Free economies are essential to freedom. But, they also carry some negative effects; like the tendency to fragment and isolate basic life functions.
For example, the market economy took the seamless family or farm processes — like gardening, "Grandma's cooking," canning, breast-feeding, even basic health care (families, churches, and even doctors used to pray for the sick) — and broke them into disconnected pieces. Then, it manufactured "improvements" — like infant formula, Eggbeaters, fast food restaurants — and sold them back to the very families and farms which once controlled the whole process.
Wendell Berry says that modern society "is based on a series of radical disconnections between body and soul, husband and wife, marriage and community, community and the earth . . . Together, these disconnections add up to a condition of critical ill health which we suffer in common . . ."
Berry believes that now "our economy is based on this disease. Its aim is to separate us as far as possible from the sources of life (material, social, and spiritual), to put these sources under the control of corporations and specialized professionals, and to sell them back to us at the highest profit.
The same market model has invaded church life.
As soon as a family walks through the front doors of a church building, children, parents, and grandparents are pulled into opposite directions, disconnected locales, and activities "appropriate" to their age and interests. Mirroring the culture, each step and part of church life becomes conformed to the industrialized model — complicated, fragmented and managed by religious "specialists."
Regardless of when or where they live, God's people have always been charged with the mission of living out heaven on earth. We are to be agents or emissaries of the "home country" among the "earthlings."
That is surely what Peter meant when he commanded Christian believers to "keep your behavior excellent among the gentiles." (I Peter 2:12, NAS). In fact, Eugene Peterson translates that verse in The Message, as "Live an exemplary life among the natives…"
In his day, the prophet Isaiah declared that the people of God are to be "repairers of the breach…" (Isaiah 58:12 NAS). Perhaps it is time for churches to model how to repair the disconnections and breaches in society and live out a better way for the world to see.
A renaissance of honor for the "gray hair" among us might be a good starting place. Instead of sweeping them away into the little room on the third floor for "Senior Saints" activities, maybe we could honor and celebrate them as true repositories of wisdom.
When the Bible and other ancient Christian literature sources refer to elders "sitting in the gates" of the city, it portrays the great accrual of wisdom in those who had been formed by walking with God. Of course, mature societies would cherish those examples and life lessons. So, they sat as judges, magistrates and other officials in helping to direct and grace community life.
Wouldn't it seem natural, appropriate, and smart to find a way to do that in contemporary church life? Doesn't the mandate to repair breaches still apply?
Yes. But, in a youth-obsessed culture which disdains the elderly, too many local churches reflect the same dysfunction. Borrowing the market model, churches have learned to devalue the elderly.
In his letter to the Ephesian Christians, Paul referred to "…the church which is His (Christ's) body, the fullness of Him who fills all…" (Ephesians 1: 22–23). In the same letter, Paul envisioned the "manifold wisdom of God being made known through the church…" (3:10).
So, is it possible that the church could actually serve as an agency, reflecting the panoramic fullness of Christ in the midst of society? Could we radiate — for the whole earth — the resplendent wisdom of God?
What would that look like?
Do you think it might surpass the superficial pop and celebrity culture which now animates so many of our church activities and programs? Is God more creative and profound and abundant than the earthbound patterns which we cut and paste into the church?
The idea of a "redeemed community" animates much of the Bible and Christian history. I love to consider the many features of such a holy radiance on earth.
For example, how would a community of redeemed people relate to music? Would they just copy the latest hits from rock, country, jazz, Broadway, reggae, etc.? Or, would they reach for the musical sounds and patterns which fill heaven?
And, how would children be viewed, nurtured, and brought to maturity? Would their lives be formed into robust and beautiful reflections of the real Christ? Would they just naturally fill up the leadership roles in society like Daniel, Joseph, Esther and other biblical leaders did?
What about the kaleidoscope of community issues: the arts, the poor, funding, health, fatherhood, motherhood, service, relating to the larger community, and leaving a legacy of giving?
Obviously, I don't have the time or the forum for pursuing all the features of community life, but clearly a community of grownups would take all life issues very seriously.
One of the most important issues is how do we integrate the various members and groups of real community?
In short, how do we handle generations?
I've heard pastor and author Ross Parsley speak about the church as a family gathered at the dinner table. It is a joyous, inclusive, engaging, and sometimes messy, sharing of life. Just as a normal family wouldn't send grandparents or children away from the table, perhaps churches should find a way to gather — rather than scatter — the generations.
Perhaps we should create normal, healthy and thriving community life. Life which causes the young to honor the older ones. And, the elders to draw out the best in the children.
Maybe such a sharing and caring community would begin to model abounding life on earth.