The other day I was visiting a parish in Madras. After the service I was talking with the elders. I asked them ‘What function does this church perform?’ They were a bit embarrassed. Then one of them said, ‘It caters for the needs of its members. I said, “Then it should be disbanded.'” (Bishop) Lesslie Newbigin, 1974.
This quote certainly makes you think about the purpose of the church in today’s context. However unfortunately, many people still think the church is a club for ‘do-gooders’, and a place where we can just care for each other inside the four secure (or maybe crumbling ) walls.
This quote from Leslie Newbiggin , addresses the fact that the Church is not about looking after the people who attend this so called ‘exclusive club’… but the primary function of the church is to walk with those who are outside the church, to address injustice, and to reach out to the unlovely.
Whether we like it or not, many Christian churches have developed into ‘Temple People’, putting their efforts into maintaining buildings, looking inward when we should be looking outward. One church I know removed some beautiful stained glass windows and replaced them with plain glass … so they could see the world buzzing about outside the church building during their Sunday service.
The early Church in the New Testament focussed their energy in gathering, praying and discerning, a ‘Tent People’ looking outside as to where to pitch our so called ‘Tent’. Some Churches can be excellent at addressing the needs of people outside the church … they are very switched on and aware of what needs to be done, nevertheless, ‘Tent people’ are not just about doing the caring and serving; Tent people need to be with God , listen to what God is calling them to be, and be flexible and be open enough to move with the times.
‘Tent people’ are nomadic, as they sometimes can be seen as doing things a little differently, nevertheless the words from Newbiggin area real challenge to all of us, … not to be complacent, not to assume we have the right answers, but to listen to the guidance of God’s Spirit that moves deep within us.
God of the Tent and Temple
Help us to be aware of the needs of your world
to Listen , and not to assume we know best.
to Encourage , and not to assume we can do better,
to Love, and not to state conditions .