Many, even most people often find radically new ideas, new realities hard to adjust to or even accept. This is certainly true in the scientific realm when ideas that once seemed crazy have now been shown to be true (e.g. that an electron can be in two places at the same time). However ‘craziness’ is not necessarily grounds for dismissing the possibility of a new reality. As the great scientist Niels Bohr once said to a colleague “Your idea is crazy. The question is, is it crazy enough to be true?” A particular ‘crazy idea which has been for some time on the scientific radar is that there are more Universes than the one we inhabit.
Of course this idea of ‘crazy new realities’ is not only true in the area of science, but now also in the social and spiritual realms. Accepted ‘Reality’ once was that everyone dwelt in a single ‘Universe’ where everybody went to church, believed in God and there was one world view, or controlling ‘story’, namely the one we see in the Bible (in the western world anyway). However, this ‘one universe’ mind map has now crumbled into multiple ‘universes’ each with its own world view, belief system and controlling story. Indeed there are multiple ‘Universes Next Door’ to the one everyone used to live in and they are indeed ‘crazy’. It is this ‘crazy’ multiple social and spiritual (often called Post-modern) ‘universe’ idea that so many church members find so hard to understand and accept.
Thinking about this reminds me of a story about an Aboriginal tribe that lived on the banks of a mighty river. For many generations this river gave life to the community, but over a period of time the river slowly began to cease to flow, eventually becoming no more than a stagnant pool. Along the banks of the disappearing source of life the people watched with dismay; asking ‘what was going on here?’ While most continued to sit by the dried up river, waiting for the river to flow once more, a few began to look further afield and discovered that the river was not actually gone, it had simply changed course upstream and was flowing elsewhere.
I do not know the origin of this story, but it functions well as a parable about the state of many churches which are like those sitting by the dried-up river bed waiting for the river to return. The church, as we see in Acts chapter 2, owes its very existence to the coming, flowing, blessing and empowering of the Holy Spirit, the ‘River of the water of life’ flowing from the presence of God Himself (as we see in the book of Revelation 22:1,2). It seems however that today the river of the Spirit is not flowing and giving life to churches.
Why might this be? We know that God expects obedient and servant-hearted gospel ministry from His churches, this is why they exist. However so often, while a church has been vibrant in the past, with a large congregation and numerous young people, as years have gone by the life has been lost. It can be argued that there are two major reasons for this-
1) Firstly, because the members have forgotten why they exist, which is to ‘go and make disciples’, by proclamation of the Gospel to the non-Christian community.
2) Secondly, because of a failure to realise that the non-church communities have moved and now dwell in universes parallel to the one for which our model of church was designed.
If the church is to regain its missional vitality and fruitfulness it is important that we allow the river of God the Holy Spirit to take us where He is flowing and wants us to go in order for our ministries to be blessed.
This is where prayer is so, so important—that we both as individuals and corporately when we gather together, pray that we will know and be obedient to the leading of the Spirit into the social and spiritual ‘universes next door’. These are the addresses where most Australians now ‘live’ with their cultures, ways of thinking and world views increasingly alien to the ’church’ universe in which most church members still live. Then perhaps God may be gracious to us so that we do not get to the situation of large numbers of Australian churches of asking ‘where did the River go?’ For the Spirit of God will only bless our church life and ministries when we are prepared to follow the ‘River’ and enter those many parallel universes that now make up Australian society.
We need to grasp the new reality (crazy as it seems) that it appears that the River of God has changed course and is not sweeping people into our standard ‘Christendom’ model church services anymore. He, the Holy Spirit, is flowing elsewhere, giving life to new models of ‘being church’, models that God is blessing- The concept of the ‘Unbounded Church’ is a recognition of this ‘Crazy’ reality.
So, in the words of E.E. Cummins, and I suspect they would be Jesus’ too-
“Listen, there’s a hell of a good universe next door! Let’s go…”
And of course keep on praying!