November 22, 2017

Subversive Orthodoxy

I've recently been reading the works of Kenneth Leech, a priest in the Church of England who worked throughout his career in rough neighborhoods of London. In a few of his books, he writes that if the Church hopes to live into its calling by God we need to create new Christian communities. He defines these new communities by what he calls the "marks of redeemed communities." His most succinct writing on this can be found in his book, Subversive Orthodoxy. Well worth the read.

What Leech describes in his vision for new communities could be applied to any established faith community. In some cases, the effort to shift culture would be time and cost expensive. But certainly worth it. I assume that due to the inertia of too many established congregations Leech argues for starting from scratch! Nonetheless, what Leech calls "redeemed communities" could easily define what some of us call, missional communities. I thought I'd offer some brief thoughts on his "marks".

Leech believes that these communities ought to be defined by baptism. Dallas Willard talks about baptism being initiation into the community of faith. Initiation is fitting here. Leech is saying that these communities need to take seriously what membership to a community means. It isn't a country club it isn't a religious consumable. Church of the Savior in Washington, DC is lovely example of a community that took "initiation" quite seriously. Their sober approach radically changed members and the community around them.

The Lord's Table reminds us of the horror Christ went through on our behalf and reminds us of the dream God has for the world. It re-orients us. William Stringfellow writes about how weekly worship, and communion in particular, is to change how we look at the world and how we engage it. In another time, Sören Kierkegaard wrote about how worship is not just a routine event but ought to shape how we live our lives. In short, we need spiritual rhythms and acts that remind us why we're Christians in the first place and change how we live.

Reading and studying the entirety of Scripture, praying its prayers are, as Leech argues, at the center of the life of these communities. These communities seek to understand how the various writers from different places and times weave together, "harmonize" with each other, to tell an integrated Story of God's People.

This might be one of favorite "marks" from Leech. He states that these communities need to be spaces where truth is sought and debate is welcome. Abstraction is avoided and the community engages in what he calls a "spirituality of struggle." In a culture in which we increasingly avoid at best and demonize at worst those we disagree with, this is truly a subversive vision of community.

Leech does not mince words. As he puts it, Jesus hung out with "riff-raff." This should be our company as well. He argues for communities that do not work for inclusive language but inclusive people. He does not hope for communities that use the right language but are made up of the right mix of people. I say this all the time, but this is the biggest difference between the tradition, ethical and moral debates we read of in Paul's letters: they're discussing communities that are already made of a diverse group of people. We argue about ideas in the absence of a diverse group.

Drawing from Walter Brueggemann's work, Leech argues that these communities worship, fellowship and seek justice in anticipation of God's dream for the world. A sense of expectation, the centrality of God's vision for the world is always at the center their common life.

Speaking of anticipation, we are about to enter the season of Advent. I love this time of year and it is all about anticipation. If Leech's marks spark an idea for you, if you would like to start a community of anticipation–even during Advent!–than you might want to consider joining our 3-part workshop on starting missional communities coming up soon. Just a few spaces left.

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