The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus
by Robin Meyers
One of the saddest things about the Church, for me today, is that it has fragmented people so much. Some say Sunday can be seen as the most segregated day of the week
(thankfully this is by choice and not by force). It segregates not only by specific cultures, but also by thought (liberal and conservative).
Robin Meyer’s book is an attempt at bringing some unity back to the Church. Not by uniting us in thought, but in action. He is equally critical of what liberal Christians have done as he is with the conservative Church. He feels that a new Church is coming to be—an underground Church that treasures the radical, and subversive way of Jesus. He says, “In the Underground Church, the defining characteristic of a follower of Jesus will be nonconformity to what the Bible calls the “principalities and powers.”
Meyers is very open and honest about how he feels about the current state of the Church. He feels that in many ways, the Church isn’t Christian.
If the Church were Christian, Jesus would be a model for living, rather than an object of worship. Affirming our potential would be more important than condemning our brokenness. Reconciliation would be valued over judgment. Gracious behavior would be more important than right belief. Inviting questions would be valued more than supplying answers. Encouraging personal exploration would be more important than communal uniformity. Meeting needs would be more important than maintaining institutions. Peace would be more important than power. We would care more about love and less about sex. This life would be more important than the afterlife.
Meyers feels that Church in many ways has lost it’s saltiness, and how sad that is. He quotes a Presbyterian preacher, Ernest Campbell, who once said, “Nothing is sadder in the eyes of God than a minister who started out with a calling and ended up with a career.”
Thankfully he offers advice on how to get our seasoning back—and it lies in becoming radical, in being a threat again.
If members of the Underground Church thought of themselves as leaven in the loaf of the Empire, then this is bad news to all who are invested in the unleavened status quo. It means that instead of appearing to the outside world as a harmless cartoon, like the Church Lady from Saturday Night Live, Jesus People need to be considered a real threat again, like a virus that can’t be quarantined. Instead of being described in conventional terms like “salt of the earth” (which today has come to mean the humble, patient, and nonconfrontational), followers of The Way are redefined in the Underground Church as a kind of self-germinating, Empire-corrupting collection of holy fools.
He calls liberals and conservatives to come together to study, to serve.
Whether we are liberal or conservative or something in between, the time has come for all of us to study together again—as if we were reading the Bible again for the first time. The church of Jesus Christ is a sleeping giant in a world of screaming pain and desperate loneliness. At precisely the moment when the message of grace and peace is desperately needed, the last place some people think they will find it is in church.
When people ask me for ideas about how to renew the church in our time, I am almost embarrassed by how coarse and simple my answer sounds. “Just do something.” Find a need in your congregation or in your community and make a plan to meet it. He feels that the church will be healed when our desire for “right practice replaces right belief.” Don’t get Myers wrong. He definitely is not anti-belief, or anti-thinking. He feels that we should do more of it. Somehow though, we have to find a way to unite the Church without us all thinking the same way.
So what does this underground church look like? Myers says:
- As often as possible, the Underground Church will celebrate communion by serving an actual meal, before or after the service.
- Membership in the Underground Church is not by “profession of faith” but by the profession of trust in the redemptive power of unconditional love, revealed to the community through the mystery of the incarnation and sustained by that love, not by creeds and doctrines demanding total agreement.
- Worship styles and music in the Underground Church are to be intentionally diverse, joyful, and meant to bring worshipers into an experience of the divine.
- Members of the Underground Church will be committed to mission projects that mark the community off as countercultural and anti-imperial. We will be committed to nonviolence, radical hospitality, collective generosity, and the ministry of encouragement.
- The Underground Church will give special attention to the stranger, the forgotten, the weak, and the dispossessed. When the Empire marks off certain groups of people as scapegoats or as “enemies,” we will make certain that there is room for them at the table and, if necessary, protect them from persecution.
- The Underground Church will create its own economic system in the community by requiring a pledge of financial support from all members to support the operation of the church, while encouraging individuals to contribute additional funds to mission projects that they are particularly passionate about. We will not rob Peter to pay Paul; we will pay Peter first so that in the work that truly matters, we can fully fund Paul. We will loan money at no interest and bear one another’s burdens.
- The Underground Church will seek to work together with all others who share the conviction that it is more important to be loving than to be right.
I love much of what Myers has to say. I don’t agree with it all, but I love the challenge that he sets for us. I also love the thought that liberals and conservatives might be divided in thought, but united in mission.
If Meyers thoughts intrigue you, consider picking up a copy. Since Myers recommends that we study more together (our adult studies are great by the way), I also wonder if this might be a good book to look at together. If you would be interested going through this book (or any other) with others, let me know.
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