Life 103

Monday, December 26, 2005

church according to me

Our final assignment in the class I just finished was to write a paper describing a church I want to plant, lead or be serving in the year 2015. We were charged with describing the beliefs, values, mission, demographics, structure and purpose. This is essentially my Church Theology final paper:

I am a Quaker because Friends teach of God’s immediate accessibility through Jesus Christ and encourage women in ministry. Friends have been instrumental in helping me develop an intimate relationship with Christ and among Friends, I have experienced his transforming presence personally. I have remained a Friend because Friends’ values mirror the values of Christ and contemporary Friends continue to seek ways to live out his love and life on earth. Despite my background and gender, I have experienced the embrace of God through those who have encouraged me to live, serve and lead among Friends. In 2015 I imagine I will still be serving in a Friends church most likely somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.

Early in our class, JR named three indispensable beliefs and I in essence agree with his list with some adaptations of my own and a word about scripture. Essential beliefs include: 1) Jesus Christ was the Son of God (fully God) and was without sin; 2) Jesus lived and died (fully man) in our place to restore our relationship with God who loves and pursues us; 3) Jesus rose from death and is present/accessible as Savior and Teacher in Spirit right now; and 4) The scriptures are God breathed and have authority over the church.

In the manner of Friends this church will reflect a high value for the ministry of all believers (1Peter 2:9). It will also place a high value on a personal, dynamic relationship with God through Christ. At the same time, the structure will encourage individuals to be growing in community just as they are growing in their understanding of and relationship with Christ. As such, the church will be progressing toward spiritual maturity. This body will also be living into the Quaker values of equality, life, simplicity, silence, peace, justice, and integrity in ways that are the result of our generation’s having listened to Christ and found expression for these values in the whole of our lives.

The church will teach of God’s eager pursuit of people and his longing to be in relationship with them, therefore, understand and share his desire for a loving relationship with everyone. They will model his dream of reunion with humanity.

As a body, this church will spend time discerning the best way to bring the gospel alive within this context. Leaders will listen to and learn from the culture outside of the building and be continually seeking ways to serve and communicate the good news and freedom available in the gospel story.

This church will believe that Christ speaks to listening hearts as we work, play, live and serve with others, making all of life sacred and meaningful in the tradition of Romans 12: 1- 2. Members will be people who strive to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8).

Finally, I hope this will be a congregation that values collaboration or interconnection with other churches, including different forms of Friends churches, in matters of integral mission. They will be a body that understands that the Kingdom of God is both here, and not quite here and live accordingly by joining God in what he’s doing in their world. This should be a body that promotes creativity and is easily adaptable to current issues yet grounded in a rich history of biblically based advocacy for our marginalized neighbors.

Colin Saxton, Superintendent of Northwest Yearly Meeting, recently articulated the mission I want my church to embrace when he wrote that his hope is for churches to be “the people of God together for service in the world…People who know and obey Christ…[who] love one another, meet each other’s needs, disciple and encourage each other…scattering out into the world in order to seek and serve the Kingdom in all that we do…twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.” [1]

I want my church to be prophetic, calling people to notice that God is active in the world today, to be committed to joining him as he calls, and to be willing to let others know of his deep and abiding love. To do that, the body must be grounded in a biblical spirituality that lends itself to a radically different life; addressing the injustices of oppression, exploitation, poverty, destruction of the earth, violence, over consumerism, and so on.

This body will simply be a people gathered in the name and presence of Jesus Christ (Matthew 18:20) intent on drawing closer to him, proclaiming him and serving him in the world. At the same time, I have a personal preference for communities that are intergenerational, cross cultural, inclusive and have a membership with diverse religious backgrounds, gifts and ideas. To encourage this kind of diversity in the membership, I would encourage diversity in the leadership. When calling leaders, I would support nominations of people from various age groups, socioeconomic status, educational background, nationality, etc.

The church is a “free society of equals, an open fellowship of friends” as held by Jungen Moltman.[2] Church leaders, including pastors and elders, will be those who are called by God and affirmed by the congregation. It may be that the pastor is simply a Godly and gifted manager, coordinating the gifts of others to carry out the mission of the church. The local meeting will be responsible for the spiritual life of the church, for discipleship and intentional leadership development, discipline, and management of administrative church affairs.
It will be a programmed gathering but at the same time, prayerfully planned by members who have committed themselves to following the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The gathered meeting will be a shared spiritual practice encouraging people to let God encounter them during worship.

In as much as possible, all church structures will be organized around relationships, emphasizing the “image of the triune God” as described by Miroslav Volf.[3] The structure should make it possible for people to become acquainted with each other on deeper levels, either by remaining small or through small groups, and have an atmosphere where the risen Jesus Christ dwells, thus becoming a place of healing and transformation. I want the church I serve to embrace a fluid structure so that it can be “a church in which God’s spirit is free to act so the Word of God becomes flesh – a church which is making progress in its own transformation and the transformation of the community it serves.”[4]

The sacraments will be viewed as a public confession of, or expression of, inner faith and will neither be banned nor organizationally mandated. Those who wish to express their faith through communion and baptism will be encouraged and even assisted to do so.

The purpose of the church is to be a voice that calls all people into deeper relationship with Christ. This church should be one that speaks redemption, love and grace to those who are far from Christ; should point to him as teacher and healer as people come into relationship with him; and make possible a deep fellowship with God that results in concern for the world. Through unity in word and deed participants will be encouraged to call others to know and be formed by Jesus, modeling his life and character twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

[1] Saxton, Colin, “Out of My Mind…,” NWYM November 2005 Update.
[2] Karkkainen, Veri-Matti, An Introduction to Ecclesiology (Downers Grove:InterVarsity Press, 2002) p. 128.
[3] Volf, Miroslav, After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity (Grand Rapids: Eardmans, 1998) p. 2.
[4] Padilla, C. Rene. The Local Church, Agent of Transformation. (Buenos Aires: Kairos 2004) p. 20.


  • Good stuff, Kathy!

    You read "After our Likeness?" That's one of my foundational texts. My systematics class on ecclesiology with him was basically when he was beginning to write the book.

    He says we Quakes are Christians, but not a church. Sigh.

    By Blogger Gregg Koskela, at 9:59 AM, December 28, 2005  

  • I haven't read it through yet - grabbed his concepts from a couple other articles and this quote from our course text in typical late night college student fashion.

    And isn't that the point of an ecclesiology class - to make us wrestle with our definition of what church is? It seems so cut and dried until you look at it from other angles.

    I'm curious. Nothing I’ve read about Dr. Volf thus far has indicated he wouldn’t view Quakers as a church. Our Karkkainen text states that, according to Volf, the only condition for the ecclesiality of the church is the presence of Christ amidst the assembly as mentioned in Matthew 18:20 which is the same stand I took. Karkkainen quotes him from After Our Likeness, saying, “Wherever the Spirit of Christ, which as the eschatological gift anticipates God’s new creation in history (Rom 8:23; 2 Cor 1:22; Col 1:11-20), is present in its ecclesially constitutive activity, there is the church. The Spirit unites the gathered congregation in the triune God and integrates it into history extending from Christ, indeed, from the Old Testament saints, to the eschatological new creation. This spirit-mediated relationship with the triune God….constitutes an assembly into a church.(129)” So, what critical element do you think Quakers are missing in his view?

    By Blogger kathy, at 4:19 PM, December 28, 2005  

  • Sacraments, as in the outward practices of them. If you're interested (and I'm perfectly ok if you're not), I wrote a review of After our Likeness that was published in Quaker Religious Thought a few years ago. Drop me an e-mail and I'll send it.

    By Blogger Gregg Koskela, at 3:22 PM, December 31, 2005  

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