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Becoming the Authentic Church, by Gordon Cosby

Becoming the Authentic Church

Written by gordon April 29th, 2006 in Saturdays

At the heart of each of us is a compelling hunger for ways to live and be in relationship that are genuine. Too often we choose ways that enslave rather than free us, and so it is with churches as well.

What the world longs for are people and churches who have found their authentic nature, who bear such a striking resemblance to Jesus that people sense they have encountered him when they encounter us.

How to facilitate such an encounter — how to become so much like Jesus that our very way of being comforts the world's brokenhearted and confronts the world's broken systems — is a key question for all of us who want to put following Jesus at the center of our lives.

If ever there were a time for the church universal to become more truly the body of Christ, to find ways to embody the life and ministry of Jesus, that time is now as a culture of violence and hopelessness grows. We desperately need transforming encounters with Jesus and with each other, encounters that will shake us at our foundations and compel us to become our authentic selves — the loving, reconciling people we have been created to be.

The structures — the containers — change, but the message and mission of Jesus do not. Finding creative, life-giving ways to love God and each other as we have been loved — creating spaces in which that healing love can be expressed and extended — is the primary task set before us now. We must find ways to make Jesus real for all of us.

What I imagine is a revitalized and committed people who take Jesus seriously, joining a movement that is already underway, a movement toward recovery from the culture's addictive pull, a healing movement that lifts up all who touch our life together.

In this movement, those of us who have borne an unfair proportion of the world's pain unite in compassionate community with those of us who have ignored and even perpetrated some of that pain, and we rediscover our oneness, becoming who we truly are as God's beloved family.

What will be the identifying marks of this sort of healing community? The "authentic church" is one that seeks to . . .

In love and through love, the new community is created. God, who is by nature unlimited love, draws us to let our partial, limited love unfold in depth until we reach our full capacity for giving ourselves to God and to the totality of everything and everyone that God has created. In our present wounded, damaged, distorted condition, it is difficult to imagine what this sort of beloved community might look like or how we even would begin to commit ourselves to it, but we open ourselves to the impossible, trusting the Source of love to show us the way.

Too often we fashion Jesus in our own image and then wonder why there is no radical world change. The authentic Jesus is not in pursuit of privilege and power. The authentic Jesus does not condone violence but is the embodiment of love, embracing all people equally with mercy and the hope of transformation. The authentic Jesus confronts our addictions to the culture — our cravings for money, prestige, control, security — and the systems that create and sustain them. The authentic Jesus says no to the world's power and yes to God's power. There is only one real Jesus into whose being we hope to abandon ourselves, dying to our illusions and letting our true selves be resurrected in him who is the world's hope. Together we will seek to deepen inwardly and live outwardly his nonviolent, healing nature.

The world has been damaged severely by the lie that we are meant to be separate from each other, that we are not bound together eternally as the children of one God. The authentic church will be a diverse body, interconnected and interdependent. The diversity will be of every sort — race, culture, creed, gender, economics, sexual orientation, age, political affiliation, level of education, etc. Even persons of other religious faiths, or none, can find themselves at home in the authentic church because Jesus Christ, with whom we are deepening in relationship, insists that we belong to the totality, the whole family of God.

We are the recipients of God's atonement — literally at-one-ment — and we will seek to live in this reality by being reconciled to the diverse family of God. The authentic church will create structures and ways to practice reconciliation — to be no longer strangers but friends in God's beloved community. As we learn to trust each other, we will stop living in isolation and fear and will begin to experience true communion.

We cannot keep what we are unwilling or unable to give away. The authentic church shares its life not by telling others what to believe or by giving them helpful tools to make it in the world, but simply by being together as a sign in the world that love is possible. As we grow increasingly aware of our own wounds, we will vulnerably open ourselves to one another, confessing both our weaknesses and our strengths. Thus, we will find ourselves being liberated to become more deeply at home with God, with ourselves and with each other.

Often we have been timid about our calling to pursue justice in the face of powers and principalities that disinherit and disown us from our rightful place at God's welcome table. Through the power of nonviolent love, the authentic church will bring pressure to bear on systems of the world that are unjust. We will challenge those in political power to serve with conviction and to listen to and empower each person's voice. The authentic church will join with others who are working for systemic change, ready always to take the risks of love, even risking persecution for the sake of God's justice flowing like a mighty river.

It is my heartfelt belief that the world is crying out with urgent longing for us to rise up and claim our true nature: "For all creation stands on tiptoe waiting for the sons and daughters of God to come into their own" (Romans 8:19).

Will we accept the challenges of our calling?

What structures and processes will we need?

How do we begin?

Gordon Cosby is the founding pastor of The Church of the Saviour and a member of the Friends of Jesus Church.

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