Summary: Those who are seeking to follow God and find traditionally church-based experiences a hinderance to their own spiritual growth, need to consider a different way in which to relate to one another; a way which I call a “not-church” or “Mu-church” mentality. Those who do not learn to do so will be left behind the current Moving of God’s Spirit.
Darkest before the dawn? Emotionally true, but scientifically not true. I’ve been outside all night and on into the early dawn many, many times in my life, and I can say that just before dawn, the temperature tends to drop a few degrees. It has to do with the sun (still beyond the horizon) heating upper layers of air which rise, causing colder air to rush down to land’s surface or something like that. (Quote me on that if you want…!)
Emotionally, after having spent an entire night outside (especially when it’s very cold) there’s an unavoidable sense of expectation that when the first rays of sunlight reach beyond the horizon and actually touch you, you feel the sun’s warmth immediately. Think about spending a night out in the cold. Depending on when sunrise is in your location, you’ve shivered all night, drank hot coffee or cocoa (fingers wrapped around the cup to gain what little heat you could), and waited. You know sunrise is coming; you check your watch — repeatedly; you look toward the east wondering if your mind is deceiving you when you think it’s just a little, tiny bit brighter when actually it still looks black as can be.
But when dawn comes, it’s almost a shock. No matter how closely I watched, no matter if I had the precise time on my watch, it’s as if suddenly — the sky’s filled with light! The transition, mentally or emotionally, from pre-dawn darkness (with its hopeful expectation) to the glow of light high in the sky powerfully impacts just about any watchman of the night.
Is “just before the dawn” literally the darkest part of the night? Not in terms of the physics of light and its transmission through the atmosphere. But in one’s emotions, knowing the light is almost come, the blackness of night is almost over, one’s heightened expectations contrasts the pre-dawn darkness with the wondrous appearance of light. The watcher feels delivered from deep darkness into warmth and renewed life. Dawns are one of nature’s most fantastic experiences available to humanity.
Not that I want to be up and out of bed to actually experience dawn on a regular basis! I’ve seen quite a few in my life and it feels wonderful to sleep right through them, just knowing a new day is inevitably dawning! The sun goes down, and the sun also rises!
There’s a Dawn coming, though, that I’ve never yet seen — no one in the world has seen it yet, for that matter. In a sense, it’s a Day that has dawned periodically throughout history in a nebulous form (the fullness is to come later!) One example of its coming in a partial form is when Jesus physically began to minister in Palestine, 2,000 years ago. Matthew 4.16 records Jesus’ ministry in the land of Galilee like this: “The people that sat in darkness have seengreat light; and to them who sat in the region and shadow of death, Light is arisen!”
Prior to the arrival of one of God’s special “seasons” are periods of great and increasing spiritual coldness and darkness. The darkness of our current season can be seen in the gradual absorption of Christian church-goers into the carnal, world systems of our day. In Jesus’ own day, two millennia ago, he referred to this sort of “absorption” in his parable of the “wineskins”.
In this story, He reminded the listening crowds (made up of both “sinners” and professional religious leaders) that vintners would never put newly fermenting grape juice into old wineskins used in a prior season. Instead of the casks or wooden barrels used today, back then, wine fermented inside “bags” made from the skins of animals (or bladders, stomachs, etc.) As fermentation completed its processing from grape juice into wine, the skin bag (wineskin) would swell and extend enormously. But if some foolish vintners were to try and use wineskins that had been used the season before (and thus already greatly stretched), under the process of fermentation, the bags eventually would explode, destroying the container and wasting the new wine.
Jesus told this parable in order to prepare anyone (who wanted to listen) that the new move of God’s Spirit that he was ushering into the world (he called it the Kingdom of God) could NOT be “contained” in the existing religious system of that day — Judaism based on the Temple’s sacrificial system. Jesus’ parable warned anyone who tried to follow after Jesus spiritually AND hold on to their traditional religious systems that they’d be caught up in a huge “explosion” when the New Wine of Christ destroyed the traditional religious systems.
BTW — this “explosion” came in A.D. 70 when Rome drove the Jews out of Palestine, slaughtered as many as they could catch, and completely destroyed their Temple in Jerusalem. Since the Jew’s traditional religious system depended entirely on a system of sacrifices offered in that Temple, when the Romans destroyed the Temple, they thereby destroyed the Temple system, and thus destroyed traditional Judaism.
The wineskin exploded.
Periodically, throughout history, God’s Spirit “discards” religious wineskins into which people have tried to “capture” and “contain” His Spirit. We’re in such a period right now. Religious pollster George Barna has determined that tens of thousands of people — especially young people in their 20s and 30s — have walked out of familiar church systems, away from traditional congregational structures, apart from conventional dogmas, and discarding traditional methods of “evangelism” or “ministry”.
But these haven’t left in order to have nothing more to do with God — they’ve left in the hopes they might find God in ways that are significant, personal, and not readily available in the established church system. This has left those people who lead traditional church systems (the professional religious leaders) fighting desperately to maintain their bloated, organizational structures and their lands and properties by trying to lure these “God-seekers” and their finances back into their traditional church forms.
Try as these leaders might, the Spirit which God has poured out on the world today will not be contained in human structures. The more church leaders try to perpetuate the old versus the present Moving of God’s Spirit, the more they merely set themselves up for destruction. Not that God would “destroy” them — but anyone foolish enough to try and contain a fresh Move of God in their old wineskins will find the growing pressure of all that is New in God’s Plans cannot be contained in the old forms.
People often write to me (and I read others in their blogs or forums) about how the traditional church structures need to be demolished; these people are iconoclasts, wasting time and energy in trying to tear-down old religious forms. But this is totally unnecessary. Again, it’s not that God will “demolish” these structures, but that the increase of God’s Spirit and the increase of His Kingdom in people’s lives won’t be abole to be contained for long in traditional church forms.
There’s a dawn coming soon. Not the End of the World; not the eschaton or God’s Day of Judgment. There’s a dawn coming soon of the Spirit of God being known afresh and anew in human lives; as people gather together there will appear unexpected and generally unplanned “human structures” that are different from those in the past; structures that are larger and looser and more elastic than those religious structures which exist today. And structures, above all, that are temporary, used only for as long as the Spirit needs them to exist and abandoned quickly as He moves onward. Our God does not camp permanently, and His people are those who know to quickly and easily pull up their tent-stakes and follow the Piller of Cloud by day and Fire by night! [Numbers 9.15ff]
The best “name” I can give to whatever these new spiritual “containers” will look like is that they will not look like “church”. Borrowing from Japanese theologians of the past century (such as Kokichi Kurosaki) the best term for whatever these new spiritual forms take might be “Mu-Kyokai” which literally means, “not-church”.
The traditional church has become fundamentally divided by a sectarian spirit, toxic in preserving its organizational structures against the Moving of God’s Spirit, and protective of s0-called “ministers of God” who frankly resist God’s Spirit in exchange for prestige and position. It is an old wineskin. We needn’t bother resisting these old forms — we can do as Jesus did and simply ignore them as we move away from a “church mentality” into a “Mu-church” mentality… a “not-church” mentality. Instead, as individuals seek for the Living God, the Spirit will connect and gather them together with other brothers and sisters in Christ who are on the same spiritual Journey.
These “Mu-church” Followers of Jesus Christ are those who have been made One by/in His Spirit, and they’ll be gathering in mutually edifying fellowship (a true koinonia) in ways that will avoid falling into the traps of familiar tradition. Those who are seeking the God Who is Always on the Move truly will learn to love one another, edify one another, and encourage one another within “not-church” relationships — no longer drawn from denominational patterns and humanly devised rituals but drawn together via the Spirit of God.
In this sense, we all can share in the joy of coming out of a spiritually cold darkness into “great Light” — “making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” [Eph 4.3] and doing so through love and aided by adopting a Mu-church mentality.
BTW — for more information on the Japanese Mu-Kyokai, see his book, One Body in Christ, by Kokichi Kurosaki at http://tinyurl.com/kokichi-kurosaki es