Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Nature and Mission of the church | response

Here are my notes from our October, 2006 Faith, Order and Witness meeting; the following is my response to questions for our sub-committee.
1. Does this study document correctly identify our common ecclesiological convictions, as well as the issues which continue to divide us?
Notwithstanding this document's small size, it lines out well many of the historical and current concerns - especially regarding authority and apostolicity - between the Anglican and Roman Catholic communions and those Protestant church bodies who, while also considering themselves “Apostolic” view apostolic succession as happening in a different way, while (of course) being there all along. The more we read and discuss divergence and convergence in our FOW meetings, along with discussions in an online intentional community I recently joined, the more acutely aware I've become of how very Western - not simply Protestant - my perspective is. The church bodies in the Orthodox tradition bring to us and to the world at large a different way of being church, differing devotional practices and differently-focused theology that we need to consider and possibly integrate into our own.
2. Does this study document reflect an emerging convergence on the nature and mission of the Church?
Here's a personal answer: from The Nature and Mission of the Church, as well as other documents we've reviewed, it becomes clear that polity truly is an adiaphora. Nonetheless, I continue to be stuck in the Reformer's “Word and Sacrament” definition of church (possibly adding the Reformed insistence on ecclesiastical discipline), which means whenever I worship with a supposedly independent community that has no regular or well-defined sacramental practice, I have serious questions as to their status as the Body of Christ and in the Body of Christ! However, despite claiming sacraments as a Means of Grace, I find no reason to quibble with churches that have a sign of grace or effective sign of grace interpretation of the sacraments! Here I'll mention that churches that theologize about “means of grace” and “effective sign of grace” use the term sacrament while the “sign of grace” churches typically use ordinance. It's interesting the document doesn't discuss other ordinances some church bodies also officially consider sacraments. Hebrew Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann, who is huge on obedience, points out that in spite of their derivation from scripture, doctrine and theology are human constructs, but God's call to obedience is unequivocal.

Oh, “Does this study document reflect an emerging convergence…?” Short answer: yes!
3. Are there significant matters in which the concerns of your church are not adequately addressed?
I constantly wonder how to respond to the word church! Historically, “church” was reserved exclusively for the local called-out, gathered-in assembly of Believers in Christ and Followers of the Way and for the worldwide Body of Christ, with terms like synod, presbytery, conference and diocese used for intermediate entities, though currently we seem to consider judicatories expressions of the Church!? It sure does feel like it when we're worshiping together! So I'll respond from my current experiences, mainly within a pair of local churches in the theological tradition of Reformation (both are Formula of Agreement churches, too), and simply say both of them are struggling mightily with surviving into an uncertain future and with redefining their life and mission, while their pastors are hoping to find ways to help them faithfully be the exhibition of the Reign of Heaven to the world, and especially to discover ways to draw their neighbors into the exciting, risk-filled adventure of ministry in the Name of Jesus Christ!

But to add a slightly glib denominational viewpoint, the current discussions and emerging divisions between the ELCA, UCC and PC(USA) among the headquarters (Chicago, Cleveland and Louisville), judicatories and local churches is confusing people in the pews and making them ask whatever happened to the old cultural Christianity they used to know and be comfortable with, though they don't use those words.
4. Insofar as this study document provides a helpful framework for further ecclesiological discussions among the churches:

How can this study document help your church, together with others, take concrete steps towards unity?
Ecumenical discussion remains among the mainline, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, which at least in our local Faith, Order and Witness committee includes church bodies such as the typically more conservative LC-MS and Church of the Nazarene. Among churches formed from the many 19th Century Restoration movements, only the Disciples of Christ ordinarily participates in ecumenical dialogue, and in fact has become a mighty ecumenical force. Again I'll ask, “What is my church?” and say I've discovered one of the best and most visible things I can do is to mention in passing to people that I recently worshiped in a church of a different tradition or style or I'll be attending an ecumenical worship service (always adding the sorrow of not being able to share Eucharist officially, since most of these liturgies are Service of the Word), or that I serve on an ecumenical committee, and sometimes I'll tell them snippets of our most recent discussions. Even from reasonably biblically and theologically informed people, I usually get a “Why?” reaction, or occasionally, “I don't know why we all can't just get together,” without the remotest awareness or appreciation of the historical, practical and theological reasons for separation.

It is striking that for the most part this document uses “Eucharist” for the Lord's Supper with “Holy Communion” now and then. Eucharist indeed has become the ecumenical word, just as it was the early church's, but Christians in the more conservative churches who don't participate in ecumenical dialogue won't say Eucharist, and in the churches of my current participation , “Holy Communion” is the terminology I always hear from people in the pews. When the pastors and I are discussing theology or liturgy, we say “Eucharist.”
What suggestions would you make for the future development of this text?
I like ¶ 81 about our participating actively in the ongoing restoration of creation in a way consistent with God's reconciling presence in the world, but throughout this document I'd far prefer more references to creation than simply to human beings/humanity and the world. The authors rightly claim there's never simply a single focus to human interpretation of God's ongoing sacramental activity in the world; I'll add the church needs to continue acting sacramentally in and for the world and for all creation.

Besides forming a bond among God and community, I'll say baptism also is a boundary defining the church's perimeter and parameters as well as excluding and in some ways forming a barrier against those who are not of the church in some sense. In and for the world becomes in the church, too - the Church and the churches become bounded containers for people and sacraments.

¶ 77 references social, economic, cultural (etc.) institutions that preserve human life; I'll include the church as a life-preserving and sustaining institution, too, as well as living organism. Again, baptismal relations and locations: events measurable in time and space, but located and interrelated with Christians in all ages and engaged with the world in all times and places.

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