Welcome to the Caravan Church blog! The title is inspired by Brethren theologian Vernard Eller’s The Outward Bound. In it, Eller describes the Christian church as a “caravan,” a group of people traveling together in a “common cause” seeking a “common destination”. Certainly, the image itself is not controversial. The Apostle Peter describes believers as “aliens and strangers” in this present world, while Hebrews speaks of God’s people longing for the heavenly city that is to come. And consider the Old Testament picture of Israel wandering in the wilderness to the Promised Land. Unavoidable is the biblical linkage between Old Jerusalem and New Jerusalem, both in their own ways, serving as destinations of God’s elect.
Yet the rub comes when the question is asked: given the validity of the image, how should the image form her faith and practice as church? For example, how might the picture of church as Body of Christ impact her life together? How might the image of church as “temple of God” shape her behavior?
Assuming the validity of “caravan” as a metaphor, let us apply the same test to it. How might church faith and practice be impacted? The primary benefit of the “caravan” image is the eschatological focus that it gives. If you recall, one of Stephen Covey’s “habits of highly effective people” is to “begin with the end in mind.” When you have identified your end state, you can then order your life around that end, making life more effective and meaningful. When we confess as a church that we are not permanently “digging in” here, but are in-process toward a clearly defined end state (the heavenly city), that should make all the difference in the world for what matters here. The “caravan” image implies a march toward a physical goal, but the journey motif can also be applied to the church’s spiritual progress. As she travels along life’s way, she is also in the process of becoming more of what God wants her to be.
Now, what is true for the group is true also for the individual. Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard resolved: “And now, with God’s help, I shall be myself.” From his human perspective, Kierkegaard declared his dependence on God (the “eternal”) to break into his finiteness (the “limited”) to help him achieve authentic selfhood. And God’s help is needed to combat incredibly powerful forces at work to keep us from becoming our authentic selves, all that God has created us to be. Sin, despair, tumult, and anxiety can so limit us that we immobilize ourselves, settling for less than God desires. As the church travels on her journey, her task, like that of the individual, is to “be herself.” And to become herself is a process of struggle.
I sense a growing hunger among God’s people today for authenticity, to break through our transience to experience the permanent, true things. Many of us have tired of experiments in “marketing the church”, in endless strategizing about how to make God compelling to people (what an affront!).
So, two ideas serve as a thematic springboard for this blog.
1. The caravan. To join the church is to join a traveling people.
2. The call for the church to “be herself”. God’s will for the church’s character as shown in Scripture is sufficient for life together. It is our task to discover that will.
The fundamental purpose of this blogging venture will be twofold:
- To present specific ideas concerning how the church might “be herself”, drawing from biblical and theological points of view
- To share ways in which “being herself” could help the church fulfill her mission within the current Western cultural context
So, what do you think? Is there validity to the image of the church as a “caravan”? Are there drawbacks?