It is no secret that the church of today is dying to her former image. Yet, the church’s mission is incomplete. For this reason, many people wonder if the church is also experiencing a resurrection that will result in a new image. What, if anything, will breathe new life into the human spirit as people move into the future? How will new life transfigure the image of the church?
Theological health is paramount. Ridding ourselves of harmful teachings is crucial. This is certainly the task at hand as the human spirit moves away from the religious models of yesterday and prepare to enter a new era of human spirituality.
But, aside from healthy theology, the Christianity, as a way of being and thinking, has an earthly mission. The follower of Jesus is called to bind up the brokenhearted. The follower is called to heal. These are not just theological matters. They are also physical matters that require a commitment to justice within all societies on earth. The religious models of yesterday created systems of oppression that not only failed to bind up and heal, but in too many cases, actually caused heartbreak and woundedness. Will the future offer healing? If so, how?
The best place to envision the future is to begin where Jesus started … by the sea.
The parable of the net speaks directly to the work of the kingdom on earth. In this short parable, Jesus gave us the imagery he desired for the human spirit on earth as well as the steps to follow in pursuing the task at hand.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they [fishermen] drew it to shore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous,” Matthew 13:47–49.
I believe Jesus told the parable of the net for the purpose of informing the human spirit of her rightful image. Human are to become net makers who cast themselves out over spiritual waters! But, the religious models of yesterday ignored the imagery in favor of planting mud and concrete foundations on dry land. Presently, the image most closely associated with the word, “church” is a man-made building. But, Jesus’ image of the kingdom of heaven was a net.
The purpose of a building and the purpose of a net are completely different. So, we can expect that the human spirit will eventually shed the need for architectural images of bricks, stone, and wood in favor of constructing nets and casting people out over the spiritual waters of their neighborhoods.
But this particular parable also offers followers of Jesus an ordered sequence of tasks that must be undertaken as the human spirit journeys through time. When considering the sequence of tasks, it becomes obvious that the institutional models of yesterday violated the order Jesus laid out. The activity is as follows:
1. Throw a net into the sea
2. Catch fish of every kind
3. When the net is full, pull it to shore
4. Sit down
5. Collect good fish and put them in a basket
Presently, the religious model of the church gleefully announces that there is room for all. Such statements suggest that the church on earth is attempting to complete tasks #1 and #2. People are trying to fill the church pews and lately, it has been determined that those pews are not full. In many buildings, the pews are more empty than ever. So, we can conclude that the traditional model of the church is currently working on tasks #1 and #2 as laid out in Jesus parable of the net.
The “empty net” syndrome is an important realization. An empty net suggests that the human spirit is doing something wrong. Perhaps a change is necessary. Perhaps the church’s architectural image has been a hindrance in completing her tasks. Yes, man-made buildings are indeed a product of misplaced thinking! The human spirit needs to understand the consequences of erroneous thinking.
Behind closed doors, it has long been perceived that our man-made buildings are where the good fish are collected for God’s basket.
Wait … Collecting good fish for God’s basket is task #5 on the ‘to do’ list.
Putting good fish in God’s basket is to be accomplished only after the nets are full of every possible kind of fish, and then pulled to shore.
Can anyone see the present problem? The followers of Jesus have not accurately discerned the order of business over the past 2,000 years. Determining a full net is task #3. We aren’t there yet.
From all indications, it seems that the sequential order of tasks has been violated for many, many centuries. Engaging in task #5, before tasks #1, #2, #3, and #4 have been completed, suggests that the human spirit jumped ahead of itself … way ahead! With reckless abandon and inappropriate zeal, Christianity tried to complete a task that had not yet reached its appointed time.
Violating the sequential order of tasks in Jesus’ parable indicates much spiritual confusion. That’s what happens when people surge ahead of God’s timing. To engage in an activity, before a ripeness of time, is a sure sign of too much human control, not enough trust in God’s timing, or at the very least, poor discernment.
Engaging in task #5 is an activity of spiritual discernment. Putting good fish into God’s basket requires throwing out bad fish. Such activity forces the followers of Jesus to believe they must draw judgmental dividing lines which the human spirit is unprepared and unequipped to draw. Especially when tasks #1 and #2 (the making and casting of nets) have not truly been understood or completed.
Confusion over the sequential order of her tasks is one reason that people are leaving the traditional model of the church. It is one reason that a transfiguration is necessary at this point in time. Instead of continuing to engage in task #5, the human spirit may want to return to the sea where Jesus called his first disciples. People may want to revisit tasks #1 and #2.
What did Jesus mean when he said the kingdom of heaven is like a net? How is such a net constructed? Does Scripture provide the image? If Christians learn to make strong nets, how are they to be cast into the sea? What does net imagery teach? Are nets really supposed to catch fish of every kind? Really … every kind?
Thoughts along the way,