The Marks of the Church Today
In the movie “Remember the Titans” the coaches are preparing the newly-integrated team for their first game. As they move through their opening exercises, the head coach yells out “Who are we?” The team replies, “We are the Titans!” “What are we?” the coach yells back. “We are mobile, agile, and hostile!” the team cries back. I would like to borrow this threefold cry and add one further element to it as a way of articulating the “marks” or chief and essential characteristics of the church in our world today.
Mobile, agile, hostile, and I would add, fragile comprise my proposed marks. “Mobile” indicates the much-needed quality of readiness to move – physically, in service, theologically, and in whatever other ways are needed – that should mark a pilgrim people, those always “on the way” to the kingdom of God. A mobile church is a lean church, stripped down to its essentials, sitting light to place and buildings, expecting the Spirit to move it to break boundaries and cross barriers that exist between people and groups. Reconciliation is an always moving target and God’s people are his “mobile response unit” for such service.
“Agile” suggests flexibility and the suppleness to reach others around the barriers of race, social status, respectability, tradition, denomination, language, and so forth to forge new connections of solidarity and sharing enhancing relationships and meeting need. This capacity to reconfigure relationships and networks is critical to sustaining and communicating our identity as God’s people and carrying out the ministry to which we are called.
“Hostile” does not immediately resonate as a mark of the church, especially in these volatile and violent days in which religion is implicated in a tragic and embarrassing degree. Yet, the truth is that God’s people are on a mission in a hostile world. Sin, evil, and death have ordered and insinuated themselves into the warp and woof of human life lived in rebellion against God. From the intimacy of personal life to the large-scale systems and forces that order human life at large, sin and its manifold distortions mark the shape and tenor of our lives.
God’s people, I like to call his “subversive, counter-revolutionary movement,” is that people equipped and commissioned to undercut and sabotage the attitudes and patterns that sin has set in place and demonstrate the new life, life as God originally intended it. As such, we are a hostile people, hostile to all that hinders and thwarts God’s intention for his world both large and small. Our hostility is not against people, however, but rather against “the principalities and powers,” those rebellious and hostile powers Paul names (Eph.6:12) as standing behind the disorder of God’s wayward creation. Our weapon is the gospel, the announcement of God’s victory over these powers of sin, evil, death, and the devil in Christ. We and use only the “violence of love” (Archbishop Oscar Romero) to implement this victory in the world.
“Fragile” is my addition to these marks. The church stands (or should stand) is stubborn solidarity with the broken and hurting masses in our world. If our hearts are not broken by sharing God’s broken heart for his wounded world, we belie our calling and confession (Matt.5:4). Fragility means we live out of our own woundedness and journey toward healing in serving the God who has called us. We call others to share this journey with us in the name of the Christ by whose own wounds we are healed (Isa.53). Fragility is the name of the violence of love that forms our service, lubricates our agility, and fires our mobility.
Fragility is the name of the love of Christ within us. Mobility is love’s mode of being in the world. Agility is the form of our action with and towards others. And hostility names the aim of this subversive, counter-revolutionary people – to erect signposts of justice, love, and freedom that point to God’s coming new age and to announce and demonstrate that this gracious rule is already present and possible for those who trust and serve him. These four, I suggest, are the marks of the church we ought seek in these days in which we live.