The Great Spiritual Migration
How the World's Largest Religion Is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian
by Brian McLaren
Convergence Press, Sept. 2016, $21.00
9.7.17 - Reviewed by David Bradshaw, MyIdeaFactory.net
Christianity is presently experiencing an identity crisis which is leading to a mega-shift on many levels. People of faith are again on the move, journeying away from broken religious belief systems based on static traditions, toward a more integrated Spirit-led way of life which engages all mankind and promotes unity rather than division, according to Brian McLaren.
This is the first book I've read by author Brian McLaren, but it will likely not be the last. He speaks of hard truth but in soft love - a very Christ-like characteristic.
Brian begins by explaining about how his personal pilgrimage began as a fundamentalist Plymouth Brethren, but then migrated to the evangelical "Jesus Movement" in the 1960s, and then propelled him into the progressive end of the "Religious Right" in the 1980s-90s. Today he invites readers to join him on a further migration toward a more contemplative path of Christian discipleship dedicated to manifesting the inner transformation and compassion of God toward our hurting culture.
Brian likens modern Christianity to the familiar COCA-COLA brand of soft drink. The packaging leads us to expect something inside which we can rely on as sweet and refreshing. But if the contents of the can become unsatisfying often enough, the brand will ultimately be rejected by consumers. This rejection of the Christian belief system (can) is prompting a cultural migration away from organized religion in search of a "vision of reconciliation with God, self, neighbor, enemy and creation," writes McLaren, which now encompasses Catholics, Evangelicals, Protestants and Orthodox Christians.
At the root of this migration away from symbolism and toward true spiritual substance (within Christianity and other major religions) is a startling realization that over time organized religion often stands for the opposite values which their original founders lived for, or died for. Jesus warned about how the traditions of men can choke out the life of God's spiritual movement, often requiring a fresh prophetic movement to call us back to first things.
Sadly, most of Christianity is like a house that has fallen into disrepair, says McLaren, who is challenging those who love Christ to engage in the work of "careful demolition for salvation, not destruction," (Think Nehemiah; clearing the rubble of war-torn Jerusalem walls and calling for rebuilders).
The world today is awash with calls for "negative unity" - which is the affirmation of what we dislike most or feel compelled to protest against. But McLaren's call is toward something more elevating - "positive unity," which seeks to focus on building new models of hope.
Standing firmly against such positive unity and hopeful transformation is what Brian calls, "your little inner fundamentalist," which always feels threatened by change which calls into question strong previously held beliefs. "Thank God Christianity has a rich tradition of changing course," writes McLaren.
"Conversion is a permanent process," says Catholic theologian Gustavo Guitierrez, "in which very often the obstacles we meet make us lose all we gained and start anew."
Yes, the Kingdom of God requires a big dose of humility - a willingness to go back to square one - something which many church leaders resist because they feel they've already paid a heavy price to move up the spiritual ladder.
McLaren offers a detailed threefold plan to help facilitate this great spiritual, theological and missional migration patterned after Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday, which are symbolic of death, reflection and resurrection ... of letting go, letting be and rising up.
PART 1 - THE SPIRITUAL MIGRATION - From a System of Belief to a Way of Life
"The trajectory of our whole life is determined by one thing, the image of God we live our lives by." -Doug Sherman, Letters From God
For billions of Christians worldwide the most important element of their faith today is correct beliefs, according to McLaren. Yet Jesus seemed to put more emphasis on correct actions (Matt. 5: 3-12) good fruit (Matt. 7:15-20) and internal contents, rather than external containers (Matt 9:17, 23:25).
What matters most is not the letter of the law or strict literal Biblical interpretation, but rather the meaning and application of the truth contained in the Biblical stories, which, as one rabbi told Brian, becomes "bottomless wells of meaning."
Jesus seemed to side more with the prophetic/mystical traditions' emphasis upon relationship and orthopraxy (good practices) rather than upon the scholarly/ priestly emphasis upon rules and orthodoxy (good opinion/creeds).
"When beliefs become a primary marker for belonging, religious gatekeepers gain one of humanity's greatest powers: To excommunicate or to expel," writes McLaren. To effect change from a belief-based faith to a lifestyle-based faith Brian quotes the wisdom of Buckminster Fuller; "You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."
Scientists tell us that every cell in our body carries in it two DNA codes; one code to bring the cell to maturity and reproduction, and another code to bring the cell into harmony and integration with the entire organism. It's part of God's natural design.
So it is in the spiritual realm. God has placed within each of us an individual destiny to reach maturity and reproduction and a corporate destiny to integrate with the whole body of humanity. This organism, the family of God is called to be conformed to Christ, and then to transform the world into the image of His Kingdom.
I especially like Brian's analogy about what religion can learn from science in Chapter two. Science begins with a mystery, a hypothesis, then after repeated experiments progresses to a tested theory - only after exhaustive testing is it considered a scientific fact. But if any scientific fact is disputed by new evidence, a good scientist must be willing to humbly abandon old facts and conclusions. Science has a deeper love for truth and their testing methods than previously-held facts.
Brian feels it's high time religious communities learn this lesson from science and begin to hold our "facts" and beliefs more lightly when new evidence is brought to light - thereby exhibiting a greater commitment to the truth - by admitting that to cling on to wrong facts, beliefs or doctrines held firmly in the past is wrong.
Jesus summarized all of the law and previously-held belief systems into a single new commandment: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. This simple, non-discriminatory and unconditional love which He exhibited is what mature disciples of Christ should also aspire to. The Apostle Paul confirms this saying, "The only thing that matters is faith expressing itself in love." (Gal. 5:6)
Most people see very little difference between our faith and our beliefs, yet McLaren differentiates both. "Belief" is defined as opinions/judgments a person or group is fully persuaded of, which are not to be questioned. "Faith" is a conviction or deep sense of the right course of action. Faith and confidence are expressed through love. Brian explains that it's quite possible to have lots of beliefs, but no faith - and visa-versa.
"If the Christian faith can be redefined by practicing a dynamic pursuit of love and compassion, rather than focusing on teaching correct beliefs, our whole understanding and experience of the church could be transformed into a school of love," says Brian, who suggests a good start would be to incorporate reading I Cor. 13 (the love chapter) into our daily devotional reading and reflection.
McLaren concludes Part I with a college class growth analogy to help explain how we can gradually progress upward in our spiritual consciousness and practices - beginning at 'Love 101' and moving toward 'Love 401'. Love 101 is the place our spiritual conversion must begin - by learning to love our family and neighbors. As we grow up our circle of love expands to also include, "the outlier, outsider, outcast,the stranger, alien and even enemy as a neighbor too."
Many Christians remain at Love 101's elementary level for most, or in some cases, all their lives. Others seek to progress to Love 201, which also includes learning to love yourself for God's sake (not just for your own ego or self image). This process requires beginning to see yourself with divine compassion and embracing transformative practices that can lead to greater self-understanding with tools such as; Enneagram, Myer-Briggs Type Indicator, counselors, therapist and/or a soul friend.
McLaren says this new found self-knowledge then empowers us to move to a new level, Love 301, which includes love of God, others, self and a new and greater love for the environment - the earth, clean air, water and sustainable ecological stewardship practices. We begin to feel a growing love for all of God's creation, as our Creator also does.
The highest level of love in Brian's classroom analogy, Love 401 is "seeing God as an event of communion," which in the words of Richard Rohr is when... "people learn to recognize and love the radiant light in everything and everyone." This is also referred to in the contemplative traditions as seeing the world as a "unitive field" in which dualistic perspectives of the past are abandoned. All levels in this spiritual ascent must be compassionate and inclusive of all previous levels.
The bottom line of Part I: We need to make our lifestyle the priority and our belief system a distant second or third. Brian closes with a reminder of the emphasis Jesus impressed upon his disciples; He said "follow me" 87 times in the gospels, yet He said "worship me" ... "name a religion after me" ... "recite a creed about me"... "erect a building in my honor"... zero times! The word "disciple" is used 250 times in the New Testament, yet the word "Christian" is used just 3 times and "Christianity" zero times. Jesus lived a life of love and has called us to do the same. "Every one who loves is born of God and knows God, for God is Love." I John 4:7-8.
PART II - THE THEOLOGICAL MIGRATION - from Violent God of Domination to Nonviolent God of Liberation
"Religion may be viewed as a spectrum of light - ranging from the fundamentalists to the mystics. Our place on this spectrum depends on our level of spiritual expansion and knowledge." -Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs
Part two of this book is a real eye-opener as it traces the violent history of Christianity. "Most Christians are
shockingly unaware of the violence of our history...denial has replaced humble awareness," says Brian as the opening
salvo in Chapter 4, "The Genocide Card in Your Back Pocket."
McLaren is referring to the God-sanctioned violence we see in the Old Testament (i.e. Deut. 7, I Sam. 13, Psalm 137:9).
"Until you grapple with these passages and other like them, your Bible is like a loaded gun and your theology is like
a license to kill."
So how can we convert Christianity from a "warrior religion to a reconciling religion?" asks Brian. The transformation
begins "If you face the dark sides of our Christian past...feel the discomfort, deep anger and heartbreak in the
short-term rather than living in long-term ignorance, deception or denial."
McLaren details the Christian atrocities starting in 313 A.D. under Roman emperor Constantine extending to the dark ages of
Holy Wars, including Columbus' "Doctrine of Discovery" which reduced Muslims and all other non-Christians to enemies
of Christ and thereby empowered "the Church" to plunder, murder and enslave indigenous people of color worldwide.
"Sadly this deadly mingling of racism, empire and Christianity was not the exception, it was the norm," bemoans Brian.
The doctrine of white Christian privilege continues in America today wherever the Bible and God are used in service
of racism and violence. According to McLaren even the doctrine of dominion (Gen. 1:28) has been abusive when used to
"legitimize the plundering of the earth without concern for future generations."
Few would argue that Jesus modeled a revolutionary perspective on dominion. "In the life and teaching of Christ
we see a radical rejection of dominating supremacy in all it's forms. The theological term for this rejection of
dominating supremacy is "kenosis," which means self-emptying (see Phil. 2)
The God whom Jesus showed us appears to be very different from the dominating, dictatorial Supreme Being revealed
in the Old Testament. "Jesus descended the ladders and pyramids of influence instead of climbing them," writes Brian, "He released power
instead of grasping at it, served instead of dominating...To follow Jesus is to change one's understanding of God...
For the world to migrate away from violence, our concept of God must migrate away from violence."
To better understand this migration process McLaren offers a computer upgrade analogy, which ranges from God 1.0 to God 5.0.
Brian views the starting point for everyone at the childish God 1.0 level, where all that matters is you.
Then we grow up and begin to discover the "joy of generosity," which marks our moving to God 2.0. As we enter young adulthood
and learn the rules of fair play and safety we graduate to God 3.0. At this stage we view God's job as "to reward
the rule keepers and punish the rule breakers."
Many Christians remain stuck in the judgmentalism of God 3.0 until they are genuinely touched by the
gracious love of God, or when they fall in love with another and begin to learn "the art of sacrifice, the grace of
granting forgiveness and the humility of asking for forgiveness," says Brian. This movement beyond the "simplicity
of rule-keeping brings God 4.0 into view - a God of affection, fidelity, forgiveness and family."
The next step upward is God 5.0 which requires an even bigger leap of faith. "The only problem with God 4.0 is that it is
still "the God of the exclusive 'we' who shows favor only to 'us' but not 'them' - meaning those outside our
religion, ethnicity or tribe."
The exclusive 'we God' needs to be upgraded to an inclusive, non-dualistic God, an 'all of us and them God' which
extends to "all of humanity and all living things within the ecosystem in which we all share," writes McLaren. "We
are all part of one family tree, one web of life and we need our understanding of God to embrace that reality."
Like the growth rings on a tree, each new and larger concept of God naturally will transcend and include all previous concepts.
Although there are many spiritual and cultural forces at work today resisting a movement from God 4.0 to 5.0 McLaren remains a hopeful optimist. We have made
great progress in the U.S. and abroad at beginning to erase racism, sexism and violence, but "our understanding
of God must continue to change and grow...A great theological migration has already begun."
In Chapter six McLaren tackles the slippery slope of biblical interpretation and how it has often presented God as
violent in many places, yet non-violent and loving in many other places.
While most conservative, fundamentalist Christians are taught to always interpret Scripture "literally", Brian makes
the case that the Bible can also be interpreted as "literary". Viewed as a horizontal spectrum, at one end is
a literal approach, which seeks accuracy and factuality, while at the other end is a literary approach, which
looks for artistry and meaning. Both can have great value, depending upon the text and context.
Another axis of interpretation could be viewed on a vertical spectrum, with 'Innocent' interpretation at the
bottom, which asks few or no questions about its sources, biases, historical or scientific accuracy. As readers
move upward on the scale to the 'Critical' zone in which they are given more permission to think critically,
which leads readers to see how texts evolve over time or how texts wrestle with dynamic tension with one another.
Beyond the 'Critical' zone lies the 'Post-Critical' or 'Integral' zone, which is a 'second naivete' or 'second
innocence' zone in which we seek to see things whole again. If we put the horizontal and vertical axis together
we create a matrix of six possible approaches to biblical interpretation.
"An integral approach allows us to see that different voices in the biblical library held opposing view points
and the tension between these view points forces us to see the wisdom and the weakness of both sides," concludes
McLaren. "No wonder traditionalists issue a dire warning. Lose your innocent literal approach to the Bible and you
lose the angry God it proclaims, lose the angry God and you lose the need for Jesus as the shock absorber of God's
Yet McLaren argues that when you read the Bible from an integral/literary point of view, "Jesus become even more
beautiful, important and essential. Rather than satisfying a wrathful God, Jesus deconstructs the conventional
concept of a Supreme Being who is capable of murder, genocide or geocide...Jesus reveals a generous God...manifested
in gentleness, kindness and love...this vision inspires and empowers us to become nonviolent ambassadors of a new
way of life, servants of all, ministers of reconciliation, agents of liberating mission."
Regardless of where you may stand on the interpretation of Scripture spectrum, Christians are called to
warm-hearted fellowship with the entire body of Christ, embracing unity on the essentials, diversity on the non-essentials, and charity in all things, as St. Augustine has said.
PART III - THE MISSIONAL MIGRATION - From Organized Religion to Organizing Religion
"The vision must be followed by the venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps. We must step up the stares."
-Vance Havner, Road To Revival
Part three is a treasure chest of ideas about how to move this spiritual and theological migration into the
next phase of cultural transformation. Brian begins by focusing on social movement theory, as he has an opportunity to sit
with a doctoral candidate on the subject while awaiting a flight home from Africa.
Despite the tendency toward institutional stagnation over time, McLaren explores the dance
between healthy and unhealthy institutions and movements. Most institutions are born to serve the community needs,
whether religious, educational or governmental, but when institutions become self-serving they are ripe for a fresh,
community-led movement to propose positive change and renewal.
"Today the church is stuck in a dangerous stalemate," says McLaren. "On one side are good-hearted people loyal to their religious institutions,
fearful of compromise, and willing to excommunicate anyone calling for change. On the other side we have morally passionate
counterparts; sick of empty traditions, disgusted by the money and energy needed to keep the institution afloat."
The Bible is full of examples of fresh 'movements' which sought to move the people of faith toward a bigger view
of God's purposes, such as; Moses, David, the Prophets, Jesus, the Apostle Paul, the Desert Fathers and Mothers, St. Patrick, Celts,
St. Francis, St. Clare, Wesley, Pentecostalism, Social Gospel, Charismatic, Jesus Movement, Religious Right and modern Contemplatives.
In Chapter 8, "Salvation from the Suicide Machine" Brian asks, "Could it be that the Spirit of God is calling the
Church to stop trying to save itself, and instead to join God in saving the world?" Good question!
"Only a powerful spiritual movement can challenge our institutions and communities to defect from competitive
consumerism and take part in collaborative regeneration," says McLaren. "We desperately need this migration from a
religion organized for self-preservation and privilege to a religion organizing for the common good of all."
To accomplish this great migration Brian offer three key steps; 1) Like-minded Christians and communities need to
identify themselves, or start new communities, 2) A call to Christian leaders and parents to begin teaching the next
generation these strategies with new cirriculums, launching a young people's movement, 3) Christian
communities, movements and institutions need to begin recruiting different leaders and training them differently, without debt.
Catholic priest Vincent Donovan echoes McLaren's goal: "Do not try to call them back to were where they were, do not
try to call them to were you are, you must have the courage to go with them to a place neither you nor they have ever been before."
Because of the magnitude of social, political, economic, spiritual and cultural crisis we face today, McLaren resonates
with scores of emerging leadership perspectives that are now calling for inter-faith and multi-faith solutions. McLaren
defines interfaith evangelism as; "Inviting people to heart-to-heart communion and collaboration with God in the great work
of building a beloved community, seeking first the Kingdom of God and God's justice for all."
Despite Brian's focus in the book on what needs to change to accomplish God's purposes, he also finds
a great many things which are right in Christianity, the world, in humanity and in the church... "But without both our
priestly/institutional and our prophetic/movement wings which teach us to open our deepest selves to God and ground
our souls in love - no movement will succeed and no institution with stand."
I found Chapter 10, "The Broken-Open Heart" very inspiring because it prepares readers for the reality of suffering and
difficulty in joining God in this great spiritual migration.
According to educator and spiritual sage Parker Palmer, a tragic gap exists between what is and what should be - and
the stress of holding this gap can break our hearts in at least two ways. "First, the heart can be broken into a thousand
sharp-edged shards and then aimed at the source of our pain, an unresolved wound, often hidden. In contrast, our heart
break can increase our compassion for others. In the Christian tradition, the broken-open heart is virtually
indistingishable from the image of the cross. The tensions of life can pull the heart open like the crossbeams of
the cross - to hold everything from despair to ecstasy."
Jesus came to earth to disrupt comfortable spirituality. McLaren reminds us that "the spiritual migration we need is not merely
from one static location to another, but rather from one static location to a journey of endless growth...If you want to
see the future of Christianity as spiritual migration," says Brian, "don't look at a church building, rather go look
in the mirror and look at your neighbor."
McLaren offers some wise counsel regarding how best to respond to critics... "I realized that the reactions of my
critics were not my greatest danger, nor my greatest enemies, but rather, my greatest danger lay in how I react to my
critics with immaturity, pride, fear and insecurity within me."
Brian McLaren concludes this dynamic call to join him in becoming transforming agents with an uplifting story of a friend,
Dieter Zander, who was a multi-talented pastor, speaker and musician who suffered a stroke which stripped him of his ability
to speak overnight. "Before the stroke, I was working for God...working, working working," said Dieter, still struggling to talk after years of
therapy. "Now, I playing with God...playing, playing, playing. Much better."
Deiter's life today consists of working in a grocery store cleaning floors and bathrooms, yet one day he clearly
heard God's voice telling him, "Urinal holy. toilet holy, grocery store holy, everything holy." "Instead of playing
God, I'm playing with God, at play in God's good world where everything is holy."
"To rise to the occasion of this great work we must descend in humility, to see what Dieter now sees; we are but
children at play with God, living in a world where everything is holy...to relax in play, in God's limitless grace."
Amen! I hardily recommend this book to all who feel called to jump into the next great movement of God with both feet.
May we rise up with wings like eagles in this great spiritual migration toward intimacy with our loving Creator which
brings healing our hurting culture!
***** The Great Spiritual Migration Five Star BOOK REVIEWS *****
"Provocative and powerful." -Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times
"In this challenging book, McLaren shifts his focus from 'conversation' to movement. As the title suggests, to survive imminent ecological, economic, social, political, and spiritual crises, Jesus followers need to migrate to a new form of Christianity, one that abandons a punitive deity in favor of a creative God of love and nonviolence...McLaren, as usual, writes persuasively." -Kathryn Helmers/Publisher's Weekly
"Anything written by Brian McLaren is always filled with insight, courage, and creative theology, refining the meaning of orthodoxy in our time. Read this and surely enjoy it, for it will assure you that you are not crazy making in what you are seeing and suffering today." -Richard Rohr, author of Falling Upward, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation, Random House
"Buy this book. Share a copy with a friend. Engage in the dialog it compels. Introduce it to your faith community. Unchain your mind. Accept the permission and invitation to re-belief. Begin the essential process of de-illusionment." -Bill Dahl, Bill Dohl Blog
"I appreciate how collaborative McLaren is with leaders and resources from many faith traditions. This book is set up well for a small discussion group and provides a helpful guide at the end of each chapter for 'contemplation, conversation and action.' I particularly liked the suggested action to read 1 Corinthians 13 every day - one powerful exercise in one powerful book." -Mary Graves/Pastor, Presbyterian Outlook
"McLaren heralds the growing number of churches that are making love their priority and developing curriculums of love to bring that goal to fruition. Now is the time for communities to express their love of God through care and compassion for neighbors, friends, strangers, and enemies. The migrations McLaren is suggesting are not only for one group of Christians. He admonishes progressives to set aside their criticism and complaints in regard to their conservative brothers and sisters and get moving together." -Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat/SpirtualityandPractice
"The tone throughout is warm and engaging, and the book is filled with telling anecdotes. But McLaren is never less than a master teacher with a solid lesson plan. Brian McLaren and his Convergence colleagues are now trying to move this kind of thinking from the ivory tower down to the gathered congregation on the ground as a source of joy and energy. If that is his point, then more power to him. It needs to happen. We're fairly sure that the Jesus who drove the money changers out of the temple is with us in this work." -Peter Laarman/ReligionandDispatches
A New Chapter of Church History Begins!
The Future Church Has Finally Arrived!
7.19.16 - by David Bradshaw
If you are like most Christians today, you have never seen the church.
When you do see it, it is going to take your breath away! So far you have only seen shadows - mere glimpses of the family of God working together as a potent, loving force, drawing on the strengths and talents of everyone.
Soon you will see the reality: men and women taking their true place as full participants in gatherings of the church, meeting in homes and in larger group celebrations, bonded together by love and humility, bridging the divide between Catholic and Protestant - like streams of water flowing into one River - demonstrating to a fragmenting, disintegrating world the Kingdom of God on earth, as it is in heaven.
According to John 17 Movement founder, pastor and author Joseph Tosini, "The essence of the Kingdom of God is the selfless pursuit of loving one another as the Father loves us. John 17:23 tells us that the promised result of such love will transform the world just as Jesus commissioned us to do. John 17 is a movement connecting passionate Christ followers with a heart for unity, reconciliation, and city transformation in Metro Phoenix and beyond."
"Unity is about fixing our eyes on Jesus, submission to one another out of reverence for Christ. It's what I like to call Jesus plus nothing. Many things are very important, but only our shared relationship with Jesus is essential," writes pastor and author Gary Kinnaman.
Speaking of essentials, Pope John Paul II affirmed the words of St. Augustine ...
"Unity in the essentials, diversity in the non-essentials, charity in all things."
On what foundation can the unity Jesus prayed for in John 17 be built upon today? Our Lord said, "every student of Scripture instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who brings out of his storeroom what is new and what is old." (Matt. 13:52)
After centuries of fragmentation of the church into some 30,000 denominations, it seems wise to revisit "what is old" for clues to the restoration of Christian unity - starting with the oldest of Christian creeds - the Apostles Creed and Nicene Creed - which date back to the 3rd century.
As futurist, author and historian James H. Rutz so aptly stated a quarter century ago, 1,700 Years Is Long Enough.
According to Rutz, "Within 30 years of Christ's ascension the gospel was being preached in every outpost of the Roman Empire. Unencumbered by mortgages, committees, staff salaries, the conflicts between choir rehearsal and church softball team practice the 'followers of the Way' blazed a trail of stunning successes."
Imagine a new chapter of church history, beginning now, which brings healing and wholeness within the church first, then spills out into our hurting world.
Joe Tosini explains the John 17 Movement's vision: "The John 17 Movement is a contagious call to all professing Christians to relate together properly, beckoning us to embrace the final prayer of Jesus. On the eve of his death, He pleaded: 'Father may all who believe in me be one so the world will know you sent me.' This final plea stands as the most authoritative strategic direction for followers of Jesus. As we respond, the church - in all her rich diversity - will emerge as the attractive 'city on a hill' potently demonstrating the authenticity of Jesus' claims."
The world is anxiously waiting to see the true church emerge, after 1,700 years of obscurity. If you are interested in becoming part of the answer to Jesus prayer in John 17, do what I did, volunteer to help support the John 17 Movement. Visit john17movement.com
Watch Joe Tosini explain the John 17 Movement from the new film, FUTURE OF THE CHURCH.
P.S. The Future Church Has Finally Arrived!
Scientists tell us that every cell in our body carries in it two DNA codes; one code to bring the cell to maturity and reproduction, and another code to bring the cell into harmony and integration with the entire organism. It's part of God's natural design.
So it is in the spiritual realm. God has placed within every member of the body of Christ an individual destiny of maturity and reproduction and a corporate destiny to integrate with the whole body. This organism, the body of Christ, is called to conform to the head, King Jesus Christ, and then to transform the world into the image of His Kingdom.
The process of coming to spiritual maturity requires: 1) a period of deliverance for the new believer, then 2) discipleship, including mentoring and apprenticeship, only then are we ready for 3) commissioning and deployment, being sent back into our confused and hurting culture.
John 17:14-18 is a restatement of this strategy by our Lord Jesus himself in His priestly prayer for us. Note that maturity, in Jesus' mind, involves a dynamic tension of recognizing: A) God's sovereignty to "Take us out of the world system," and B) our progressive, obedient yielding to the Holy Spirit, taking the world's system of thinking out of us. It then culminates in C) our responsive action to His mandate to go back into the world system to represent the Kingdom of God. (Trust me, this kind of "full" gospel will challenge even a Fortune 500 executive.)
Thank God! The era of spectator Christianity is now ending because the urgency of our present cultural crisis in America and abroad simply won't permit it!
In HOUSES THAT CHANGE THE WORLD Wolfgang Simson writes, "Imagine Christians meeting in your area in two places just like in New Testament days: from house to house and at a large, central place - a modern version of Solomon's colonnades - a big hall or stadium. In the houses they would authentically share their lives, live organic fellowship and thus be a true shopping window of God for the neighborhood."
As leaders and congregations begin to discern their unity of purpose - to advance Christ's Kingdom - they will begin to discover one another. Periodic inter-church celebrations will be the forerunner of citywide corporate gatherings, concerts of prayer, praise and worship that will further unite God's army and rattle the gates of hell.
House churches and small home groups offer healthy family dynamics, participation by all and a safe nest for each person to grow together. It is an organic space in the community, where Christians can share their lives and be accountable to one another. They can focus on the church at the place where we spend most of their time - in our homes.
The citywide church is a unified, public expression of the local church, where all Christians of the city or the region can come together for celebrations. This is the place where we all come together to connect with the larger Body of Christ.
Additional Resources: FUTURE OF THE CHURCH: Lions in the Pews, 1993
THE BIG PICTURE: The Shape of Things to Come, 1995 - Featuring Joe Tosini and over 100 other leaders