As we continue along the societal path leading us further into the “Post-Constantinian-Era” of the Church and society in the West – and I’m thinking primarily of those in the U.S., in more urban areas, and substantially those under 30-years of age – the way we go about doing church, the way we go about influencing society for the good and the beautiful, the way we go about the doing of Jesus’ two Great Commands, and particularly the way we go about evangelism/witness – by necessity will and must adapt and change. This isn’t change for the sake of change, change to attempt to be all hipster-like, change to be on the presumed cutting-edge, or change to accomplish personal or group agendas, but rather change that should naturally come from careful observation, study, participation, and discernment with regard to the dynamic morphing of generational, cultural, perceptual, and/or ambition-al sensibilities and understandings we have of ourselves, our cohorts, and our world. After all, while we are called not to be of the world, we are certainly not called to be other than or out of the world!
So, what does this all mean? Since we have entered into the cultural milieu where a Judeo-Christian understanding of humanity, our world, and our place in it is no longer the foundation upon which our society revolves with regard to so many things – ethics, morals, sense of purpose, how we relate to other people(s), concepts of freedom and integrity, material things, and our inner-selves – let along God – we must understand and re-engage the central purposes of the Church – the institutions that embody the Mystical Body of Christ in the world. What are the purposes of the Church to be re-engaged?
I posit this: to begin, that which has endured through the centuries of testing – there is gravity here. What purposes have been tested and shown to endure? The primary purpose of the Church is to worship God and be present with God in His desire for the good of the created order. Secondly, the Church is to be the primary conduit through which people come into a salvific relationship with God through Jesus Christ, period. Thirdly, the Church is to be the place where people are formed and re-formed into the Life-in-Christ by way of the transformative working of the Holy Spirit in our individual and collective lives. This happens as we give ourselves individually to the
practice of the enduring Christians Spiritual Disciplines and as we collectively provide place for the learning of, the habitation of, and the practice of such disciplines. The Church provides for the practice of these disciplines. Once these three enduring proposes of the Church are engaged heartily, even if imperfectly (which is inevitable), then we become the image of God and go about being a witness for Christ’s desire among the people we engage every day. The way we are a witness – doing evangelism – changes, naturally. The way we care for the poor and needy will change, organically. The way we campaign against injustice changes, fundamentally.
The authentic Christian response to the profound needs of the outcasts and marginalized and the way to come against injustice can only happen after we come to love God with all of our being – then we are able to love our neighbor as ourselves. The central purposes of the Church are not social work and political activism – sorry. Those things are born authentically for the Christian out of worship, formation, and self-denial. Frankly, the world does not need the Church to care for the needy or to champion justice. There are plenty of NGO’s and non-profits (religious or secular) that are very good at this. The world does need the Church to know God and to be transformed for living “life to the full.”
Worship/Prayer, Formation/Discipleship, Selflessness/Self-Denial,
Witness/Evangelism are the watchwords, and IMHO the more helpful progression
I am convinced that once we re-engage the core practices of the Faith, we will realize again the Church’s positive influence for the shaping of the world by God’s design, which is good, beautiful, and peaceful. Although, for the time being as we rebuild trust and authentic alternatives to the prevailing world systems to which we have become beholden, growth will be small and under the radar (because we need to regain our sense of purpose, value, and worth not born out of the seeking of societal approval and affirmation). For those of us who are after such things, we will need to stay under the radar to a degree because such challenges to the status-quo always gather together those who oppose and resist. So be it. We work with and along-side all
who wish God’s purposes to be realized, but the next step in the reshaping and reforming of the Church will take place with or without us – I want to be part of the reshaping!
I think here, in this messiness, is where I want to find situated the Imago Dei Initiative!