Building on what I suggested in a previous post, about change in the church being apocalyptic, I now invoke the image of metamorphosis. Metamorphosis is an apocalyptic change because it means that something is guided by its own essence and nature to become what it most deeply and truly is. Its change is an ongoing revelation of its deepest identity. The way it transforms expresses the future already embedded and encoded in its present state.
The word metamorphosis is used in the gospels concerning the transfiguration of Jesus on Mt. Tabor. During that event, Jesus’ essential nature is revealed to three of the disciples. It is a foreshadowing or proleptic resurrection appearance. But it is not so much about what Jesus will be, but what Jesus is and always has been, which will be fully revealed in his resurrection.
Biologists use the term metamorphosis to talk about the change that happens to a caterpillar when it becomes a butterfly. This is not a technical change in which the caterpillar tweaks itself into a more efficient little animal. Neither is this an adaptive change in which the caterpillar is faced with a changing environment and adapts by learning to fly.
No. The caterpillar in entering the chrysalis is not “deciding” anything independently; it is expressing the identity encoded into its DNA. It is becoming what God the Creator has given it to be.
My understanding of this process is that the caterpillar enters the chrysalis and then undergoes a systematic and comprehensive transformation. It does not simply sprout wings. Rather, the animal is completely deconstructed so that it may be reconstructed. Were one to open a chrysalis, I am told that what would be found inside is dissociated mush, an organic goop that is reorganizing itself cell by cell. Over time, what eventually emerges from the chrysalis is a butterfly, a new being, made out of the stuff of the old, but reorganized according to an internally embedded process and pattern.
For followers of Jesus, butterflies have always symbolized resurrection. Resurrection and metamorphosis are closely related. One could perhaps say that metamorphosis is the process; resurrection is the final product.
Change in the church is apocalyptic in the sense that it is revealed to the church in its own identity and calling. Apocalyptic change, in the sense of metamorphosis, does not first look to the environment and seek ways to adapt to it. Apocalyptic change looks within, at the very nature of the church itself, and undergoes a transformation by this encounter with its core essence. It goes back to the DNA, the original blueprint, as it were, of what it is. And in this engagement, reflection, practice, and implementation, it becomes what it is.
And by looking within, it also comes to the heart of what the world is, for God is not present only in the church. God’s being and nature is encoded into the world that God speaks and breathes into being. The whole universe is charged, shaped, engineered, and bears the indelible stamp, the voiceprint, of the One who makes it. God is therefore somehow present in everything. When the church goes deep into its own identity, it also finds the identity of the whole creation.
In other words, change in the church has to do with an interaction/encounter with the church’s One and only Leader, Jesus Christ, the Word and Wisdom by whom all things were made. This happens when the community gathers around the Word in disciplines of discernment, sharing, creativity, and obedience. To put it briefly and directly, the church lives and changes by gathering for worship, prayer and Scripture study, and reflecting on its experience of God’s saving Presence in the world. That is how the metamorphosis/resurrection of the church takes place.
In so gathering, the church looks and listens to its One Leader. Each person in the gathering — that is, each member of the body — has memories, gifts, and skills to contribute. While one may convene or moderate the conversation, none is the leader. The new community has no other “father” (Mark 10:29-30; Matthew 23:9), that is, no figure granted special authority over others. Rather, all are disciples, finding their way together. The gathering of disciples is one of equals.
For the church is not independent of the world; it is leaven, having a transformative effect on the world. But to have this effect the church has to be the church, that is, it has to be becoming, transforming, meta-morphing, into its true self as a living witness to what God intends and has for the whole creation. The church is the vanguard, the leading, growing edge of what the whole creation is becoming.
The church is a caterpillar becoming a butterfly, not for itself alone, but as a living witness of transformation in and to a world shattered by sin that is itself becoming redeemed, renewed, released, restored, and remade.
So. Technical change is useful and necessary in a day-to-day minor adjustment sort of way. Adaptive change is useful in reshaping tools and tactics for doing mission in the world. But neither is worth anything unless the church has first whole-heartedly committed itself to an ongoing process of apocalyptic change, by which it is constantly measuring itself according to the standards, values, teachings, example, and life of Jesus Christ, our only Head and Leader.