As it turns out chapter 2 is all about the role of Christendom and institutional Christianity. Who knew? So, again I will outline the chapter and then give you my thoughts on it.
Hirsch begins by arguing that the natural way of things is to default back to that which is comfortable and known. He quotes the great philosopher Bono from U2, “stuck in a moment and now [we] can’t get out of it”. Whenever we seek to try something new we invariably default back to what has proven to work.
This is especially true in Christendom where the institutional concept of what it means to be a Christian is so deeply ingrained in our minds and limits our imaginations.
Therefore, the way that change can come about is by not simply adjusting the programs but stepping into the very heart of what it means to be the church. Hirsch provides a great illustration, that of the the computer. It goes like this: programs (interface with user) -> operating system (mediates between programs and machine) -> machine language/hardware (basic code). He then parallels the church: programs/ministry -> theological ideas -> ecclesial mode.
His argument is simple. If you simply change the software on an out of date computer you don’t actually fix anything, if anything you make it run SLOWER. However, if you change out the hardware (improve the processor, RAM, HD, etc…) that’s when real change has taken place. This is the same with Christianity. We must speak to the central issue to provoke real change. The missional church is one that doesn’t simply change behavior or programs to become missional one must change the very understanding of what it means to be the church (ecclesial mode).
This central core is called the Systems Story. Basically, one must step in and change the entire story that a community is operating on to bring about any kind of change. This means the very heart and motivation of what it means to be the church has to change in the heart and mind of those IN the community. When the story or the driving concept of what it means to be the church changes then a community is freed up to imagine a new (old?) paradigm.
Hirsch then argues that the Christian faith was never intended to be an institution, a Christendom but that it was always intended to be in “holy rebellion” against the elemental principles of this world. He argues that Jesus, Paul, and God the father himself are all holy rebels.
This he says is the heart of “prophetic religion”. He quotes C.S. Lewis to summarize the section, “there exists in every church something that sooner or later works against the very purpose for which it came into existence. So we must strive very hard, by the grace of God to keep the church focused on the mission that Christ originally gave to it.”
The chapter closes with a look at the state of the Western church using a model of missionary engagement, m0, m1, m2, m3, m4. These markers represent the barriers that exist for a people group to authentically engage in the gospel.
m0–1 represents people who can understand the gospel, speak the same language, are of the same class, nationality, and so on. These are people who are most likely your friends.
m1–2 is the average person who doesn’t know Jesus. These people run the gamut from being somewhat spiritually interested to not at all. But have some experience, good or bad, with the church. Hirsch says that you should stop by your local pub to meet these folks.
m2–3 is the group of people who have no idea about Jesus or have been severely marginalized (i.e. the gay community). This group of people is definitely antagonistic.
m3–4 is the group of people that are ethnically or religiously opposed and seriously hinders meaningful dialogue (i.e. Muslims or Jewish people).
The central question of this chapter is simple: If the world has changed since 313 when Constatine came to power (and it has) why does the church engage with the world as if it hasn’t?
Many will say that they church has changed over the years. But, not really. It’s just gotten bigger, bigger, and bigger. The promotion has gotten better. But the western church really isn’t that different from what it was 50, 100, or 500 years ago. It is institutionalized religion where nothing radical for the most part happens.
We live in a new world with new rules and an emerging culture. Francis Schaeffer spoke about this reality in his text, The God Who is There. The amazing thing is that this book was written in the late 60’s. The book is relevant for today. Please read it.
I for one want to figure out what it means to be the church instead of how to do church.