Thinking Church

This title could have two meanings. It could mean thinking about the Church, where the word “thinking” is a verb. “Thinking” could also be an adjective; i.e. that the church is characterised by the fact that it thinks.

Today I want to think about a church that thinks. More accurately I want to think about a church that “theologizes”; it does theology. Yesterday I talked about kinking the theologians out of their Ivory Towers and onto the street. The theologian should not be thinking theologically but the church community should.

When I say, “theologize” or “do theology” I am not meaning reading endless theological books and discussing endless theological doctrine. What I mean it that the church must be ready to think about their mission in the light of the context and the gospel.

William Temple famously said that the church exists for the sake of the non-member. That is true, however, more accurately the church exists for the glory of God and therefore for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The church has the task of announcing God’s gospel in the world.

The church has the task of announcing God’s gospel in the world.

This phrase is interesting and often misunderstood at almost every word. “The Church” is not the pastors or the evangelists, or not even individuals, but the whole church. In its words, works and wonders the church announces and lives out the good news of God’s purpose.

“Announcing” does not only mean verbal proclamation but also in its actions and traditions, the gospel is to be visible to the world. Now, don’t get me wrong, verbal proclamation will always be necessary. I don’t agree with St. Francis’ famous axion, “preach the gospel always, if necessary use words”. Words will always be necessary, if not then you are in danger of being simply seen as a “do-gooder”.

“God’s gospel” is not a truncated, “believe in Jesus as your saviour and you will go to heaven when you die”. The gospel is not so much taking souls to heaven as bringing heaven to earth. “May you kingdom come, and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. This is Jesus’ prayer to being the values of heaven–of justice, peace, love and forgiveness–to earth. This means living out those values in the church.

“The world” is the whole world and especially the world of the suffering. This brings us back to the thinking church. All of this living the gospel is done in the context. Therefore the context is an integral part of theological reflection. So many theological books seem to leave out the context in which the church lives.

When we go to a corporate worship service, we do not “leave our problems at the door” this is the place where we bring our lives to God. Our lives together can then begin to reflect and announce his kingdom.

In Ephesians 3:18-19 Paul prays that “may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ“. It is only together when the church thinks together that we can know the dimensions of God’s  love is for his church but also for the world.