Theological health is paramount. Ridding ourselves of harmful teachings is crucial. This is certainly the task at hand as Christians move away from the church of yesterday and prepare to enter the church of tomorrow.
But, aside from healthy theology, the church has an earthly mission. She is called to bind up the broken-hearted. She is called to heal. These are not just theological matters. They are also physical matters that require a commitment to social justice within all societies on earth. The church of yesterday failed in this regard. Will the future church accomplish this type of healing? If so, how?
The best place to start envisioning the church’s future is to begin where Jesus started … by the sea.
The parable of the net speaks directly to the work of the church on earth. In this short parable, Jesus gave us the imagery he desired for the church 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 church of her rightful image … a net that is cast over spiritual waters! But, the church of yesterday ignored the imagery in favor of planting foundations on dry land. Presently, the image most closely associated with the word, “church” is a 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 church of tomorrow will eventually shed her architectural images of bricks, stone, and wood in favor of constructing nets that are cast out over spiritual waters.
But this particular parable also offers the church an ordered sequence of tasks that must be undertaken during her homeward journey through time. When considering the sequence of tasks, it becomes obvious that the institutional church 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 church gleefully announces that there is room for all! Such statements suggest that the church is attempting to complete tasks #1 and #2. She is trying to fill her church pews and she has determined that those pews are not full, yet! So, we can conclude with certainty that the traditional church is currently working on tasks #1 and #2 as laid out in Jesus parable of the net.
This is an important realization. Determining a full net is task #3. Perhaps the church’s architectural image has been a hindrance in completing her tasks? Yes, this is indeed where the traditional church runs amuck in her thinking! And we need to understand the consequences of erroneous thinking. The church building has long been perceived as a place where good fish are collected for God’s basket.
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 church’s net is full of every kind of fish and then pulled to shore! Can we see the church’s present problem when discerning her order of business?
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 traditional church jumped ahead of herself … way ahead! With reckless abandon and inappropriate zeal, the church 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.
Therein lies the problem. Engaging in task #5 is an activity of spiritual discernment. Putting good fish into God’s basket requires throwing out bad fish. This activity forces the church to draw judgmental dividing lines which the traditional church is unprepared and unequipped to draw! Especially when task #2 has not yet been 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 of the church is necessary at this point in time. Instead of continuing to engage in task #5, the church may want to go back to the sea where Jesus called his first disciples. People may want to revisit tasks #1 and #2.
What does a quality net look like? How is a net constructed? Does Scripture provide the image? If Christians learn to make strong nets, how are they to be thrown into the sea? What does this imagery teach? Are nets really supposed to catch fish of every kind? Really … every kind?
Thoughts along the way,
SUBSCRIBE Carol Wimmer is the author of the acclaimed poem When I say I am a Christian, and three books entitled: The Net—An Organizational Vision for the Church of Tomorrow; The Clock—A Timekeeping Tool for the Church of Tomorrow; and The Key—A Spiritual Language for the Church of Tomorrow