Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Church as a Moral Project

The National Post on Saturday September 23, 2006 published a very provocative column by Andrew Coyne on dual citizenship. Currently in Canada there is a debate on whether people should be allowed to be dual citizens, i.e., Canadians and whatever. Coyne said that Canadians have begun to look upon the nation as a service provider and hence they join in order to receive certain benefits. Instead, he argues, a nation is a “moral project” and people should join because they are committing to this moral project.

I have had to set aside the obvious question: “what is Canada’s moral project” because I can’t seem to come up with an answer. But my mind has turned on this intriguing thought to other commitments. For example, church.

In the nineties the presentation of church as a provider of services loomed on the horizon, and by the turn of the century was probably the most accepted profile among evangelicals. I don’t think it has made its way into formal theological expression, but certainly it has become a working ecclesiology.

And, while that was happening, the same motif was adopted as a definition of denominations. They are, in this motif, the next level of service providers. Denominations, and their subsets, districts, diocese, what have you, are there to provide resources and other services to the church, which in turn is there to provide resources and other services to the people who attend.

Like all concepts, there is of course a large element of truth in this. Churches have always provided for many needs in the lives of people, both individually and communally. For example, the church has frequently been a place for the training of musicians and for musical expression. This is a need that people have, that is, a need for beauty and artistic expression, and people still have this need. Many other felt or unfelt needs could be listed.

This is all fine and good. What I am wondering is this. To what extent have we lost the concept of the church as a moral and, I will add, a spiritual project? That is, the church as something which we join because we believe in what is happening there and we want to be part of making it happen?

As I write this I can already see the responses that will remind me that “this generation does not want to join – they are suspicious of organizations and reluctant to commit.” Perhaps I can jump ahead in the discussion and ask – are we as the church part of the problem? Have we contributed to this non-commitment/individualistic mind set? And, is it possible for pastors and people to find their way back to a concept of local church and denomination as being a project to which we commit?