Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Notes on Being the Church, Part II: The Church as Faith in Formation

There is no “having arrived” in the church. Not only are we all at different levels by virtue of how long we have been believers—and even those who are guests should feel welcome and not compelled to be “ushered along” to a “better” place, hence friendship’s proper place—but as we think of the various paths and detours in each person’s journey, an elder or saint in the faith may very well be wrestling with issues that seem trivial or basic to someone young or new to the faith. This is the very nature of the church’s life as having and living out a story, that each believer’s own story is caught up into a larger story which welcomes and makes space for the truth of where we find ourselves.

The church, then, in imitation of God, creates space in its own life for the reality of persons’ lives and experiences. In the household of faith, as a mother the church nurtures and draws forth the ongoing formation and maturity of her children—not with a final destination in mind, but in trust that God himself, by his Spirit, is leading and guiding the way. Faith in formation is primarily the work of the Spirit, but God invites his people into participation in mutual edification, the building up of one another in Christ, such that we see that my faith is bound up with your faith, my story with your story, my salvation with your salvation.

In practice this requires that there be nothing “out of bounds,” no rote spiritual checklist or “church answers” required—no life-snuffing dogmatism, in other words, but only life-enriching orthodoxy. Orthodoxy properly understood is both the confessional “marking out” of the community’s life and faith, and the minimal “stuff” of what it means to live and believe as a Christian. Though it certainly can become burdensome law, ideally orthodoxy is that to which we always turn and return—that which, like Scripture, is endlessly generative and perpetually resourceful, so that when we ask the “out of bounds” questions (Is there a God? Did Jesus rise from the dead? Should we go to war?) we know what and who ought to be the ground of our inquiry. That is to say, the best form of hospitality is not no-place but home-place: even as we walk humbly and graciously with one another, perhaps out of the house, around town, even out of the country—seeing, at times, with new eyes the limits of home, how the boundaries might need to be redrawn, how the people included might need to be expanded, how habits might need to be revised—we know with confidence that family will accompany us on the way, that new insights and experiences will be heard, that an open door and lavish meal is always waiting when we return.

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Therefore, our working thesis will be:

The church’s diversity is no more evident than in the varying stages of spiritual maturation that characterize its members. The life of the church, therefore, rightly welcomes and facilitates the growth of disciples, young and old, especially those whose faith is young or frail, by creating space for non-pressuring and unintimidating learning and sharing to occur between people in honesty, truth, confidence, and affirmation.


  1. Great Post. I'd want to press you for a bit more about how you are working with idea of orthodoxy.


    Russ Kirby
    Director of Student Services, ACU Graduate School of Theology