere is a continuum; there is one church but it is expressed in many forms. The newer forms tend to be simpler and are often modelled on church as it was at the beginning based on information in the New Testament.

Dividing new from old is an artificial device that allows us to compare and contrast the two. It's important that we understand this. There is only one body, though it expresses itself in a variety of ways throughout time and space. For example the church in Iran and the church in Britain are very different in their expression. Yet they share one revelation and one truth, one Jesus, one King, one principle. They are parts of the same house.

Coventry Cathedral - The old cathedral is ornate, even in its broken state it retains much ornamental stonework. There are hints from the remaining stained glass of painstaking work by mediaeval craftsmen. The new cathedral is much simpler - deceptively so. Its beauty and power come, not from detailed work by many craftsmen but from the outstanding design of a single architect.

Certainly there is  work of great detail - the huge tapestry and the large feature of stained glass spring to mind. But these are part of the architect's plan.

This spoke to me about church life in its old and new forms. The beauty of the old is in the detail of much human effort, hierarchical authority, rules, customs and ancient traditions. The beauty of the new is in the simple, effective design of the Architect. What stands out is the overall plan, not the human detail. In church life we need to see less human effort, authority and tradition and more of the simple design of the Architect - Jesus - the One who said 'I am the Way, the Truth and the Life'. Our church life must be centred on him and him alone. He said, 'I will build my church'.

Old and new are connected - At Coventry old and new stand side by side, connected by a canopy. The old is hollow and empty, a beautiful shell. The new is complete and full of life and light.

This again spoke to me most powerfully. Although we should live in the new, not in the old, we should never reject or forget the old. Like the canopy in Coventry, the connection between old and new is intentional. The canopy was designed to link the two.

In the same way our Architect covers us in the shelter of his wings, he intentionally touches his people in both places. Where church is concerned there is always some life and newness in the old, but there is always a little death and oldness in the new. Why? Because there is always something of him in the old and there is always something of us in the new.

He is Life and Light and Newness and Fruit and running Water. We are death and darkness and oldness and lack of fruit and dryness. But the joy we have is that he is in us and we are in him so although everything he does is perfect and everything we do is imperfect, yet there is something of the perfect in all.

Each of us should pursue the new life all the time, all our days. But we should also cherish the old for he is present in that too. And if we want to see him smile and laugh we truly need to keep the two connected for then we are doing his will.

The architect for the new cathedral once said, 'The new should grow out of the old.' He was speaking of the flow of the design, but his words were prophetic and remain true. Jesus said, 'Look - I'm making everything new!' (Revelation 21:5)

Old and new co-operating - One of the most wonderful things happening in the church today is the growing evidence of co-operation between large, established churches and small, organic groups. There is a synergy developing. See this post from Felicity Dale, for example.

Let me tell you a story. When I visited the 2009 House2House Conference in Dallas I was told that the sound and video engineer was unable to attend because his wife had been taken to hospital. Their baby was arriving unexpectedly early and he needed to be there. Whatever were the conference organisers to do?

A nearby megachurch heard about the problem and sent their sound and vision team with all the necessary equipment. They were able to do the work and even produce the set of DVDs of the sessions. And they didn't even ask for payment. The new with an admixture of the old was helped by the old with an admixture of the new. It simply doesn't get better than that! This is 'love one another' in action.

So whichever part of the church you think you inhabit, make the effort to get alongside every other part to bless and encourage. Christ will smile upon you. He came to bless us, and he loves to see us bless one another.

So what are you waiting for?

Further reading - The Rabbit and the Elephant

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UK Fellowship Friday Blog Hop - This blog hop is for Christians who live in the UK to link to a post you have recently written that might encourage other Christians. Started by Rhoda, please visit her original article.

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