Gwen was marveling at a Tupperware pitcher the other day. Someone gave it to us for our wedding and it is still working well. Other pitchers come and go, but the sturdy little Tupperware goes on and on — which, I suppose would be a good reason to trust Tupperware. The corporation would be delighted if you formed a love relationship with your plastic pitcher and the business behind it.
A lot of people do trust Tupperware-like operations. You might know that Tupperware was among the original direct sales organizations that sprung up after World War 2 — Earl Tupper and Brownie Wise gave women something to do after the men came back from the front and told them to go back to the kitchen. Now they have about 2 million people who sell products worldwide. Individual, entrepreneurial capitalism is like the new American dream which comes complete with a post-Christian religious-like philosophy [addictive Tupperware propaganda here].
The method is so ingrained in our society that a lot of people seem to think the church is, essentially, a Tupperware party. You invite a bunch of people, show them your stuff while eating appetizers and try to parlay your relationships into a Jesus sale. People have certainly criticized Circle of Hope because their friends don’t want to come to our Jesus party and buy Jesus. They want to improve the product. That’s if they even want to be involved at all. Plenty of people would rather die than be involved in direct sales!
It is hard to describe the church outside of some economic metaphor, since our imagination for forming society in the United States is almost completely subsumed under how our economy works and what rights and laws are commensurate with making it doable and just. Half the time on the BIC Listserve the men (mostly) of our denomination are talking about politics as if the church has a big stake in the economy of the United States. I think we can do a lot better than merely debating just how crazy the recent Senate vote on watered-down gun laws was (although, Lord knows, the prophets need to turn up the volume). I think we can do better than integrating into the economy.
Intent holds us together
At least I don’t think we have much to say about society until we have a church. The church is how God does his work and demonstrates the life we have received. Here is a great teaching from the Bible that briefly sums up what the church is all about:
[God’s] intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Ephesians 3:10).
If you want to sell something, sell that!
Better yet, swear off economic metaphors for describing God’s people altogether, for a while. Because the church is not an economy in the popular, “consumer/free-market capitalism” sense. We are a people who God rules and through whom God reveals the character and purpose that creates us. We ARE a people in which someone can be included. We DO God’s purpose of revelation by which we include ourselves in the destiny of the world, whether it invites us to the party or not.
We don’t need an organization to work out Ephesians 3:10-11. And if the organization we adopt is modeled on consumer capitalism or American political theory, we’d be better off without one! We live out God’s purpose as individuals and in the course of daily life. We should organize our time to do that. The Spirit of God is in us and God is expressing life and love through each of Christ’s followers. But if we want to make ourselves known to the powers and provide a place for people to be included, it is pretty arrogant to think we can do that on our own. And since God’s intent is to work through the church, not just you or me, we should see ourselves as agents of the church, not as a church of me, myself and I. Because God has built each of us into the church, Circle of Hope is organized into cells and into teams. Our cells organize into congregations. Our congregations organize into a network. Our network is part of a denomination and is connected worldwide in creative ways.
What holds it all together? I focus on the word INTENT in Ephesians 3:10. God’s intention is the creative spark that again and again forms the body of Christ and animates it. And God’s intent is met with our similar intent, sparked by God’s Spirit in us making all things new. We hold together by the covenant that makes us a people and the agreements that make us doers of the word in so many ways. Our covenant, in particular, is what makes us more than a Tupperware party. We don’t hold weekly meetings to convince our members to buy another piece of the collection. We are all the “owners” ourselves and we present to others the person of Jesus, not a product; we call for relationship, not self-actualization through endless “freedom of choice.”
The leaders of the men’s retreat were working out our presumption of covenant love throughout the weekend. They took an audacious risk by making their small groups painstakingly diverse, crossing all congregations. Then they went even further by making dyads that were randomly selected by the small group leaders. Then they had these pairs doing intimate, spiritual things. They demonstrated a huge trust in God’s presence in the body. The had a huge faith that individuals would experience God’s truth and love and intentionally follow God’s lead. They assumed they could trust the small groups to include everyone. They trusted the dyads to do spiritual things. They presumed a covenant life and didn’t even allow for too much individual anonymity. I’m sure a few people were blown away, so far out of their comfort zone and over their capability that they are still reeling from it. But I did not hear anything about that yet. What I have heard is story after story of being moved, connected and inspired — and formed into a people as God intended.
Our destiny is to make God’s heart and God’s ways known to the world, to live out the eternal purpose of God made known in Jesus. Our destiny is not merely to keep deciding what we want to do. It is not to keep inviting people into sales events that presume they are merely meant for deciding what they want to do. We share God’s purpose. We are each someone valuable to God, and what we do has meaning beyond our capacity to choose. We are a people through whom God intends to work out his life and purpose, and what we accomplish has eternal ramifications. We have a God-intended destiny, and it defines how we take our steps together.