Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Mixing Metaphors

As we think about this entity we call "church," we have several metaphors operating in our minds and imaginations. We begin with Scripture: church as body of Christ, as people of God, as branches of the vine, as the living temple of the living God, etc. These are foundational; my purpose here is not to call them into question, but to ask if there are some additional, contemporary metaphors that might get us "seeing" in a different way, or from a different point of view. I'm particularly interested in missional metaphors (whatever you think that means!). So do some imagining, and then do some writing!

44 comments:

just joe said...

Good topic Brian. Probably because of my Tuesday experience, I would like to think of ‘ecclesia’ as a party. “Called out” to celebrate and “hang.” I’m probably mixing metaphors between the KoG and ‘ecclesia’ here:

Matthew 22:1-10

1-3 "God's kingdom," he said, "is like a king who threw a wedding banquet for his son. He sent out servants to call in all the invited guests. And they wouldn't come! (8-10) "Then he told his servants, 'We have a wedding banquet all prepared but no guests. The ones I invited weren't up to it. Go out into the busiest intersections in town and invite anyone you find to the banquet.' The servants went out on the streets and rounded up everyone they laid eyes on, good and bad, regardless. And so the banquet was on—every place filled.

Matthew 11:19

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners."

Brian Emmet said...

Parties/feasts/celebrations play a more prominent role in Scripture than we sometimes recognize. The Genesis garden certainly was a feast (yes, there was also labor, but it was labor in a feasty setting!) The feasts of Israel... the party the prodigal father throws for his wayward younger son... the Lord's Table... the marriage supper of the Lamb. Party-hosting involves hospitality, a guest-ward focus... we shouldn't foget Jesus' instructions not to throw parties for those who can throw parties back at us. A stimulating metaphor!

chris hyatt said...

I'd have to say the one that stuck out at me was "family." So many have a skewed understanding of what family really is, but the church is well equipped to make up for dysfunction, fill in where there are missing parts, and heal our view of what family is all about. I'm glad I'm a part of God's family.

Brian Emmet said...

Good to hear from you, Chris, and yes, I'm very grateful to be part of God's family with you! Church-as-family also helps us move beyong our at times obsessive focus on the so-called "nuclear" family... not that that isn't important, but more that it was designed to be a part of a larger entity: the church as "the family of families"?

just joe said...

ditto Chris.

It might an interesting exercise after we collect some more metaphors to tease out some of the implications of each metaphor.

for example, how big can a "family" get before it turns into a "clan" or "tribe"?

How do you multiply families? Certainly not by "planting" a family or "building" a family" (both of which may work in the other metaphors).

One starts a family by growing into maturity and falling in love ... "where two or three (in this case, only two will suffice) are gathered ...

I think the "family of God" model of the community of God may be more central to the scriptures than some of the other metaphors. It begins in the gardin, acclerates with Abraham, is passed down through the patriarches, is central to the Davidic kingdom, is obvious in the incarnation and trinity on several levels, and is obviously central to the N.T. (Hebrews: "bringing many sons to glory" ... "abba father" ... "go and tell my brethran"

good one Chris!

Dr. Sam said...

Church=
Army
Farm
Body
Shelter
Hospital
School
Cellular system
Bride in clothes needing Dry Clean
Bride in wrinkled clothes
Terrarium/Greenhouse

John M. said...

Here's one: "Chaos theory in action"

Brian Emmet said...

Good to hear from you again, Dr. Sam! Care to pick a fave from your list and develop it for us just a bit, ala Joseph's suggestion?

Same for you, John--care to open up "chaos theory in action" a wee bit? At this point, I'm not understanding the metaphor you're seeing...

John M. said...

Brian, I was thinking about the tendency for organization to arise from seeming chaos. Two examples are a beehive and an anthill. Although the casual by-stander observes seeming random movement the entire operation is actually very purposeful and organized. Scientists call this "self-organization" and can't explain many aspects of it -- especially how the various individual ants or bees communicate, and seem to have a corporate intelligence that causes them to make immediate, systemic adjustments based on food sources, defensive needs, protection of the queen, etc. The end result is that out of the apparent chaos emerges a complex, high order corporate intelligence that allows complex functions to take place. There is actually a high degree of order in all the "random" activity.

Sometimes the Church looks rather random and unorganized, perhaps even fragmented, but the Holy Spirit is coordinating the activity of individuals to produce what God has intended for the Church to be, Christ's body, with him at the head.

Brian Emmet said...

Thank you, John! I'm off for a few days to the lake in NH, so I'll be quiet myself--but y'all keep things percolating here until I get back!

just joe said...

ok, ok, I'm thinking, alright? Don't rush me ... hmmmmm... metaphors. I have one but it is hard to describe, and I need to marshal as much scriptural support as possible or Brian will shoot it down ...he probably will anyway.

just joe said...

Ok, here is another metaphor – not the one I was thinking about, but another one that is easier to sustain from scripture.

The mobile church (not the Mobile church). Otherwise known as apostolic team, apostolic company, apostolic community, the church on the go, the church in mission, the church as a sodality (see Watchman Nee and Ralph Winter).

I have mentioned before the distinction Watchman Nee makes between the “local” church and the “work.” The apostolic community or company is not outside the church, it is one functional part of the church – the “local” church is another. 1 Corinthians 14:26 is addressed to the “local” church – Acts 13 gives a classic image of the “mobile” church being launched out of a “local” church.

Examples of the mobile church: Peter and John; Barnabas and Saul; Barnabas and John Mark; Paul and Silas; Silas and Timothy (in Berea after Paul was smuggled out); Paul with Aquila and Priscilla in Corinth and later in Ephesus. A great example of a mobile church meeting is Paul and Silas in prison in Philippi. Another is when Paul gathers with Silas and Timothy (and most likely Luke and Titus) to discuss his dream in Troas and to decide (corporately) how to respond to it (Acts 16:9-10). Although Paul had the dream, Luke, always the careful historian, uses the first person plural to indicate that “we concluded” that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

Examples in church history of the mobile church: The Wesleyan Methodist movement with itinerate circuit preachers, the Moravians, particularly the two young men who sold themselves into slavery in order to pay their passage to the carribean and preach among the African slaves, and the Society of Jesus of Ignacious Loyola, perhaps the greatest missionary band of all time. A more recent example of the mobile church would be YWAM. The local church and the mobile church co-exist in a mutually dependent dynamic opposition (think bicep and tricep). Sometimes it gets complicated. In my opinion, the lack of distinction between these and understanding of their complementary but very different roles has led to much pain and wasted time and effort.

just joe said...

I forgot to mention Luke 9:1, and Luke 10:1 where Jesus sends out the 12 and then the 72, by twos to announce the kingdom.

Laurel Long said...

Hey, you guys,
Here is the mega-metaphor; someone has to get pregnant! Who among you are willing to court and marry a "Beautiful Vision," help her through childbirth and delivery, and stay around long enough to raise those progeny to maturity?
Not a challenge, just an honest question. We may all want to become celibates so we can avoid this very painful part of the Kingdom process.

just joe said...

all of my "beautiful visions" have been preemies ...

John M. said...

Mine were all still-born, or died shortly thereafter...

Laurel Long said...

Remember Joseph,
Preemies can now live outside the womb during gestation and become very strong, normal, and vibrant people. Our first grandson was born and survived a birth weight of under 3lbs. His twin, who weighed slightly more than him did not survive. Perhaps, through the Lord's infinite Wisdom, He chooses, the weaker things to profound the wise. Our precious weaker thing, Christian, will celebrate his 12th b-day in a couple of weeks. I have a feeling that your "weaker thing" may just survive gestation, childbirth, and infancy, and is destined to become a full grown man.

Laurel Long said...

John,
I really prayed about how to respond to your post. If a metaphor can comfort, and that is doubtful, perhaps the following will serve as a very poor substitute for the real comfort we receive from Him.
After counseling women who have been unable to conceive, lost infants, experienced painful miscarriages, and had abortions, the only comfort I can offer is that any loss of life during this precious and fragile cycle of life process ascends back into the hands of the one Who created LIfe. He is the Lord of life. We do try to follow His example to produce Life. But, He also is the Lord of no life, at all. We have all experienced that!
Maybe the Lord was jealous and decided He wanted the creative thought of that person, or "beautiful vision," back in His arms. I do not know!
Obviously, you are not barren, you can conceive; have you ever considered adoption?
Of course, my questions and comments are in the metaphorical mix of our conversations.
I do know, however, that you are destined for spiritual Grand-fatherhood. Keep looking for children to raise.
Hope this makes sense.

Brian Emmet said...

Whoa... impregnation, receiving into ourselves something that both is us and not-us! There's another image to conjure with!

Metaphor is a way of approaching one reality in terms of another, more familiar, reality: "My love is like a red, red rose" or "She's really hell on wheels" (a mixed metaphor, that one!), or "Behold, the Lamb of God!" So, John, "chaos theory" isn't quite a metaphor, but "the church as beehive or anthill" is. How does seeing church as an insect colony add something to us?

Jose, I surrendered long ago to the distinction between "the church" and "the work"!

Laurel Long said...

Brian,
Aren't we the worker bees or the worker ants of the Kingdom? It seems like you're saying: "What's love got to do with it?" It has everything to do with it!
Please elaborate. Please?

John M. said...

I think Brian's question is directed to all of us, not just me.

Laurel, the Lord has allowed me to nurture many "adopted" children of the Kingdom -- a few of them babies.

The dead ones are the "beautiful visions" I have had a few times over the years. Interestingly, although the Lord doesn't let me birth them, or I try and they die, it seems that many times they get birthed by others. Sometimes I'll hear of or see something functioning powerfully, and realize that I had envisioned that very thing, although usually on a smaller scale. Instead of doing it through me, the Lord used someone else to do it more powerfully. In fact, come to think of it, what Joseph is doing right now is one of those "dead" visions. Ironically, Joseph was a young men 30 years ago, who God gave me to care for and steward for awhile.

just joe said...

I'm not going to touch the impregnation metaphor lest I say something in jest that might offend. :D I will say that I believe that human sexuality has a strong metaphoric connection with divine spirituality -- perhaps that is why evil tries to twist it so much.

Going back to the "mobile church", in response to Brian's clarification, I realized that I was not using a metaphor--I was being descriptive. I'm not sure there is a scriptural metaphor for apostolic workers as one facet of the "church" unless it is "lambs being sent out among wolves" (Matt 10?)

Perhaps a modern metaphor would a tactical team-strike force; paratroopers parachuting in behind enemy lines -- what else? -- shunkworks, think-tank, carriers of viral infection; two college kids doing an entreprennueral start-up business venture; doctors without borders; revolutionary cells; or better yet, moving underground formentors and trainers of revolutionary cells... Ambassadors at large ...

none of them quite do justice to what Paul and Silas were doing in Philipi ... and later what Paul and company did in Ephesus. I wonder what Old Testament "types" prefigures the apostolic? Perhaps Joseph in Egypt? Abraham on a journey to who-knows-where? David and his men on the run and hiding out? Jacob starting a family agri-business? Daniel enrolled in magic 101 at Babylon U.? Nehemiah being "sent out" to rebuild the walls in Jerusalem.

Brian Emmet said...

Maybe "Israel" is a metaphor, as well as an historical and spiritual reality? God chooses Israel out of all the world, but in fact is choosing them for the world, to bless all the world "through Abraham and his seed." So Israel one the one hand doesn't "fit" into the world very well they won't worship those idols, won't "mix" with the not-yet-human Gentiles, insist on various "identity markers" (e.g., sabbath, kosher)that the rest of the world finds bizarre ("'Don't sow you fields with two kinds of seed'--what is the deal with that?")... in order to fulfill her calling to be FOR the world, Israel actually has to stand AGAINST the world in a number of ways...
... and the huge irony, if that is the right word, is that Israel, rather than being part of God's solution-rescue for the world, ends up being part of the problem along with the rest of the world! (Parallels with the church are painful, eh?)

But God never gives up on "Israel", he does not go to Plan B, he remains faithful to his covenant promise, fulfilling Israel through Jesus, the one-man-Israel... hmmm, there may be more here than I realize!

Laurel Long said...

Okay Joseph,
So you don't want say anything that will offend someone. This is evidence of your comfort zone and we certainly respect that. I don't think any of the participants in this particular blog are easily offended. The purpose of the blog is to express raw offend-able material in a safe environment. In fact, it may not be possible to offend its participants.
So, I am going test this theory.
Using the impregnating metaphor, let's take it to the max. Let's all get pregnant. Joseph is, he is definitely with child. He invites a lot of potential spiritual sperm recipients to his house every Tuesday night for the purpose of spiritual copulation. He never knows who is going to "connect." He is available, in the most respectable modern terms. He has made himself vulnerable and available for spiritual reproduction with whoever. I know this seems a bit vulgar, but does not evangelism have the same humbling attributes? We must do whatever with whomever for the sake of the Kingdom.
Joseph, please forgive me if I am misrepresenting you.
This is my best effort at responding to John's, Brians, and Joseph's comments.
What are your thoughts?

just joe said...

DAMN girl ... we should have invited ladies in here a long time ago. What do you want to bet that the readership of this blog is going straight up!

I'm looking for my best "pregnant" picture to put on my profile... I think I am 8 and 1/2 months.
;D

Brian Emmet said...

The idea that all of creation is "feminine" with respect to God's "masculinity" (and yes, I know that God is not "male," doesn't have a body, etc.) and that sexual love has been understood, by both Jews and Christians, as one way to think about God's relationship to his people, both corproately and individually (and yes, we all understand that we are not talking about "having sex" with God). The Song of Songs was the most popular book of the Bible for nearly a thousand years, and was read and understood along these lines.

The point? Laurel's point is well-made! We can either pursue this metaphor a bit further (hoo, boy, can't believe I'm saying this), or develop another...

The church as an insane asylum?

Laurel Long said...

Joseph and Brian,
You guys made me laugh out loud and there was no one but the Lord to hear me.!

just joe said...

I guess its down to us 3 lately ... JOhn is busy painting a house and I don't know what happened to Steve (or Robert, Michael, Don, David, Patrick or William).

I think you have a good point Laurel. There are lots of parrellels and applications: the seed of the word, spiritual DNA, the importance of relationship and the power of Divine love. Although, I think you are stretching the analogy a bit to have me both "pregnant" and "impregnating" at the same time.

The faith is "caught" more than it is "taught".

Here are some relevant scriptures:

1 Peter 1:22-24 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.
James 1:21- Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.

Matt 10:40: "He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me.

Brian Emmet said...

I'll be "quiet" for the next few days. Kathy and I head off to Asheville, NC, tomorrow for my mom's memorial service. She died (at 82) this past May, just nine weeks after my dad's death (at 86) in March. They had been married for more than 61 years, and had lived in Asheville for the past 39 years. So, we not only say good-bye to mom, we also have to finish the task of closing up their home.

The good part is that all my family--my two sisters and their husbands, along with our three kids and their spouses, along with Kathy and I, will all be together in one place at the same time; how often will this happen?--and the bad part is the reason for this gathering: the end of a world. But, in the words of the Book of Common Prayer, we grieve "in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection." My sisters and their husbands are of "undefined" spirituality, as was the case with my folks, so this will be an ... interesting... time for us all. Al I mean by "undefined" is that I have no idea how to "place" them in relationship to the Lord... not that it is my job to do that!

just joe said...

I like that Brian, "undefined" spirituality. I can use that with a lot of people I know. I'll be praying for you, and praying that God will give you eyes to see what he sees ...

david said...

joe, this topic has simply lost me - so i'll have to be content to just read the comments.

just joe said...

oh Sorry David ... we are just throwing out ideas about scriptural metaphors (and perhaps some unscriptural ones) for the church, such as the church as a family, the church as a temple or building, the church as a plant (1 Cor: Paul planted, Peter watered but God gave the increase), the church as an army ... etc.

You can change the topic if you want, if there is something else you would rather talk about.

jh

Laurel Long said...

Joseph,
Thanks for your observation, it made me laugh again. You are right of course, however, the fun of metaphors is that they seem to posses a power that affords us the opportunity to apply them to one particular situation in a variety of ways. I really do see you as both. We are not limited to natural laws in the spiritual realm. Thus, my metaphorical language dissolves into something...else?
Brian,
Our daughter Mary and granddaughter Iva live in Asheville. Is your family from there? It is one of my favorite cities.
I am so sorry for your grief and pain. We'll all be thinking about you as you and yours remember your dear mother during this ceremonial tribute.
"Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints." I guess the Lord could not live without your mom any longer.
David,
Have we really lost you? I agree with Joseph, please suggest something that interests you. I think all of us would agree that we need some new voices and perspectives. We could keep talking ad-nauseum about anything if "you all" don't interject. Please, interrupt and redirect us. Please!

John M. said...

Ah, the mystery of Christ and His Church... Bride. It's interesting to add to the mix that, although, God is neither masculine nor feminine (both/and, and more); Jesus is masculine and does have a (human) body. No particular point, just an observation...

Brian, I trust that God's grace and Spirit are present, deeply in your time with your family of remembering...

steve H said...

The metaphor I'm not hearing here is the one that may be closest to the meaning of "ekklesia." I've hesitated to bring it up because I don't think it "rang" with most of you in past attempts.

But in Greek culture the "ekklesia" was the governmental assembly of the city/state, consisting of all the actual citizens. I think "people of God" or something like that would be a better "big picture" word. Building on the metaphor of a governmental assembly: "ekklesia," then, is the citizens of the kingdom (i.e. the people of God) in a locality gathered together to do the kingdom's business on earth -- especially to declare on earth what is being said and done in heaven through prayers, proclamations, and sacraments (in other words, to bind and loose).

The Old Testament in a number of places talks about God's council in the heavens -- "the council of the mighty," it is sometimes called. The earthly "ekklesia" is supposed to represent on earth the council of the heavens. Some Patristics scholars even say that, in the first few centuries, there was a specific seating arrangement in the meetings of the "ekklesia" that was meant to image that heavenly council.

You'll probably wish I'd have just stayed out of the discussion, but I think this has very practical implications for what we should be and do.

just joe said...

no, thats good Steve. I wonder how that would change things pratically in the contemporary north american church if it were more consistantly applied? currently the church is more of a provider of religious services to spiritual consumers.

I feel like I am nearing some breakthroughs with regards to some kind of 21st century spiritual community that allows religious pluralism within it, but encourages the pursuit of truth. We probably had 40 or almost 50 people at our party last night ... mostly under 32 or 33. The majority are some kind of truth seekers, and followers of Jesus were sprinkled among them like salt.

I wonder how your analogy of a government assembly might work in this situation?

steve H said...

I'm "thinking out loud" here, trying to respond to your response, Joseph.

Seems like in "evangelist" mode, Jesus often invited people to the "kingdom party" -- and apparently it wasn't too unusual for him to go to their "parties." (I was reading about that this morning in Mark as translated in the Message.) Even his disciples didn't fast while the bridegroom was present -- the "party" was on.

But he did frequently take the twelve and possibly others (like the 70 (Luke 10) and the women who followed (Luke 8) away from the "party" atmosphere so that he could share more deeply with them. And there was a very different responsibility for them after his resurrection and ascension.

The LIFE God's people are called to while we await Jesus' return appears to be one of "partying" (rejoicing, leaping for joy) in the midst of suffering--as in 1 Peter and Philippians, for example. It is to this sort of "party" that we are invite people. (Thinking like this makes me think literally about what is going on with you and Debbie, Paul and Rebecca, Michael and JoAnne). That is one part of the LIFE of God's people.

Out of those who "party" with you, aren't disciples identified and trained?

And from time to time the disciples need to assemble as the "ekklesia" -- that is, the body of Christ (of Messiah}. 1 Corinthians 11:18 intrigues me "...when you come together as church..." (ESV). A more literal translation would be ...for you all coming together in the assembly [ekklesia].... That statement is, of course, set in context of 1 Cor. 11-14 which all seems to address issues specifically related to the assembly [ekklesia] of God's people as the body of Messiah, i.e. the body of the governing authority of heaven and earth.

What's the point: to distinguish the lifestyle of God's people from the evangelistic assignment of God's people from the governing assignment of God's people.

just joe said...

in other words, to distinguish between the local church and the work. THANK YOU ... after I don't know how many years of repeating myself, someone finally agrees with me on this piont.

I have a lot more clarity on the evangelistic assignment ... than the 'governing' or 'assembling' assignment: it just keeps getting murkier and less and less clear for me.

Laurel Long said...

I am not a courageous soul and certainly not brave enough to stand between two men who are full of faith and glory. But, Joseph and Steve, the work we do is not either or, but both-and. The Kingdom of God is a huge place, we may not find each (ekklias) other (the evangelized) for many years, or maybe a generation. It is the job of the Holy Spirit to unite the fruits of both gifts and offices.
Aren't you glad?!

steve H said...

Thankfully, you don't have to stand between us, Laurel. We're both on the same side -- just have different assignments. And we're on your side too-- HIS side.

Laurel Long said...

I didn't mean to sound so arrogant, thanks, Steve.

steve H said...

I didn't take your comment as arrogance, Laurel.

just joe said...

Steve and I agree far more than we disagree ... and even our disagreements are almost always illuminating.

by-the-way, I posted a new topic.

just joe said...

Here is another metaphor,

How about church as friendship? This could almost be called a Starbucks metaphor. Two or three friends meeting at Starbucks for a coffee- or perhaps to sit outside and smoke a cigar (me and Dr. Sam).

Jesus said that whenever two or three would get together in his name, he would show up. Neil Cole, the author of the Organic Church, defines church as two or three people gathered around the presence of Jesus. The critical, non reducible element is the presence of Jesus. Without his presence, there is no church.

Jesus said in John 15, I no longer call you servants but friends. You are my friends if you do what I have commanded you. This goes back to the blog article that we read called “Friends, and friends of friends.”

A beautiful scripture picture of this is the two disciples walking together on the road to Emmaus. Two friends on the journey in his name and he shows up to accompany them. His presence is revealed in the breaking of bread over a meal.