Sunday, 14 June 2009

The Open Church

"The Open Church" by Jurgen Moltmann: A Review
This is a book about Christian living which, as Moltmann rightly points out, necessities the "community of Christians; there is no such thing as a solitary Christian in the Church. "
One of the most interesting chapters takes the form of a meditation on the on the words of Paul in Romans: "Accept one another as Christ accepted us." What does this mean for us today in the context of Christian communities? Moltmann begins by observing that "it is relatively easy for us to accept each other when the others are just like us and want what we want." Because of this principle, stated by Aristotle in the well-known saying "Birds of a feather flock together," it is very easy for the Church to become essentially a religious clique, which excludes or `merely tolerates' some people-the outcasts of society.
When these need recognition, we tend to "react with defensiveness, increased self-confirmation, anxiety and disparagement." This a natural reaction, Moltmann says, because those who are unlike us makes us feel insecure. As an example, he mentions those who are physically or mentally handicapped. He confesses that "it is very difficult for us to see in the handicapped person a human being. We see only the deformity, and we are disturbed by it. For we would like to recognise only ourselves in the other." There is acceptance, but it is limited.
Moltmann suggests that part of the problem is that we are only applying the first part of Paul's words, and forgetting the most important part-to accept each other "as Christ has accepted us." If we accept this, what change should it make in our attitudes to others?
Moltmann argues that Christ accepts us despite our defects and failings: "With all of our rough edges and unagreeable dispositions, we are acknowledged by Christ, brought to the glory of God, and loved with passion. If this were not true, then who would we be? A leaf in the wind, a particle of dust on the street."
What sort of community does this give rise to? It gives rise to a more open community that is no longer simply thought of as "the sum of all those who are registered as members on the church rolls." Instead, the Christian community should be "a new kind of life together for human beings that affirms: That no one is alone with his or her problems; that no one has to conceal his or her disabilities; that there are not some who have the say and others who have no say; that neither the old nor the little ones are isolated; that one bears the other even when it is unpleasant and there is no agreement; that, finally, the one can also at times leave the other in peace when the other  needs it"
Can this kind of community come about, or is it just a pious pipe-dream? Moltmann sees it arising today in grass-roots groups. "In many churches today where there is much preaching but little community, there are arising groups which seek community even at the expense of privacy. One need only make a small effort to seek them out"
This is an excellent book which is rooted in practical application.

No comments: