jonathan stone's blog

. . . posts on faith and life

the church that just won’t die

There are few things more fundamentally Christian than facing death, both physically and metaphorically. Jesus spoke of his death as necessary in order to bear fruit; “”Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). The Apostle Paul spoke of his ministry as something that required him to ‘die daily’ (1 Cor 15:31). Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When Jesus calls us, he bids us come and die.” The list goes on.

Certainly each of us should challenge ourselves individually with this spiritual discipline of death. However, what is on my mind at the moment is this question: Why are we (that is, the church) so afraid of OUR death? Death is a gift (as Derrida noted). Death bears fruit (as Jesus noted). Death is our calling (as Bonhoeffer noted). When we sense Jesus calling us to die we should understand that as an opportunity to more fully become who we are called to be. Why would we try to run from it?

In recent years it seems that the church in Western culture has been facing its death. It would also seem that the response of the church has been anything but Christian. Our attempts to revamp ourselves is an ironic stumbling block, as it hinders our ability to find life after death. The prophet Isaiah once said, “You are wearied in the length of your way; Yet you did not say, ‘It is hopeless.’ You have found the life of your hand; Therefore you were not grieved” (Is. 57:10). We could say it this way: You are exhausted from all of your strategies, but you will not give up and die. Therefore you continue in your own strength, and do not see this as a problem.

If we are called to die I wonder what a collective death would look like? And I dare to dream what our life after our death would look like too!

7 comments on “the church that just won’t die

  1. Dennis J. Adams
    April 28, 2008

    Death is a responsible action that must come for life to be performed on earth or eternally. The Church has no immunity to to this. The capture of all this is that the Church is supposed to be a life giving force that has attributes and characteristics that perform death daily as life is performed through disciples giving it (life) up for Jesus. Paul was really cool in this statement:

    “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20, NKJV)

    My response is simply applied to the fact that we are already dead, but we refuse to perform like it!

    Paul even stated two other really cool and appropriate statements:

    “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;” (Philippians 1:6, NKJV)

    “For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.” (2 Timothy 1:12, NKJV)

    We are living dead people who live a life of faith and God has promised to perform “on stage” in us. He is also able to keep us until the day of the “final” death of His bride on earth.

    It is appointed unto man to die then the judgment. Heb 9:27

    The “key” to death as we understand it causes us to embrace change as a substitute for death. Truly we have died if we really are the “Church” but we are really weary of trying to keep it a secret. I am glad that I died and the new man has been born into His spiritual arena. Because I am really enjoying being dead, for it is the greatest life I am living now!

  2. Louis Morgan
    April 28, 2008

    bro… we must be riding the same “wave” today. i’ve been writing an article today that includes a section about dying (to self), and i also referenced the Bonhoeffer quote. 🙂

  3. darrellbjr
    April 28, 2008

    Kind of along Dennis’ line of thought, I wonder how many of us don’t realize were already dead?

    A denom with more than a million members stateside but maybe half of that in attendance…An institution that often times seems to exist only to memorialize the institution…We try to look more alive than we really seem to be. In fact we are already decomposing and our core elements are beginning to emerge within some other plant, flower or fruit.

    I feel drawn back to the “Dry Bones” passage you (Jon) referenced a few weeks back. I think we are already dead, we just don’t collectively know it yet. So the questions for me becomes, “Do we keep prophesying to the bones even if they don’t know they’re dead yet?” And “Who’s going to prophesy to my own dry bones?”

  4. Hunter
    April 28, 2008

    I agree that to some extent the church is dead as it relates to real growth. However, that is more of a symptom of refusing to really die. In other words the church is at a state where we are naturally dying. But we are called to lay our life down. It is a picture of unselfishness to the point where we decide we are not going to push our agenda, or motives into it, but allow our selfish motives to die.

    As far as what that looks like as a whole, i believe it will begin when the professional ministers (myself included) are willing to not be paid by the church anymore. What i mean is not push with such ambition to have numbers as if we are the one who produce numbers anyway. Many a minsters have told me about the numbers syndrome, and how we have to keep numbers up to pay the bills (salary included) to keep the church open. However, the Church will be “open” whether or not there is a building or a paycheck.

  5. Jonathan Stone
    April 29, 2008

    Dennis:
    Great points. Scripture is full with the theme of death. I think you’re right about the key being the things (especially change) that we substitue for death. These stumbling blocks keep us from ever making it to the altar of our own death.

    Louis:
    All I can say is that great minds think alike. Do they die alike too? 😉

    Darrell:
    Yes, the ‘Dry Bones’ passage (and really Ezekiel in general) seems a timely passage for us. It’s hard to know how to respond when you’ve prophesied to the bones and nothing happens! One thing is for sure, only God can make those bones live!

    Hunter:
    That’s exactly right. A dead church (I am referring to the ‘dead to ourselves’ that we ought to be) will be constantly moving away from itself in order to minister ‘outside the gates’ as Christ did (ala Heb. 13). However, our tendency is to work in an opposite pattern, where we secure and preserve our own interests instead of dying to ourselves daily.

  6. m.d. mcmullin
    April 29, 2008

    Some people aren’t ready to die.

    Maybe others aren’t ready to live.

    I was thinking about Lazarus. What if he refused to come out of that grave? What if he was still bitter for being allowed to die? What if he longed for his old life so much that he didn’t want the new one?

    I think in some ways many churches have already died and they’re still wearing their grave clothes.

  7. Jonathan Stone
    May 1, 2008

    Yes Mike, that’s kind of a disturbing thought–us not wanting to come out of the grave and lose our grave clothes!

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This entry was posted on April 28, 2008 by in crisis, faith, vision.
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