I’m onto the final chapter in the book Mission Shaped Questions, edited by Stephen Croft.
In this chapter Steven Croft asks the question – what is church? Are there any defining values or practices that are essential?
Picking out some basics from the early church, and from how Jesus dealt with his disciples, Croft brings out some (fairly obvious) points: Church is a community centred around Jesus. The disciples, like the church are called to Jesus to be sent out. At the heart of the early church activities are prayer, teaching, breaking bread together and fellowship. (Incidentally, the greek work for fellowship is koinonia which is often translated ‘communion’. There’s a great article about that by Father Stephen)
In any new expression of church, this can be summed up into having a ‘Up’ dimension, an ‘In’ dimension, an ‘Out’ dimension and an ‘Of’ dimension. These are the same as Mike Breen’s suggestions from his book The Passionate Church (the chapter on the triangle), except Breen doesn’t have the ‘Of’.
In a nutshell:
- Up – an aspect of journeying towards God in worship and discipleship
- In – relationships/fellowship/communion together which reflects the communion with God and God’s communion with himself in the Trinity.
- Out – mission focussed
- Of – this is the one Breen don’t have, but it reflects what that individual church belongs to, traditionally, denominationally, and as the worldwide church. I might also add that the church is ‘of’ the culture it is set in too
Croft also suggest that a fresh expression of church must work hard to show why it is/is not doing what it is doing.
A new community will need to go back to first principles and discover why and how that practice came about and why it remains a good and helpful common discipline. (p196)
Consequently, he sees this being a three way discussion between scripture, tradition and the new community. Again, I would suggest that the surrounding culture should enter the discussion too.
All in all, it seems is a great place to start, freeing the church of all those things that we often think of as church but which aren’t really essential.
It involves a letting go of the old and persistent paradigm that the real church is the assembly that meets on Sunday mornings fr the parish Eucharist in a stone building with wooden pews… (p195)
If the only things that are essential are scripture, prayer, fellowship, breaking break, all centred aroudn coming to and going out from Jesus, a fresh expression then has much leeway in determining new ways to be church and engage with those who have never set foot in a traditional church building. It is going back to first principles and starting from scratch with the added benefit of 2000 years of Christian experience and tradition.