The Future Church: What does it mean to be an inclusive Church?

The condition of renewal means you cut your roots – Slavoj Zizek

Once upon a time when we were peripatetic hunter-gatherers, all we knew was travel. Mobility was life. Life was mobility. We only took what we needed. We didn’t consume in excess. Then one day we discovered the art of farming and settling. This simple shift transformed the landscape of how we interacted with the world and one another. This simple shift from constantly moving to immobilisation, would force us into awkward tribal skirmishes even moreso than when we were traveling without the need for a travel agent. The idea of being static and established would also come to taint how we define what it means to be established and non-established. We now think in terms of buildings when we approach ideas. Not movement.

Yet, the early Church philosopher Saul-turned-Paul uses the metaphor of a body when he writes about the Church. What is a body? Something that has blood coursing through its veins, something with a heartbeat and most importantly, something that moves. Mobility. Alive. Breathing. The Church of the future doesn’t need to look like anything of the Church of old, but it can learn from it. It can look to the Church now as something to stare at, analyze and gawk at in the museum of our history. I think this idea of establishment was something that even during the paleolithic era brought more danger than not. I think what we need to rekindle in this new formless Church is a movement.

A church that is inclusive means we can’t allow space for exclusion.

And here is the ironic thing, when we reject something, whether something as simple as an idea or a person there is going to be exclusion. What we have to do is negate the negation when we enter into such crisis points. If we find ourselves as a new experiment in church excluding than we negate not only the act of being inclusive, but we in turn defend exclusion in practice and negate the desire to be inclusive. This is very tricky territory here.

Negate the negation means this: We have to bring the idea of rejection to its furthest possible end, to its own death. And we can’t speed up the velocity of rejections’ self-rejection. But we can allow space for it. If anything, church is definitely a space for death. In this conversation, the assumption of taking it to its furthest possible end is death. To bring rejection to is furthest possible end, means we have to allow space within this new experiment in community for rejection. The only way rejection can reject itself is if we allow it to reject itself. If you are interacting with another person and they disagree with you, this then can be defined as rejection. And if we accept rejection as a valid form of communication, which I think we should, than we also have to accept the possible death of our ideas. We must be willing to engage with one another, not in defense of our ideas, not as an apologist, but as a sacrifice.

Do you remember the ram provided for Abraham in place of Isaac?

This is what is going in here in this dynamic of the future church. Isaac represents our ideas we offer to one another, we bring them to the conversation bound and defined, but also ready to be sacrificed. If the greater good (God/Objective) is in favor of this idea than a ram is provided. The greater good is the aim or the goal of the community you call home. What this also means is that the altar is the tribal objective/direction. We willingly lay down our ideas as an offering, this doesn’t mean we don’t bring them passionately or intentionally. Abraham, I am sure was passionate about his sacrifice. I think this is one step in the right direction in terms of what does an inclusive community look like that follows after Jesus.

So how far do we go in terms of inclusion?

Again. If we start putting fences around our definitions, than the definition we begin with is negated (no longer exists). Some aren’t comfortable with allowing those from other faiths to participate fully with their community and are still adament that the atmosphere represents inclusivity. The flaw in this way of thinking is that this group has defined inclusive. Once you define something you negate it. So, how do we know if we have gone too far? I think this is the wrong question.

Peter, a passionate follower of Jesus asked how far is too far in terms of forgiveness, and Jesus responds by challenging peter with an infinite numerical metaphor. Jesus is essentially telling peter that there isn’t a too far. Jesus negates/reject Peters idea. Peter accepts this negation. So, really there is no too far. The query presumes that there should be; the fear is that a group if too inclusive will become obsolete or amorphous. This possibility is also present within an exclusive group of people and can be seen in some churches today.

We have been sensing something is wrong, and so we dream outside of the box.

So in terms of inclusion, what we come to is a space for inclusive social diversity. Inclusion doesn’t mean we lose our identity, if anything we enhance it by interacting with other identities. I think of the Chimera,the mythical Greek creature that was a hybrid of many animals. It was the contribution of each of these animals that made this character influentially effective (in terms of a post-colonial power). Inclusion can bring this kind of strength to a group. Some are afraid we lose identity, which is a valid concern, but in terms of the Chimera, we gain an identity if not more.

We learn. We grow. We are changed and challenged. We become something we never anticipated.

Something better than before. So rather than a we and them, it now becomes a we. A ‘we’ enhanced by our diversity. The harmony of diversity can only exist if we desire it. Part of the desire comes from a place of informed naivete. We must choose to be naive. Not naive in the child sense of not being aware of ‘stranger danger’, but a naive spirit of childlike re-discovery. Where we actually choose against what the stats say, what the stories tell us, even what our own ego’s whisper at us, we defiantly hope for a better world where church inherently disallows the label. This doesnt mean we lose our personas or give up what we believe, it means we deny the stereotype that we will. It means we look to the expressions of others as a way to learn about ourselves.

Once we make it here, than I think we can make it there.

I think once we learn how to get to a point of harmonious self-submission than we can truly begin engaging on how to make the world a better place. But, once we attain the above, a huge amount of our issues might not exist. I am not naive enough to say that they won’t exist, but am independently naive enough to say it is possible. I look to the church in acts not as a metaphor for what we now deem as a church, but rather a microcosm of how the world is meant to be, what it could look like. People who selflessly give to one another to the point that there is excess. This is why I think in this new future church its imperative that our desires don’t simply empower our own ego’s, but that we have circular desires. what do I mean? I mean that my desires inherently lead to your ideas and your ideas inherently lead to mine and so on and so on. That there is this dance where we willingly participate in to create a diverse space of harmony.

I think these are just a few good places to start for the dream that is the future church.

About George Elerick

George Elerick is a widely sought-after speaker, activist and cultural theorist. He lives in England with his wife and two children. He and his wife run Cross Culture Consultancy (http://www.crosscultureconsultancy.com): A webinar & in-person speaking-based platform to discuss, apply & innovate new methods to respond to some of the world's biggest issues.

George majors on cultural engagement, pop-culture, postmodernism, theology & others. Deborah majors on human rights, gender equality,domestic violence, social justice issues and more. They are available for booking! He has a book out entitled 'Jesus Bootlegged' and has another on the way: Jesus and the Death of Church.

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  • Tim Meadows

    Well said. I think you are spot on. In my experience where we get our backs up against the wall in the church is when we play into those stereotypes–believing that my brother/sister from another tradition does not ultimately share my deepest needs and desires for authentic community. Often where the tension lies in inclusive gatherings is when a stereotype is proven faulty and then demands change because of the encounter. Often this either leads to ego taking over , ie: I am right! and sacrifices our deepest yearning, ie. what is loving. Or we engage a conversation about what we do know of each other and what we do not know. The risk of walking into that kind of community requires vulnerability and openness. It means maybe our dogmas and theo-idols begin to change which then brings us to examine what our base of authority is. It brings us back to square one, are we in this for security or are we in this to encounter God, neighbor and self?

  • http://apprising.org Ken Silva

    “We have to bring the idea of rejection to its furthest possible end, to its own death.”

    But we can’t do this because this is a belief; and you said yourself George: “belief is more like a parasite, it eats away at the structures of dogma & doctrine.”

    http://twitter.com/atravelersnote/status/21535747106

  • George Elerick

    Tim!

    Awesome thoughts and Right on bro. i think all of us do fear intimacy to some extent, we all have some sort of defense mechanism, and i think part of that walking you talk about includes walking away from those defense mechanisms…

  • George Elerick

    Ken!

    Great to see you on here, thanks for the thoughts.

    Yes and No. For me, I define belief as the process of belief. so the deconstruction of belief. whereas most might hear the word and define it to mean ‘i accept this as a valid idea’ – i am directly speaking into the processes of asking the questions of belief. a parasite isn’t something that really stops, it continues to eat away at its host, in this case that is dogma/doctrine. it doesn’t stop. and so belief is the process that spurs us on to the negation. hope that helps!

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  • natalie

    I’m curious how it is that you can use a word (belief) and have an utterly different meaning than the standard definition and expect people to adequately understand your point? I take from this specific article that we must strive towards a point of greater inclusiveness in the body…it would seem to me that if you’re making it up as you go along what you are simply desiring is a church that accepts anything and everything.

  • george

    natalie:

    thanks for the question! i would say that the conversation you are referring to isn’t connected to this point; in terms of what church looks like i am not sure there is an objective framework with which to measure what is acceptable and what is not…i think that comes down to context.

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