One of you said to me last week, “Now that we’re in discernment, I finally get it: revitalization is new ministries for a new day that we might serve new people.” Yes, covenant ministry is about opening ourselves and our church life to what is new.
But, curiously, covenant ministry has also been a turn towards the church’s earliest ecclesiology, reinforcing the understanding that the church is separate and distinct from the world.
One hears a lot of talk these days about a Christian nation or the Christian world. And we might either look up to or worry about folks who appear to be “worldly Christians.” But Jesus said that the church cannot be of the world, as he is not of the world. Rather, it must remain separate and apart, even if — or especially because — it is to be sent out into the world.
As we try to open our doors wider so neighbors today can find their way into our faith community, there is the danger that we water down our differences from the world. Or that we adopt the ways of the world. And in so doing, the church could inadvertently give up what is distinctive about being Christian. One can see how this could happen, for instance, in two historical instances of what has come to be known as “Christendom:”
1) When the Emperor Constantine legislated the conversion of the Roman Empire, the church’s mission became muddied… at its worst misdirected to serve the agenda and interests of empire.
2) When, in the middle of the last century, the mainline Protestant church’s values became closely aligned, even almost indistinguishable from, middle class, North American customs and norms, the church — it has been said — made itself obsolete: who needed the church for values the society as a whole gave away for free?
It is true that the church is served when there is a wide path or many roads from the world that lead to the door of the church. Likewise, if Christians are not supposed to seek sanctuary or hide in the church, but go forth into the world in service, many or wide walkways are needed.
The danger, of course, is that there ceases to be any distinction between the church and the world. That we lose the difference between here and there. That there’s no longer a threshold at the door or an entrance to the church.
Without anything separate or different, how could we have a different way or word to offer anyone? If the church cannot keep some independence, we risk becoming little more than another social apparatus, albeit garbed in ecclesiastical gown, for supporting the status quo?
Covenant ministry has called us to struggle and ask:
~ how is the church community different?
~ how does the church offer a way that is an alternative to the world?
Jesus isn’t asking us to adopt some peculiar form of dress, a uniform for the faithful. Likewise, there is no distinctive accent or turn of phrase by which we are to distinguish ourselves. We aren’t supposed to cordon ourselves off.
Jesus didn’t live his faith that way. Rather he went wherever and mixed freely among all sorts and conditions of people. He didn’t worry that others’ needs or weaknesses would infect him or make his life impure. In fact, his way of life was to ignore many of the fears and distinctions by which the world divides and segregates people.
His only separateness was his holiness and his dedication to healing. He dwelt among us. Was one of us.
Please join us this week for Anniversary Sunday when, honoring the 285 of ministry that have brought us this far by faith, we will consider what it means to be “the beloved community” — how it is that we are different and what it is that our community has have to offer the world around us…
See you in church,