As Christians, the world does not supply our deepest story, the Bible does. The blended ecology is firmly embedded in the Scriptures. The deepest structural narrative of the community of faith in the Bible is not Jerusalem or Antioch, the gathered or the scattered, the inherited or the missional, the attractional or the contextual, it’s the blended ecology. The blended ecology is a life-giving remix. It’s gathered and scattered, it’s inherited and missional, it’s attractional and contextual, it’s deep roots and wild branches. It’s the lifeblood of a singularly diverse God who is always doing a new thing, making a new creation. Again, resurrection itself is a remix. A mash-up of dust and God-breath. Let’s begin in the Old Testament and proceed into the New Testament.
Tabernacle, Synagogue, and Temple
One of the first post-fall images the Old Testament reveals for God’s “with-ness” as the communal center of humanity is the tabernacle model.
God and the people who reflect God are a missional people. We discover God’s promise to Abraham to make his descendants “as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore” will be fulfilled by this new relational arrangement (Gen. 22:17 NIV). God gifted the covenant to the people to offer protective boundaries for their own well-being, and so that they might reflect the actual character of YHWH to all the nations. As covenant people, “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exod. 19:6 NIV), their rhythms of being will be a “light” to which all the “nations” of the earth will stream (Isa. 60:3).
The locus of God’s presence with these redeemed ones was embodied in the tabernacle. This wild God was a mobile force amid the people, a God on the go, leading, guiding, and sustaining the people throughout their wilderness wandering. The tabernacle is designed in such a way that it can be packed up and moved to the next location whenever necessary. Just as God is not stationary but moving, so was the tent that housed God’s presence. The mobile community was responsive to the environment, flexible, able to change course at the will of God. There is an idea that the tabernacle is a form of God’s with-ness. God’s home address, primary residence, and God are simultaneously everywhere else in the entire universe.
Once the people crossed over into the promised land, eventually the tabernacle model was replaced with the temple model. There was an almost bipolar discussion of the temple in the Old Testament. On one level the concept was almost absurd: “Are you the one to build me a house to live in?” (2 Sam. 7:5) and, “But who is able to build a temple for him, since the heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain him?” (2 Chron. 2:6 NIV). On another level, the authors depicted God giving precise instructions about its construction. God seemed to have quite the flair for fashion and interior design, as priestly garments and both tabernacle and temple décor were incredibly elaborate.
In this new temple-centered model, the legitimating narrative was now institutionalized in a stationary place, where the formative stories were reenacted by the professionalized priesthood. The locus of God’s power was now centered on a dwelling of magnificent scope and breathtaking architecture, a wonder of the ancient world. The edifice itself would have inspired anyone who beheld it. This was the attractional model extraordinaire!
This shift to a centralized location as the home of YHWH is foundational to an understanding of the attractional model. Faithful adherents to Judaism had to now make the journey to Jerusalem to reenact ritually the legitimating narratives. However, the Babylonian captivity necessitated the emergence of the synagogues, a term synonymous with both a gathering of people and a place where they gathered.
The synagogue model was a both/and kind of structure. The synagogues borrowed from the concept of the tabernacle as a more localized, contextual, religious center, but did not replace the expectation of pilgrimage to the temple. The annual temple pilgrimages grew more complex as the empire expanded, bringing the subjugation of foreign powers.
The New Testament gives us a window into how both temple and synagogue were functioning fully together in the blended ecology way. The temple was the epicenter of the attractional model, the synagogues emerged contextually as communities formed and grew large enough to support the requirements to plant a synagogue. People typically made the temple pilgrimage one to three times each year, but many worshiped at the synagogue every Sabbath.
There is perhaps a compelling portrait of the blended ecology throughout the Old Testament as set forth here. There is theological validation for both the attractional and the contextual, for both the inherited and the emerging forms. We see clear parallels of the gathered and scattered models of community throughout the Old Testament.
Jesus as Enfleshment of the Blended Ecology
It’s noteworthy to mention the blended ecology of Jesus’ own life and ministry—synagogue and temple, coexisting together. Jesus worked in the fields, and he visited the temple. He preached sermons on the mountains, and he preached in the synagogues. He is the embodiment of both attractional and emerging: the most attractive human being that ever was and he was completely dedicated to entering the lives of people where they were.
The incarnation itself is the enfleshment of this, as Jesus descended, to come and move into the neighborhood of our space, to enter our sin-broken lives and shape us through loving relationship (John 1; Phil. 2).
Furthermore, Jesus is the fulfilled embodiment of temple, tabernacle, and Torah. His flesh and blood became the new temple/tabernacle that all the Old Testament pointed toward (Luke 22:19; John 2:19). Jesus synthesized all the models before him into one mega model: a stationary, mobile, enfleshed, incarnational, attractional, emerging flesh-and-blood tabernacle, temple, synagogue—fully human, fully God!
Jesus is a blended ecology, the life of heaven and mud-stuff.
Now that Jesus sits on the throne of the cosmos, in all his enfleshed, beautiful, Palestinian, death-conquering self, and through the sending of the Holy Spirit, he is “with [us] always” (Matt. 28:20). The church has become the embodiment of everything that Jesus was and is. We are now “the body of Christ” (1 Cor. 12:27) and “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19). Mobile and stationary, attractional and emerging.
The church is a blended ecology, a colony of heaven, in, with, for, and among a sin-marred valley.
If you would like to learn more about how the blended ecology of churches can help transform your community’s self-understanding and engage in meaningful mission, you will find Deep Roots, Wild Branches by Michael Beck helpful. “Michael Beck is the premiere practitioner and pioneer of the Fresh Expressions movement in the United States today. He has real life experience leading a traditional church that is also leading the way in the blended ecology of church. His faith community is making new disciples of Jesus in new places and in new ways all while being anchored to a traditional church that is also growing.” (Jay T.) Get it from our store here.