What Jurgen Moltmann might say to church planters
Over the last twenty years there has been renewed interest in a theology of creativity that has centred on God’s creative nature, the creativity of people reflecting God’s likeness, and creative gifts and graces given by the Holy Spirit for the use of mission and ministry. Similarly, creativity is a theme frequently located within church planting literature and other related writings. The following two brief examples serve to illustrate the current emphasis on creativity as integral to church planting processes, principles and practice.
Graham Cray, formerly the Archbishops’ Missioner and leader of Fresh Expressions, says, What convinces me that fresh expressions is, in part at least, a movement of the Holy Spirit, is the extraordinary flourishing of creativity that we've seen in it. People, quite traditional Christians, are imagining church in ways they could never have imagined it before. All over the country new forms of church are being planted for or in emerging cultures.
Despite an increased emphasis on creative and new forms of church, there is a deficiency of critical theological engagement upon how the doctrines of God the Creator and creation may serve fruitfully to shape and inform the missional practice of church planting. The doctrines of God the Creator offer potential themes and insights which can prove productive to the practice of church planting in particular.
Three overarching and interrelated creation themes that are at the heart of Moltmann’s creation theology:
a) Creation and the Trinity
b) Creation and Eschatology
c) Creation and Pneumatology
Creation and the Trinity
Moltmann advocates in his work God and Creation that God makes room and space within Himself to create persons and community in His own image. Further, God Himself dwells in His own creation (fills it up with His presence and glory) making creation His ‘oikos’ (home) in which all creatures are invited to share in His hospitality. Mutually abiding relationships are therefore at the heart of this newly created community reflecting the communal nature of Godself. The creating of friendships and loving relationships is therefore central to creation, friendships that are patterned after the God community: loving, serving, cooperating, self-emptying and welcoming. As persons created in the likeness of the Creator, humans are uniquely given the capacity to develop intimate and meaningful friendships with God and one another. For Moltmann, this is the primary understanding and importance of the Imago Dei (God’s Image). Though the Imago Dei enables capacity for reason, knowledge and creativity, it is essentially about the capacity for forming life-giving relationships. Nothing reflects God more than creating communities of hospitality for this reflects God’s own created ‘oikos.’ To be an oikos community, the church needs to build relational “hospitality and conversation and forms of interaction in which the typical ‘us versus them’ mentality is broken down by shared fellowship.” In short, Christian communities should be communities of hospitality where “the competitive struggle which turns people into lonely individuals is ended, and the social chill of a heartless world vanishes.” This reflects the hospitable Triune Creator God.
Creation and Eschatology
Eschatology has often been considered exclusively as the doctrine of the last things, the events surrounding and following the end of time but for Moltmann Eschatology is not an appendage to theology or creation but the very starting point. Creation is moving from the start to its glorious future. The future shapes the start. And yet “creation is aligned from the beginning towards it future glory” and “found in the new, consummated creation.” God created, continues to create and will be creating. Creation is the whole process. Because God is in creation, and creation is in God, it is open to further development, creativity, and potentiality. God is the “source of possibilities, making possible the impossible.” Creation is the whole process of divine creative activity, not just its start. Creation remains open to God, for it is not determined by the past, has room for God to engage in its present and is moving to a new and glorious future.
The “crown of the new creation” is the Sabbath, the feast of creation. The end of creation is rest, renewal, and restoration. “the Sabbath points forward to the eschatological blessing and rest of creation in the fulfillment of God’s purposes for creation.” Moltmann advocates that “the whole work of creation was performed for the sake of the Sabbath” and that “God rests “from his works” on the Sabbath, but in so doing he at the same time rests “in face of his works,” to enjoy, experience and dwell with His creation. Likewise, he enables creation to rest so that it can experience His intimacy, shalom and peace and celebrate the glory and wonder of God in worship and praise. By ceasing from participation in working activity (doing), humans can enjoy resting in God (being), so that the meaning of life is not reduced to work and busy activity. As Moltmann says, the completion of activity is rest, and the completion of doing is simple existence
Communities of hope in suffering reflect the heart of God for His creation. God stands with creation in all its Godforsakenness. It is the hope rooted in the love of God for the creation and in the promise of the new creation, “Behold, I make all things new!” The Christian faith is grounded in an unshakable promise that God has come to lovingly redeem, heal and restore a broken world and enters into it to do so.
Creation and pneumatology
Creation exists because of the energising gifts, graces and power of the Spirit. The Spirit opens up new possibilities creating unity and diversity within the created order. The Spirit dwells in all things so the unity of the whole is sustained. Creation is a carefully woven interrelated fabric. And yet “all created things are individualizations of the community of creation… we see each individual as part of the whole, and everything limited as a representative of what is finite.” The Spirit therefore “indwells both every individual creature and the community of creation” They are not mutual contradictions. They complement one another.”
Further, the Spirit fosters a reverence for all of life The Spirit “embraces all of life, in every sphere, and in every direction.” The mission of the Spirit is therefore the mission of Christ, which is the redemption and liberation of this whole world. Since God is the source of all life then life must be reverenced everywhere. Reverence for life is really about the divine life in all things. This means that the more we participate with the Spirit, “the more we are present in this world, as active participants, embodying and exhibiting, the life-giving, freeing aspects of the Spirit in all circumstances.” This means that the Spirit that forms the church community equips and graces it with charismatic gifts in order to move her outwards to the embodiment of the kingdom of God, which brings life and healing to the world.
In drawing upon Moltmann’s creation theology there are important implications for church planters:
1) Creation provides the missional and theological framework for church planting.
2) Mission and worship belong together in the creation story.
3) The horizons of the future must shape and inform what communities look like now.
4) Creation communities are communities of hope and hospitality.
5) The creating of relationships is central to the formation of community and the foremost expression of God’s image.
6) Creativity needs to be fostered as much in the ongoing development of new communities as in its beginning. Continual creation is important.
7) Creation reminds us of the holistic nature of mission and ministry and rescues the church from a preoccupation of itself.
8) The Spirit fosters both the particularities of creation and the community of creation. Independence and Interdependence are both creation realities.
9) The Sabbath as the crowing moment of creation reminds church planters, and newly planted congregations, of the importance of rest, renewal, restoration, recovery and healthy rhythms and seasons of life.