Church as Sign, Not Solution

Church as Sign, Not Solution June 15, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-05-16 at 7.04.53 PMBy Joe James, the Education minister at the Southside Church of Christ in Rogers Arkansas

SMcK: I want to express my gratitude to Joe James for this exceptional set of solid discussions about the praxis of table.

Trusting the Table (5) – The Church is a Sign, Not a Solution

This post wraps up my series, “Trusting the Table.” My previous posts have merely been the long road to this one, to bring me to a place to be able to make sense of this statement: The church is not a solution, it’s a sign. Before I explain that, here is the path that has brought me here:

  1. I am convinced that the church cannot afford to be either conservative or progressive in our worldview. Labeling others, or ourselves, conservative or liberal does little good to address the mission we have been called to in this world.
  1. The conservative worldview falls short because it roots its hopes in the status quo of some moment in the past. But scripture warns of the folly of “glory days” thinking.
  1. The progressive worldview falls short because it places its hopes in the future of our own making. But it is the most ancient of all lies, “You shall not die.”
  1. The Table is the “third way” between these two options. The Table trusts in God’s grace as a means of reconciliation rather than our own political devices.

My trouble with Christians being devotees of either progressive or conservative worldviews has been in its inherent devices. This is where Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche movement, has been helpful to me. He makes a distinction between “groups” and “communities.” Listen to his wisdom from his wonderful book “Community and Growth.”

“There are more and more groups today oriented towards issues and causes. There are peace movements, ecological movements, movements for oppressed people, for the liberation of women, against torture, etc. Each movement is important and, if they are based in a community life and the growing consciousness that in each person there is a world of darkness, fear, and hate, they can radiate truth and freedom, and work towards justice and peace in the world. If not, they can become very aggressive and divide the world between oppressors and the oppressed, the good and the bad. There seems to be a need in human beings to see evil and combat it outside oneself, in order not to see it inside oneself.

The difference between a community and a group that is only issue-oriented, is that the latter see the enemy outside the group. The struggle is an external one; and there will be a winner and a loser. The group knows it is right and has the truth, and wants to impose it. The members of a community know that the struggle is inside each person and inside the community; it is against all the powers of pride, elitism, hate and depression that are there and which hurt and crush others, and which cause division and war of all sorts. The enemy is inside, not outside.”

This is where the table is helpful to us. At the Table we refuse to couch the worlds problems in terms of “us” and “them.” At the Table, we are all reconciled to God and one another. So the Table is a sign. It is a sign of a world-on-the-way. It is a sign of what is to come; a window into the restoration of all things. At the Table all is as it should be.

But I get it, there is still a problem isn’t there? No matter how devoted we are to the Table, the world remains a mess. And the real temptation of the conservative and political worldviews is in their ability to seduce into thinking they possess the fix to that mess.

I admit it. There is indeed still a problem. That is why I think it is important for us to confess, we are a sign not a solution.

In 1964, Jean Vanier founded the L’Arche community. L’Arche allows people with severe mental and physical disabilities to live in intentional community with those able to provide care for them. Homes are established where able-bodied people live with those the world has forgotten or has deemed invaluable to the progress of society. Prior to L’Arche, many of those with disabilities were institiutionalized, or worse, left to suffer and die on the streets. L’Arche is determined to address this issue and restore dignity and the “god-image” of those society marginalizes.

L’Arche is truly a beautiful witness of gentleness and love in the world. However, they can’t fix the problem. There isn’t a solution. Which brings me to L’Arche’s mission statement. L’Arche has 4 “aims” listed on their website. Listen to #’s 3 & 4:

#3 – L’Arche knows that it cannot welcome everyone who has a disability. It seeks to offer not a solution but a sign, a sign that a society, to be truly human, must be founded on welcome and respect for the weak and the downtrodden.

#4 – In a divided world, L’Arche wants to be a sign of hope. Its communities, founded on covenant relationships between people of differing intellectual capacity, social origin, religion and culture, seek to be signs of unity, faithfulness and reconciliation.

This is my prayer and hope for the church. May we overcome the division inherent in our political convictions and be devotees of the Way of Jesus, the Way of the Table. May we be a sign that another Day is on the way; a Day that is indeed already upon us.


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