“And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”
(Hebrews 10:25, New Living Testament)
Twenty-first-century Christians, a far cry from the first-century ones, do not spend their time looking to the skies for the imminent return of Jesus. So the need to “meet together” does not seem as pressing as it did then. Besides, we also don’t live in small towns and villages as much; we have, in large part, moved to hugely populated urban centres and consider ourselves culturally to be part of the “global village.”
And some of us are committed to bringing the “kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven” (Jesus’ prayer) more than we are focused on a glorious and unending afterlife. So, is the sermonizing from the writer of Hebrews out of date and not applicable to our modern age?
No. In fact, it is more applicable than ever.
For one, moving from the village to the more socially and educationally advanced cities has actually made us strangers to each other. Our preoccupations in this setting have made it more difficult to get together as a faith community, not easier. And in a Facebook/Twitter age, we have been lulled into thinking our social networking is broadening and enriching our interaction.
But while they may have grown broader, Steve Bordeau, an English professor writing an op-ed piece in a recent Toronto Star, observes that they are shallower. “Even if Facebook serves well in certain respects, foremost as a communication tool,” he writes, “it fails miserably as a primary vehicle for meaningful interaction.” Its fault lies in being a means for some people to substitute a real-life relationship with a virtual social connection—merely the possibility of a tenuous, and digital, link.
This critique is especially important as congregations in Mennonite Church Canada are encouraged to seriously discern together in the Being a Faithful Church process. It has been disappointing to learn that those who have seriously tackled this process have had turnouts of only a third of the membership when special times have been set aside to engage Scripture together.
Just as important as discerning Scripture together around prescient issues of sexuality and peace, “hermeneutical ferment” is the refining of our assembling together—all of us, not just a committed few—in the spirit of encouragement and “provoking each other to good works,” as the writer of Hebrews admonished. This is the framework in which we can best hear the Word of the Lord.
There are other cultural influences working against our sense of community. In an upcoming series entitled “On the use of Scripture,” Bruce Hiebert, an adjunct professor of ethics at the Vancouver School of Theology, encourages storytelling in congregations as part of the discernment process, but warns that certain obstacles persist, such as: “In our self-centred world we look for the lazy way out, not the one that will bring us into confrontation with ourselves, teach us about true community, or lay us bare before God and each other.
“Story-telling is not quick and easy, but as a people of Scripture—a body of laws and poems and teachings, and, above all else, stories—we should see that God’s way into our world is through stories. This is not accidental. We don’t know the stories of Scripture and tell the stories of Scripture because they get us to someplace else. The truth is in the stories.”
And in another upcoming feature on “Wrestling with our identity” from Derek Suderman, a professor at Conrad Grebel University College, Waterloo, Ont., comes a warning that, despite our distinctive Anabaptist belief in the “priesthood of believers,” we are in danger of “creating a new ‘magisterium,’ only this time they are university professors, preaching/teaching pastors, or Sunday school curriculum writers, who we sub-contract to interact with the Bible on our behalf.”
Being a Faithful Church is not an easy process. And it will require hard work. Yes, it calls for good leadership, good teachers and serious students of the Bible in our congregations, but most of all it requires a commitment on the part of all the “priests” in all the congregations to undergo a transformative process that gets us in touch with each other. That can only happen if we meet together.