"This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus." Ephesians 3:6
It seems that if someone is in ministry that is in my generation or younger (let's just call it the 20 and 30 something generation), there is this propensity to feel as if they need to start the whole church experiment over - to start brand new. I hear it all the time, and read about it in all the new printed pieces that get distributed - "This is church like you have never experienced" or "You have never been to a church like this before" or "Our church isn't really boring like the church you go to" (ok, made the last one up, but the sentiments are not far off the truth).
What are we saying with that? It seems that we are saying that we have some new revelation on how church is to be, that we have finally found that missing ingredient to make the church the TRUE church (even though those ingredients are usually some type of ancient deal with a contemporary flare). I'm not sure that is really what we want to say. I understand needing to redefine what "church" is for people. Believe me, the concept of church in the minds of many is not at all what I want to be connected to. So, I get the need to redefine. But it feels, at times, like the proverbial baby is thrown out with the bath water.
The great mystery that is the church universal was not new in Acts.....well, not exactly. Israel was, and has almost always been, the people of God.......so the idea of the church as the people of God was not new. Israel as a witness to the glory of God was a commission since the time of Abraham (at least at inception), so the church as witness to the glory of God is not really a new thing either. What was new about the church, or what was the mystery, was that this people of God would be made up of Jews and Gentiles alike. Now, that was different.
The church of today is at a crossroads of trying to redefine itself. I personally think that is good. The church needs redefining. Too many have lost the discernment of form and function, and have actually moved their preferential styles of ministry into the realm of Biblical imperative. This is trouble for the church. In fact, it is the trouble that, in a sense, the early church had to wrestle through at the Council of Jerusalem (see Acts 15). If the church of now doesn't wrestle with some of these same issues, then we will be headed for trouble. I don't need to enumerate those particular issues.......they are too many, and are discussed ad infinitum on most Christian message boards.
I simply want to add this to the discussion: The church can be adjusted, realigned, reconfigured, and reoriented without being discarded as broken. I am a believer in the church, because I am a believer in Jesus. Some say that the church is the hope of the world. I understand the statement I think, but would counter with this: Jesus is the hope of the world. That said, I think that part of the mystery of the church is that Jesus dwells within this diverse body of Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, men and women and that He, through them, does in fact provide hope for the world.
But that hope has always been part of the plan of the church. It's not new, and someone with a new church plant hasn't discovered the missing ingredient. They may just be redefining something that has always been. And that is not always a bad thing......as long as that redefinition doesn't disconnect from the ancient foundation upon which the church is built.
I am an eternal optimist as it relates to the church, though I see the pragmatic/reality side living in a decaying Christian culture in North America. But I am hopeful. I guess the reason I am hopeful is not that we have some new, innovative style (though I think those are welcome in the body). Nor is it because we are more enlightened than the generations that preceded us (though I don't think our generation should apologize for really pursuing the mission of Jesus in some new ways or fear the calls of compromise that accompany them). I am hopeful because of the testimony of a church that has lasted for 2,000 years. It has been bumpy, ugly, and sometimes flat out wrong.....but the church still remains. I'm hopeful I keep that in the forefront of my mind so I never become a cynic about the hope there is in Christ.