We have recently downsized from our old family home to a unit about half the size. The hardest thing has been choosing what to keep and what to let go of. After our first attempt to cull our stuff, I was feeling quite discouraged and said to Michelle, “Just as well we have the old ute (it has a canopy) and the camping mattress. Once we move and put all our stuff in the villa, we will be able to sleep in the ute. Because there will be no room for us in the villa”.
The good news is that we culled again, and again, and we actually fitted in, and we have not needed to sleep in the back of the old ute.
I look at the Church and sometimes I wonder if we have ‘downsized the Christian Faith’ to make it fit.
Then I read Mark 2:21-22. and I suspect that Jesus also thinks that the Gospel gets downsized to fit our concept of religion. In these two verses, Jesus us two analogies. The first is sewing new fabric onto old garments and the second is of new wine and old wineskins.
In both these analogies, the expected result is a disaster. In patching garments, shrinkage is a big issue. The patch might be the right size when it is attached. However, the old garment has already shrunk, but not the new patch. So when the garment next gets washed, the new patch will shrink and tear away from the garment, resulting in even more damage.
We don’t do wineskins these days, though it seems that Jesus expected us to understand that new wine would expand, perhaps with a little fermenting and split the skins. There was a time when people would try to make ginger beer at home. I have never tried, however, Michelle remembers as a teenager staying with her aunty that they did brew up and bottle ginger beer. A night or two later and their sleep was disrupted by a series of explosions coming from the kitchen cupboard.
The downsizing of the Gospel begins with our desire to put God in a box called Sunday. We think of buildings and ceremonies as we try to contain God with our sense of dignity. The Spirit of God cannot be contained to bricks and mortar and dusted off once a week on a Sunday morning. The Holy Spirit just keeps on busting out.
The real Church is the Holy Spirit filling the hearts and lives of people. And, shock, horror, there is only one Church in the world. It began on the Day of Pentecost, will continue until the Lord returns for His people, and consists of every man, woman, and child who calls upon the name of Jesus. It can never be restricted by signage or human organization.
Others downsize God through their understanding of mission. For some, this is where God is downsized to an idea that conforms to the understanding of a godless society. However confirming the gospel to a godless worldview results in a godless Christianity, which isn’t really Christian at all.
The ‘Bible-believers’ are not without blame either. In trying to plan mission by a set of principles, or imitating so-called successful Churches, they negate the role of the Holy Spirit in Evangelism. Far too many Church Growth success stories of the 20th Century were nothing more than episodes in the ‘member-go-round’.
We are called in Scripture, by the Lord Himself, to be His witnesses. We are called to do this where we are and where we travel. The growth of the Church is the job of Jesus. He said, “I will build My Church…”, and He does this through seeking and saving the lost. And yes, the Gates of Hell will not prevail against it.
We must never seek to downsize Jesus, or His Church, or His Mission. For the Kingdom of God and its Good News will never be contained by our rules, by our understanding, or by our plans. There is but one Church and that Church belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ.