The roots in this tree have been exposed. It is a scene which evokes conflicting emotions in me. On one hand, it suggests that the tree may topple over in the future since its support system seems to be losing its grip in the soil below. That makes me sad. Not in some toxic political sense, but simply in the sense that what long has flourished deep in this forest will soon cease to live. On the other hand, the scene demonstrates the complexity of tree root systems and their importance for anchoring trees, as well as providing nourishment.
It brings to mind the struggle Christians seem to be having in recent years, especially within evangelicalism. There is a historical rootedness which dates back 2,ooo years in terms of theological orthodoxy and ecclesial orthopraxy, but much of it is being deconstructed in some idealogical streams as in an ecclesial version of extreme home makeover, sans any substantive respect for that which was. In other idealogical streams portions of the history are uncritically accepted at points most sympathetic to specific cultural preferences and theological perspectives, while conflicting portions within the rubric of orthodoxy are disregarded at best as anomalous tertiary ecclesial expressions, or at worst as heresy.
And so, as protestants long have done, we continue to divide, and then divide some more, ever seeking doctrinal purity, if not reconciliation. We seem to disregard primary Christian orthodox doctrinal tenets in favor of our tertiary distinctives. I do not suggest that secondary matters are not important. To be sure, they are. But why do we call an authentic brother or sister in Christ a heretic if what differentiates us doctrinally is a tertiary matter? In other words, why do we not allow what we agree on in terms of primary orthodoxy and its resultant faith practices to bind us together in love for God and each other, serving as a kind of root system for our common faith? Instead our evangelical roots are exposed. And that is not a good thing.
We fight, divide, start new denominations, often as a reaction to older groups. We may even start independent churches. Or as many evangelicals are doing in recent years, we leave the church altogether, seeking instead faith communities within home groups, or disengaging from active faith completely. Our protests are nothing like that of Martin Luther who wanted originally to restore the Catholic church to faithful orthodox doctrine and practice. Instead, we have become protesting picketers, often protesting based more on personalities and a refusal to reconcile with each other, than on anything of orthodox substance.
Further, with hundreds of denominations in the USA alone it is quite difficult to recommend to new believers where to begin in their search for a solid biblical church which serves God, rooted in ancient orthodoxy, yet relevant to how God is moving today in the world. I know this because I have spent countless hours trying to help individuals whom God has brought to himself, yet who have no Christian background, in this task. It is embarrassing, honestly. So many churches are like tendrils of a root system badly exposed and decaying, concerned more with survival of cultural traditions or tertiary matters of doctrine, than knowing God in a way that is deeply rooted in historical orthodoxy and strengthed by the breath of his presence here and now.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Two books are challenging me in different ways. The first, Your Church Is Too Small: Why Unity in Christ’s Mission Is Vital to the Future of the Church by John H. Armstrong and the second, Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional by Jim Belcher. Dr Armstrong makes the case for missional ecumenism. This is not the ecumenism of the last fifty years. He is talking about something altogether different, yet still challenging us to deal with those with whom we agree on matters of primary orthodoxy, but perhaps disagree on various points of tertiary doctrines. I am cautious about some of his material, although I do agree with important aspects of what he suggests, both of which I intend to explore in an upcoming review of his book. I appreciate his irenic tone, his careful exploration of history, and his compassionate call to reconciliation in ways that honor Jesus’s prayer for unity in John 17.
I am still reading Dr. Belcher’s book. So far, I find it to be the best example of irenic mediation between the traditional and emerging evangelical camps. In so doing, he offers a third way, deep church.
Both of these godly leaders seem to be calling the church back to a rootedness which truly nourishes communities of faith. This is encouraging. It gives me hope that the roots can be properly reset deep in the soil before further irreparable damage is done to the witness of Jesus Christ on account of our evangelical proclivity to choose battle lines as a path of least resistance, rather than choose the hard work of reconciliation which is faithful to Christ’s mission to the world.