Friday, March 06, 2009

41. New Gnosticism?

This is one of those words that you tend to hear about in lofty theological or philosophical conversations. Do not dismiss it too quickly though. It has remained hidden from us (no pun intended) for too long. The readers digest version of this word is, physical matter is bad and we need to escape form it. To go a little bit deeper, the human body is bad, and we need to escape from it. To go even deeper, it's what the Gnostic's of John's day were pitching to certain Christian communities. They said "We have the secret to escaping from this evil prison of the material body and the basic elements of the world."

Don't kid yourself and think this is only an issue that "they" had to deal with back in the NT times. No, this is alive and well today. Not necessarily in seed form, but definitely present. For example, it is full blown in how we view eschatology and what will happen when we die. N.T. Wright talks about this in his new book Surprised by Hope. Gnosticism has seeped its way into the root of our theologies, eschatology's, and especially our spirituality.

I want to offer a possible new form of gnosticism. A derivative if you will. Those of us in the simple church movement sort of pride ourselves in not being "institutional" or tied down with programs and structures. Some even say that programs are what you do when you don't know how to listen to Jesus! While I would not go that far, I can see the point behind the statement. There is no doubt in my mind that religion, programs, buildings and structure have a powerful tendency to take over and replace a relationship with God. They can be a crutch, a habit....lets be honest, an idol! That being said, the above mentioned things are not bad in themselves. Institutions, as Mark Willis recently said to me in a chat, boil down to this: People coming together to accomplish something, and doing that something over a long period of time. This is of course the readers digest version. But the point I am getting at here is that you can not escape institutions! Any kind of pattern or habitual habit, from a sociological standpoint, smells of institutionalization. Institutions, like our bodies, are not bad. Our bodies are fallen and have limitations and trappings for sure, but God is for our body and the earth, and will redeem them in the new creation. Institutions, while having some glaring limitations and downfalls, that need to be addressed and called out mind you, are still social realities. They, lik eour bodies, can be instruments of God and can be used by him for his glory. To be totally non-institutional is first of all, from a sociological standpoint naive, and from a theological standpoint, flirting with gnosticism. Institutions are an inevitable byproduct of human action, and they do not need to be escaped from indefinitely, but rather put to proper use. In short, they need to find their rightful place in the Kingdom. I have a few ideas about that rightful place, but God rules over all and will redeem all in the end.

Now I will be the first to say that the conventional style church needs to become self conscious and aware of its institutional limitations. To keep doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results is a definition of insanity (thank you Einstein) Some structures do indeed constrict life and are even void of life. But maybe another approach is to ask ourselves, "What kind of structures allow life to permeate and flourish?" I will no doubt come out on the side of the organic approach to community and leadership, but this should not be too short sighted. We all speak from our gifting and personality. I do believe that organizations can set themselves up in ways that not only allow the life and vitality, already present in people, to flourish. But they can also play a role in nurturing that life as well. It is a reciprocal relationship. The challenge is to discern what structures do this in your context. So, I guess in the context of this discussion, I am an agnostic?

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