It occurred to me while reading Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood that what the "missional church" movement seems to lack is any sense of The Church. For "missionalists" (or whatever we are to call them), "the church" seems not to exist beyond the bounds of one's own neighborhood. "the church" is dying, therefore all must be changed. "the church" is dying, so God must not be worried about "the church" and He is clearly instead worried about neighborhoods. (Because he wasn't worried about neighborhoods before?) "the church" is necessarily inward-looking and obsessed with its own self-importance, meanwhile people out in the neighborhoods are encountering God in ways we can't even imagine.
No. "the church" is more than just "the church". Any neighborhood "church" is part of The Church, the Bride of Christ, against which the gates of hell shall never prevail. Alan Roxburgh wants to compare the church to dying coral reefs, but the problem with that comparison is that Jesus never made any promises about coral reefs vis a vis the gates of hell. The churches in the West might have Coral Reef Syndrome, but The Church is growing like crazy in the Global South. Maybe if we had a better sense of what God was doing in The Church, we'd be a little more apt to pay attention to what He's doing in "the church."
Also, "missionalists" seem to act like it's a bad thing to want people to come to church on Sunday morning. Like, as soon as you say that you want people sitting there listening and paying attention, it's become all about you and your power and your self-importance. Which might be true, if, you know, it were. But for a lot of us (and this should be all Lutherans, along with the RC's, EO's, and the rest of the first-generation Protestants), we want people to come to church on Sunday morning because the Word of God will be preached and the Body and Blood of Christ will be given. We want people to come to church on Sunday because it's an issue of the First and Third Commandments. We want people to come to church on Sunday because we are told to "not give up meeting together." We want people to come to church on Sunday because, darn it, it's good for them.
Finally, I think that "missional" - discerning "what God is up to, out there" - fails to respect the Two Kingdoms doctrine. Absolutely God is at work in the world, in ways and means outside the institutional church. Without a doubt. But He is also at work in and through the Church. His work in the world, and His work in the Church are sometimes two very different things, and one cannot be elevated above the other. They naturally intertwine at times, but they are not the same thing. Carl Braaten says it best in a 2007 article titled "The Two Kingdoms Principle" published in Principles of Lutheran Theology:
“Historical liberation and eternal salvation are not one and the same thing. They should not be equated. The gospel is not one of the truths we hold to be self-evident; it is not an inalienable right which the best government in the world can do anything about. There are many people fighting valiantly on the frontline of legitimate liberation movements who are not in the least animated by the gospel. The hope for liberation is burning in the hearts of millions of little people struggling to free themselves from the conditions of poverty and tyranny. When they win this freedom, should they be so fortunate, they have not automatically therewith gained the freedom for which Christ has set us free (Gal. 5:1.) This is the barest minimum of what we intend to convey by the two-kingdoms perspective."Could a more robust understanding of the Two Kingdoms somehow "save" "the church" from from her own self-indictment of irrelevance?
I'm not sure, but I think perhaps.
And now I'm all out of ranting about "missional." Yay. What's next?