I would imagine that, for many people, Church has become synonymous with the status quo. After all, Christian communities have, throughout history, often been the most vocal defenders of the way things are. For evidence of this look no further than the position many Christians have taken on equality issues, whether it be racial, gender, or LGBTQ people. While there have been pockets of Christian communities that have been on the leading edge of such movements, the Church, writ large, has not been.
This hasn’t always been the case. The roots of the Christian community are steeped in subversion, a refusal to accept that the way things are, are the way they must be. A cursory glance of the book of Acts shows our spiritual forebearers being thrown in jail, publicly maligned, and even killed because they refused to accept the status quo. Christianity, in its nascent form, was rebellious.
Then Constantine “converted.” Then Christians were given the backing of the empire. Then the Christian community had a vested interest in keeping things the way they were, because the way things were was good for business. Thus, the Church in many places, has been a defender, not a challenger, of the status quo.
But yesterday, I had this profound experience as we were singing at MCC. We were singing a song called One Thing Remains, and there was a line I’ve heard dozens of times, but it grabbed my attention, as if I’d just heard it for the first time. It went like this:
On and on and on and on it goes
Before, it overwhelms and satisfies my soul
And I never, ever, have to be afraid
One thing remains
So, one thing remains.
This one thing, the one thing that makes us unafraid, is the love of God. This complete, whole love drives away our fear, brings light into our darkness. Then, after singing this song, we celebrated the Eucharist together. We were given bread and wine, and invited to internalize them, to make these symbolic elements part of us.
Yesterday at MCC, we were told not to be afraid, and then we celebrated the Eucharist.
And it hit me like a ton of bricks: this was act of subversion.
We were subverting a culture that excels in making us afraid. Seriously, turn on the news. Listen to our presidential candidates. Talk to your neighbor. Ask your third cousin twice removed on your mother’s side. We are being conditioned to be afraid.
We are being told to fear
people of differing political perspectives,
people with different religious convictions,
people with different skin color,
and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Be afraid, we are told. Be very, very afraid.
Add to this the way we are being told how to “fix” the problem, how we can be really great. We need to be stronger. We need to assert power over our enemies and allies alike. We need to distance “them.” We need to become wealthier. We need to dominate.
Yet, yesterday at MCC I was reminded that God is love–whole, complete love. And this kind of love that God is drives away fear (1 John 4v8). To stand in the midst of a fear based culture and declare that we won’t be afraid, because Love brought us into this world, and this Love will sustain us, is a defiant, subversive act.
Then, to follow such a declaration by taking bread and wine, broken and poured out, is to insist that this is how the world will be healed. The world won’t be saved by another empire drunk on its own power and importance. The world won’t be mended by more fractures and divisions. The world will be saved, healed, and restored through generous, self-giving love. The kind of love that we see in Jesus, naked and bleeding, praying for his executioners.
Yesterday, at MCC, I was reminded just how subversive Church could be. I was reminded that, in our culture, refusing fear and celebrating the counterintuitive way the world can be healed is a defiant act, indeed.
So, let’s keep being defiant.
When we are handed fear, let’s reject it in favor of love.
When we are prodded toward division, let’s seek understanding.
When we are sold the myth of redemptive violence, let’s reject it in favor of restoration and peacemaking.
When we are told that greatness is defined by might and wealth, let’s choose the definition Jesus gave us: service and compassion.
The world needs defiant, subversive communities that seek to infuse it with hope, peace, generosity, faith, and most of all, love.
Let’s be those kinds of people in the world, shall we?
3 thoughts on “Getting Back to Our Roots: The Church As a Subversive Community”
Thanks so much for this exciting, scary, challenging message, Joshua. Up here in Canada, we have been listening to the barrage of Trump fanaticism, the gut-wrenching reports of senseless massacres, the circling the wagons by frightened people, coming from south of the border (not to mention the horrors that take place daily in other parts of the world). We want USA to be a great leader in human rights, equal opportunity, and justice for all… all things that are at the heart of Christ’s message… and all being torn apart by ignorance fear that breeds hatred. I believe that if Christians everywhere were to be true to Jesus’ calling, we could turn things around. It means stepping way out of comfort zones, away from the places of power and protection, speaking truth to power. I want this for Canada too.
Joshua, it gives me hope to know that you are speaking out, and there are people like you in the middle of the phobias of modern America. You are the leaven in the loaf, and with the subversive and defiant love of Christ, we hold out hope for the triumph of love.
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Thank you so much, Larry! Appreciate the support and encouragement very much!
Hi Joshua. In Googling “Subversive Church” I came across your blog. Just wanted to let you know that I have a blog and Facebook page with this title. My goal is to change the model of the church of the 21st century, in its interior and mission, to reflect what the Jesus movement was like in the first century.