Tuesday, December 28

Reconciliation, Ecumenism, Missional, and Martyrdom

This has been edited 3/19 - 3/20/2013, mostly the edit was in terms of readability and grammar  an update was added at the end. LEK
In this season of Christmas I have been thinking a bit about the name of this worshiping community. As we started Church of Jesus Christ, Reconciler we chose the name for two reasons: First we wanted to be clear that in starting this ecumenical congregation we weren't reconciling our denominations, but we were lead to this because we ourselves had, through various ways, including the work of the World Council of Churches, found that Jesus Christ was already accomplishing this reconciliation. Second, we felt lead to be a place of reconciliation not only between denominations, but also a place where people who were alienated from the church and God due to the divisions and actions of fellow Christians could hear again the message of reconciliation and be so reconciled.

As those of you who have been part of Reconciler know, the institutional and denominational aspects of our original vision never materialized: We were unable to recruit from congregations of our respective denominations, and our idea of affiliating as a congregation with the three denominations of the three original pastors hasn't come to fruition and for the past year we have been functioning with the understanding that this will probably never happen.

What did happen was that we became a place for a few who had been alienated from God and the church to find their way to us and find a place where they could find God and Christ and participate in the life of the church. This has meant that some people have been apart of our worshiping community for a time and moved on to other things.

I have come to see Reconciler as an outpost in our urban post-Christian, post-Christendom culture and society. A place of interchange and sending: sometimes sending people deeper into our emergent cultural reality and sometimes sending people back into the institutional realities of the Christian landscape. Those of us who remain seem to be moving back and forth between an ever shifting cultural landscape and the massive and firm institutions and identities of our denominations, that in fact make possible this little outpost on the edge, or in the midst of emergence.

What we didn't see six and seven years ago, was that most congregations of whatever denomination already bear the fruit of a century of ecumenical work, cooperation, and dialog. Whatever one may feel about the weakening of denominational loyalty and identity among laity, and however lamentable the lack of awareness of the work of the World Council of Churches and other ecumenical endeavors may be, the dissolution of impermeable membranes of denominations for the laity is largely due to ecumenism. Perhaps not what we heady ecumenists thought would be the fruit, but it is the fruit nonetheless. When our institutions stopped (for the most part) claiming to be the Truth, when we began to admit that those other believers in Jesus just might also know God and Christ (however imperfectly from our perspective) it perhaps was inevitable (in conjunction with other cultural factors such as our high degree of mobility), that many would find denominational distinction and loyalty unnecessary.  Anecdotal evidence from talking to pastors from across denominational lines and  pastors in my own denomination this seems to be the new reality: a growing number parishes and congregations in Protestantism are ecumenical congregations. Institutionally and in name they may be from a particular denomination and call pastors only from that denomination but the backgrounds and even the theology and spirituality that the laity bring with them is often not that of the denomination of the congregation's official affiliation. I think this is something to celebrate and not lament, though it is lamentable if we don't seize this opportunity and simply allow the situation to be a of watering down of our theology so as to never reveal possible differences in these de facto ecumenical congregations.

That though is another post: What the above means is that we probably had our original idea of bringing members together from differing denominations because it was actually already happening: getting laity from differing protestant denominations to worship together really was a fairly tame idea, as Protestant laity were already choosing to do so, choosing a congregation based on other things than theology and denominational identity and loyalty.

However, does this mean we are all reconciled now! Hardly, there are other divisions some emerging others that have always been there, modernist/liberal vs. fundamentalist/conservative, racial and ethnic, class etc. I think to some degree the ignoring of denominational loyalty is in part due to various realignments in american religion.

What all this means for Reconciler's vision is that we are left with being open to God's reconciling work in Jesus Christ. A place where some are willing to retain institutional connections while also fully engaging a culture society and Christian landscape in transition and emergence.

The common institutional form of the congregation as articulated in most denominational structures isn't well suited for this sort of space of in-between,  border, and outpost (the experience of Reconciler seems to indicate). The American denomination and congregation is a worshiping community plus, as often as not with emphasis on the plus. Much good has come from this understanding and in certain contexts still is an important expression of the church. But what if Christian faith and the faith of the church and the work of the church is always already simply worship, and being sent from those gathered together as a doxological community. This too isn't new, the trendy term missional is attached to such an idea. but mission and missional are perhaps too freighted with colonial baggage, too activist oriented, too certain that we who are sent aren't the ones in need of reconciliation. Even missional is too tied to Christendom and has difficulty grasping that our sending, our suffering, our work is our reconciliation and our salvation. As protestants we forget that as important as God's declaration and accomplishment of our justification, salvation and reconciliation in the blood of Christ Cross is, it is in our own living out the work of Christ in the world that we bring to completion the work of Christ. This is martyrdom. We the gathered and sent people of God are the space the locus of God working out what God accomplished in Jesus Christ. Our very lives are to be the place of reconciling work of Christ. The Martyrs in their deaths and witness were completing and filling out the suffering of Christ, which is the means of our reconciliation with each other and to God.

Not all Christians even in the early church were called to martyrdom, not all are called to these boundary spaces in our current cultural landscape, but some of us are, some of us need these spaces to be able to encounter Christ again for the first time. Some of us need them for our own reconciliation, so that we may fulfill and fill out Christ's passion, that we may find our selves reconciled to God and our fellow human beings. This I believe is the charism that has emerged around this idea and Name Church of Jesus Christ, Reconciler. More on where this charism may lead us in the next month.  (The more did come but not in blog from, it came eventually as A Little Rule for the Order of Jesus Christ, Reconciler, and 4 and then 7 people working to found the Order of Jesus Christ, Reconciler, LEK 3/20/2013)