A Change In Terms


My theology of worship is mystical. I can’t count the number of times I’ve mentioned it at Central over the years, but my theology is supported by the very space in which our community worships. Central’s stained glass is filled with images from the book of Revelation – whoever designed this space thought that coming together to worship was a mystical act in which we join the “countless multitude” of people around the heavenly throne – from every nation, tribe, people and tongue. Joining together with that great crowd in worship we also proclaim, through word and deed, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the lamb.”

And along with us the heavenly host bows in worship and affirms our declaration.

To put it in theology speak, gathering in worship is the saints on earth joining the saints who are around the heavenly throne – becoming one with “The Church Triumphant.” The hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation” describes this joining together as, “Mystic Sweet Communion with those whose rest is won.” Worship is a deep act that goes beyond liking the music or tolerating the preacher or enjoying our time together.

But here’s the thing, for most of our time here on earth we are not “The Church Triumphant.” In this world Jesus’ disciples are servants of a king whose rule is disputed by most folks. Now, in my cultural context that dispute is often just mild passive-aggression, but in places around the world it can become a active and violent persecution. The classic description for the church on Earth, where Jesus’ sovereignty is disputed, is, “The Church Militant.”

I don’t like the term.

Why? Because we’ve got way too many images of what militant religion looks like – Church bombings in Sri Lanka, Synagogue shootings in the US, and Mosque attacks in New Zealand – and that’s just in the last calendar year alone. Because of this, I don’t think “The Church Militant” is a helpful phrase – certainly not any more, and perhaps it never was to begin with. It evokes images of conquest and power and victory through strength – that’s not the church. The Church Jesus envisioned wasn’t about worldly power. It was, rather, about embracing suffering on behalf of others, service, and community gathering around him.

So rather than “The Church Militant” I’d rather describe us as, “The Church Missional.” Our mission isn’t to conquer enemies and take ground, it’s to proclaim the name of our savior with our age-old declaration, “Jesus Christ is Lord.”