I have been wanted to write these words since the first days of Lausanne Congress at Cape Town. I have been listening to the many lectures and testimonies that came to me by the Internet. When I saw the photos and videos, it seems that you are having a good and refreshing time at Cape Town. However, I am afraid that we lose these great opportunity of go deeper in some serious and critical issues related to the challenge of to be the Church of Christ in the present historical moment.
I confess I am a little disappointed because I have listened the same things I use to heard for decades here in Brazil, speciality in evangelization congresses occasions: about the threats and opportunities of Globalization, the ever-present statistics of unreached peoples, the need of reconciliation, the environment crisis, etc, etc. All these is important, but I think we have to balance the discussion with others so important or even more important issues. It is fine, and easy, to talk about Globalization, North and South Churches, etc. Generally, they are treated as “outside” or “external” issues.
But maybe we should be courageous and transparent to deal with the urgent and critical issue of the Wineskin: the structures of our ecclesiastical groups, our untouchable traditions, the power relations inside the church, the roles of pastor and christian leaders in general for the present historical moment.
There is nothing wrong with the wine of the Gospel. We all agree with this. There is a problem (or problems) with the our world. We also all agree with this. But we can’t forget that the bridge between the wine and the lost world is made by the Wineskin we produce. The very fact that the wineskin is always a man-made artifact should lead us to in constant revision of the adequacy of the wineskins we are using to communicate the gospel to people outside the church. To reflect upon the adequacy of wineskin is to think in terms of “way of” – way of life, way of thinking, way of organize the church, way of deals with power (ecclesiastical and political powers), way of approach people with others faiths, and so on.
Every time peoples are disregarded and considered less important then structures and traditions; every time the leadership appears to be intolerant and closed toward those who bring sincere and uneasy questions about the “way of” the church; every time the church refuses to dialogue with those people; every time the church is so absorbed in its own programs and agendas up to the point of don’t care about the suffering and anguish of people outside (and inside) the church; Every time things like these became a routine in our communities, we should take this as an indication that the wineskin now has its own life and became so inflexible, and turn out to be useless to the Kingdom of God and that it’s time to start looking for a better and new wineskin.
To recognize this, is an urgent task for the church, although not easy. That’s why this task require courage from the church. We should ask the Lord the necessary courage and wisdom to accomplish the task of review the wineskin. That’s what I think Lausanne Congress should be: a review opportunity.
We need to stop and listen to the people. We need to approach people with an open mind and an open heart, and be prepared to be transformed at the same time we are eventually used by God to transform the other. It’s not possible to continue to be the same when we are engaged in a real relationship. Something (inside and/or outside) out to be changed in us. But for this, we should take risk. Every real and substantive relationship involve some kind and some level of risk. And we need to be conscious of this if we are to communicate the gospel to the world. There is no way out.
This is precisely the problem. We are a generation that dislike or fear of taking risks. Most of our time and efforts are dedicate to minimize the risk. All kind of risk. Outside the church, we dedicate ourself to apply diligent effort to preserve the value of our money in the financial market (we make use of innovative financial tools like Derivatives). Everything should be put in second plan in order to protect our financial resources. Here there is no difference between christians and non-christians. And you will find a plethora of “biblical” stewardship arguments to justify this. Inside the church, we are quick to hurt people (newcomers that don’t know the rules) in the name of a battle for the sound doctrine. As we don’t want to take risk, we prefer to proactively be in defense and disarticulate the “enemy”. We are soldiers. We all were trained in Sunday School studies to react this way. We never learn to trust. Everybody is suspect by our sight. We don’t care about the very person. No matter his or her existential drama or his or her legitimate questions. Where Jesus would see legitimate questions full of real drama and suffering, we just see risks: the possibility of things to be out of control. After all, for the average mentality, the leadership capacity of the christian leader should be demonstrated by his/her ability to keep things under control. All we are interested in is to protect the reputation of the local church, or our own reputation as church leader.
Maybe Jesus himself would not enjoy good reputation among us. Maybe we would find him politically incorrect. I person without discretion, a very inconvenient person.
I would say that the church whose main concern is to scape or avoid risks is not in a good position to give testimony of Jesus Christ to the present generation. This church tends to close in itself and create its own world and its own language, unintelligible, a “ghetto” dialect. A case for insipid salt.
The fear of loosing control (by taking risk) produce a paralyzing effect upon the church and lead it to a closing process. Because of its obsessive desire to keep itself uncontaminated, it ends up losing contact with the surround reality. But in the end of day, this attitude shows up as a trap that sucks out all life and vigor, mischaracterizing the church as the body of Christ, the presence of God on earth. We have to remember that the “perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4.18).
Our problem is not that we create wineskins, but that we have to work these wineskins so they are as flexible as the new wine of the Gospel will require.
The problem is when the institution went on to fight the life it should protect. The institution exists to help the life to flow and when it is no longer allowing the free action of Jesus Christ, it has to be changed. Because the wineskin can not disturb the wine of the Gospel. The wineskin is there for the wine can be tasted in its aroma and flavor.
Every institution has to be constantly remodeled so that the wine may have a place of protection and enjoyment. A Chinese saying goes like this: “We always need to change to continue in the same place”. We need to change our format constantly so that our content is preserved.
The Kingdom of God is seen in the relationships we build. The problem is that our evangelization gives a good news that has no corresponding reality among us as the church. “The Kingdom of God has come.” Where? Show me.
When the church reveals the fact that the Kingdom of God is among us, so naturally the Spirit begin to add to the church those who are being saved.
So, I appeal to you, bothers and sisters, to take this unique opportunity at Cape Town to go deeper and demonstrate the necessary courage that the historical moment demands of us, and openly to face our own misdirection, arrogance and blindness and, by the grace of God, to repent of our overconfidence in our many strategic planning and to start to walk side by side with the millions of hopeless walkers on this shared existential road.