I’m currently reading through the book Mission Shaped Questions, edited by Stephen Croft.
In the second chapter Martyn Atkins asks the question, what is church? What is its essence? What attributes are important?
“The church has no essence ‘in itself’ as it were. Rather, its essence necessarily derives from the Christian Godhead, and therefore the nature and life of the Church is created and configured by the life and character of the Christian Godhead. To use theological shorthand, theology – read mainly through the lens of missiology – produced ecclesiology, rather than vice versa.”
This observation of Atkins is freeing for the church when coming to think about what is important in church congregations and fresh expressions. If the essence of the Church is tied to who God is, then the purpose and work of the church must be tied to those things God sees as important. The church is involved in the mission of God (missio Dei). The fact that the Church is derived from God means it must be contextual – fitting into the culture it is set in. Atkins doesn’t spell out how to do this, instead he delves in more depth into who God is and what His mission is. And it seems that Jesus talked a lot about the kingdom. A right understanding of the nature and consequences of the kingdom can help us understand what church should be about. It enlarges the vision beyond just evangelism and conversion.
“Sharing with God in bringing in the kingdom involves every facet of human life, the whole of life, in all creation.”
Near the end of his chapter Atkins looks very briefly at some of the defining practices that have been common to most churches throughout history and fresh expressions in particular. He sees sharing bread and wine to be important in remembrance of Christ, whether informally or formally. He states that most Christian groups baptise people upon initiation – sometimes in fonts, sometimes in rivers, seas, or swimming pools. Nearly all churches take hospitality and community seriously (the ones that don’t tend to diminish).
It is not a surprise that the aspects that Atkins has picked out can be seen in abundance in the New Testament.
one final quote:
“The challenge of fresh expressions in a mised economy for most of us lies not so much in a refusal to inhabit these practices per se, but in accurately distinguishing between these practices and the [existing] structures and rules in which they take place, especially when [these rules] seem to hamper rather than enable participation in the missio Dei”