March 12, 2008

Jay Guin taught me a new word.

In his recent post titled “The Future of the Progressive Churches of Christ: Part 4, Defining Our Challenges” he describes what the progressive mainline churches are currently experiencing. He explains that liminality is “the condition of a human society that has just experienced major change.” From Wikipedia:

The liminal state is characterized by ambiguity, openness, and indeterminacy. One’s sense of identity dissolves to some extent, bringing about disorientation. Liminality is a period of transition where normal limits to thought, self-understanding, and behavior are relaxed – a situation which can lead to new perspectives.

Some mainline churches are trying to move past legalistic confines of the past. In doing so, they need to redefine who they are and what they stand for. Along the way they are experiencing liminality.

I am struck by the similarity between their condition and that of the former ICOC congregations. Having thrown off the structures and rules that once defined us, we now are are seeking to discover the new boundaries. The Plan for United Cooperation, the disciplestoday.com web site, and the International Leadership Conferences (among many other things) are all efforts to create that new definition of identity, direction, and vision.

Fortunately, we have the scriptures to define what we need to become. And we have the Holy Spirit within us to produce the right fruits. Cooperating, communicating, and meeting together are all good things. But God has given us the only standard to define what the church should be.

Coming from such a clearly defined past, the ambiguity of the present is unsettling to some people. This is a test of faith. Do we really believe God is at work? Do we believe the scriptures are enough? Do we believe grace is sufficient? Are we still committed to seeking God’s will? If so, then everything is going to be ok.

Judah spent seventy years in captivity. Some of the greatest examples of faith occurred during those years. For example, just read the book of Daniel! Like Daniel, we need to live by faith through the period of liminality. God will never leave us nor forsake us. We’ll be ok.

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