December 13, 2017

It Is Happening

By Chaplain Mike

Although the church of Jesus Christ is found in many different places, she is one true church, not many. After all, there are many rays of sunlight, but only one sun. A tree has many boughs, each slightly different from others, but all drawing their strength from one source. Many streams may flow down a hillside, but they all originate from the same spring. In exactly the same way each local congregation belongs to the one true church.

• Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, 3rd Century

In the spring, we ran a series of posts on John H. Armstrong’s excellent book, Your Church Is Too Small: Why Unity in Christ’s Mission Is Vital to the Future of the Church. One of the concepts Armstrong advocates involves implementing an alternative perspective on the nature of the church.

I commented on this different perspective in one of the review posts:

When we hear the word “church” it is common to think either in terms of a local congregation or of the “universal” church—the church everywhere and throughout history.  However, there is a third way to imagine the church.

The N.T. speaks of the “Church” that exists in multiple forms throughout a city or region. In any particular place, there may be many “churches” of various denominations and types, but they are all part of God’s “Church” in that area. Any individual congregation may view itself as one part of a larger whole rather than as the sole local expression of the church, autonomous, self-existing, and self-sustaining. This change is perception alone could be beneficial in achieving a deeper sense of unity among us.

“Missional-ecumenism” (Armstrong’s name for how churches today can practice unity), can happen when when we see our congregations as individual expressions of God’s Church (singular) in a given region.

According to an encouraging article in Leadership Journal, we have an example of this that seems to be working very well in the northern suburbs of Chicago.

Scott Chapman is pastor of The Chapel, a large multi-site church in Grayslake, Illinois. He has been part of a network of ministers called “Christ Together,” that was formed about eight years ago to help churches work together for the benefit of their communities. Here is how he describes his own journey into this wider ministry:

“The Chapel began to understand that we were supposed to live like Jesus: to go into our community, feed the hungry, comfort the hurting, and lead the lost back to him. In other words, we were not called to be a church in our community so much as to be a church for our community.” The trouble was, the church quickly became overwhelmed by the need they encountered. With 6,000 people meeting in several locations, The Chapel is a large church with substantial resources. But it wasn’t enough. Chapman soon realized that “no one church, no matter how large and influential, can reach their community alone.” To truly reach the entire city with the Good News, it would take more than one church. It would take the Church.

As Chapman became increasingly aware of The Chapel’s limitations, he began sharing his concerns with other area pastors. To his surprise, he found many of his colleagues were coming to similar conclusions. Together they wondered, What if instead of viewing ourselves as individual churches, we started thinking of ourselves as part of a mosaic that makes up the one Church of Christ in Chicago?

The ministry began as the project of full-time pastors and volunteers, but by 2005 was organized into an official ministry because the opportunities for service had grown beyond what they could handle. Christ Together is not an “umbrella” organization that churches come under, but rather like a mission partner that facilitates projects in which churches may participate. The article notes how the movement seeks to be a “pastor-honoring network.”

Rather than operating like a parachurch organization, with its own agenda and direction, Christ Together comes alongside local congregations to catalyze what God is already doing by connecting them to the needs, resources, and relationships already at hand.

In the article, pastors themselves testify that, though the service projects get the most attention, it is the trust between ministers and churches that has developed through their times of prayer and retreat and cooperation together that they most appreciate.

I was so encouraged to read of this of “churches” seeing themselves as part of the bigger “Church” in their area, learning to love and trust one another in spite of their differences, and working together to serve others in Jesus’ name.

I’d love to hear from you about this:

  • If you are familiar with this ministry and can give us a “field report” of what’s happening in Chicago, we would love to hear from you.
  • Perhaps such “networks” are developing elsewhere as well. If so, let us hear about what’s happening.
  • Maybe you’ve tried to further something like this, but have found it rough sledding. What impeded progress?

Comments

  1. I believe in ecumenicism and unity – only for those churches that embrace and uphold the early ecumenical creeds (Apostles, Nicene, Athanasian, and Chalcedon). All others are not part of the family and are not welcome unless they conform.

  2. I love that quotation from Cyprian, Chaplain Mike. In reading Augustine and Cyprian and others from the early Church days, it’s amazing how the concerns are so similar to things we encounter today.

    The Christ Together project sounds wonderful.

    • As Solomon said, there is nothing new under the son (except the Incarnation and Resurrection). The Orthodox are part of the World Council of Churches and in the USA most are members of the National Council of Churches. However, that has become a very uneasy membership and some jurisdictions have withdrawn. The idea was to listen to Saint Cyprian and to be a light to truth inside the WCC and the NCC. However, that particular hope has not been fruitful and increasingly is not even being talked about in many jurisdictions.

      So, here is an example of something that has not worked.

      • Indeed. It’s because we have a very different notion of what “Church” means, I think. Fr. Alexander Schmemann memorably described this as the “ecumenical agony” for Orthodox Christians — namely that the very presuppositions upon the Protestant ecumenical movement was based were problematic, to some extent, for Orthodox, yet were not really discussed due to a largely different understanding of ecclesiology in Protestantism (or a relative lack of interest in ecclesiology as such when compared with other issues).

        I think we also need to read Cyprian in his context as well. St. Ignatius of Antioch had already written in the early 2nd century that the Church consisted of the ekklesia gathered around the Bishop, and famously remarked that “where the Bishop is, there is the Catholic Church (in this sense meaning “fullness of the Church”, but also to some degree “universal church”). Therefore, the local congregations in the first few centuries, which developed either as house churches or as cities grew too large for the entire Christian community to gather in the bishop’s place of worship, were not autonomous or very different — in reality they were congregational manifestations of the same rite and tradition as practiced by the bishop. And, we also know from Church history, that these local dioceses themselves were gathered around the larger sees, founded by the apostles, on which certain theological and ritual traditions were based (Antiochene, Jerusalemite, Alexandrian, Roman, etc.).

        Therefore the kind of local autonomy yet inclusion that Cyprian speaks of needs to be understood in this context — the Ignatian primacy of the Bishop, the local congregation as an extension of the episcopal place of worship, in terms of being a localized manifestation of the local (i.e., diocesan) church. Congregations were not autonomous, but were dependent on the local Bishop, and by virtue of this link were a geo-localized manifestation of the local (diocesan) church, which itself was, by virtue of the communion of the Bishop with the other Bishops of the Church, the local manifestation of the universal (Catholic) Church in its fullness. That fullness rested in both the episcopal apostolic succession *and* the maintenance of communion with the other Bishops of the Church — both/and, and not autonomy.

        This in no way contradicted the development of local tradition, custom, theological schools, or rites. The unity was not, therefore, based in ritual or even theological school, but in the double bond of faith (manifested through the apostolic succession of rightly-believing Bishops) and sacrament (manifested through the sacramental communion of the local Bishop with all of the other right-believing Bishops). Unity was stressed in importance even before the conciliar period, and of course was formally manifested by the various councils later. The autonomy of local administration/tradition/ritual was real, but this was tempered always by the need to remain in communion with the other local (diocesan) churches — something which the Church of this period took seriously, within the boundaries set forth by the councils in particular.

        So it seems to me when trying to understand Cyprian, it’s important to understand thatr he was speaking in the context of a Church which found its unity manifested in these ways — in a local setting, it was not a relatively chaotic collection of congregations having different doctrine and ritual and no formal administrative unity. Locally, there was quite a bit of unity. Diversity was expressed between different regions, and unity *between* these regions was maintained by the double bond of true faith (essentials as in the Creeds, interpretations per local theological schools, provided not contradictory to the universal Creed) and sacrament (sacramental union with other local Bishops in all regions of the Church universal).

  3. For several years I have been part of an Anglican church that is made up of 3 congregations. The parish covers a rural area and has two parish churches and a village hall. Each congregation has a distinctive style/flavour so one congregation could be described as Anglo Catholic, one as liberal Anglican and one congregation as (post?) evangelical and charismatic. We are united by a common vision of being one in Christ Jesus but each has its own leader (two congregations each have an ordained priest and one congregation a lay leadership team) and we have a joint PCC.
    It is immensely frustrating at times to work with Christians who don’t even seem to speak the same theological language as us at times and have a very different way of doing things but it is such a witness in our community that we find it an arrangement that we will not walk away from willingly. It is also where we are being transformed – by forcing ourselves to be uncomfortable we are becoming more loving and less judgemental even if we have to agree to disagree on certain issues. This is not easy but I am convinced that it pleases God.
    Unity is costly and essential for us but it’s not unity at any cost. There is a church in our area with whom we could not act together, not because they can’t sign up to the all the necessary creeds etc, but because their interpretation of them means that they are not willing to work with other Christians who have different expressions of faith. They would go as far as denying them the title of ‘Christian’. We cannot work with people who are so inflexible. Ironically they are far more in tume theologically with the (post)evangelical/charismatic congregation – but their attitude is very different. We pray that, in time, they will learn to recognise and value other believers.

  4. Prodigal Daughter says:

    I live in Atlanta and since I’ve been here (about 6 years), my church has partnered with other area churches through an organization called UNITE! that it founded: http://www.uniteus.org/pages/.

    Every fall (usually the first weekend of October) we have “Compassion in Action” weekend where we work with people from our churches and from other metro Atlanta churches on a service project of our choosing (there are hundreds for individuals to choose from) for the benefit of our communities. Then, throughout the year, we can also serve in ministries that benefit our communities.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Bit of a chuckle:

      UNITE! was also the name of the Antichrist’s One World Government in the Thief in the Night film series.

      • Prodigal Daughter says:

        HUG, I think you just dated yourself…that film is older than I am! I watched a clip on YouTube. Boy, some folks’ eschatology is scarier than an M. Night Shyamalan movie!

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Funny thing is, I’ve never seen the flick. I was in high school when it first came out, and word on the street was it was freaking out a lot of kids who watched it, so I bailed. (Some churches used it as a warmup for the Altar Call.) 20-30 years later, I watched some clips from it on a PBS documentary, and they reminded me of something you’d find on Mystery Science Theater 3000. One of the sequels has a “giant rubber scorpion stinger” scene my writing partner described to me that remains our standard of Bad Cinema.

  5. There is something like this happening where I live. A group called “The Hot Springs Women of Prayer” began praying for our city, county, state, and nation over 25 years ago.

    Two years ago, because of the prayers of these women, a group of pastors formed a group called the “Watchmen of Garland County.”

    Recently, the “Women of Prayer” and the “Watchmen” invited all 230 churches of the county to a prayer conference.

    Folks from 50 different churches, from many different denominations, showed up.

    A second prayer conference is already in the works for next year.

  6. Chris Moellering says:

    This is thrust upon me, as an Army chaplain. I work together with the full spectrum of protestantism, Cahtolic, Orthodox, and even Jewish and Muslim chaplains. We all (are supposed to) work for the good of our community and to support the spiritual needs of those here. It has broadened my view of ecumenicalism.

    There are friction points, of course. But it is a good winnowing of my attitudes and prejudices. Some things have been shaken off, others I have seen are worth holding onto to.

    • Combined Religious Activity Programing ftw! 😛
      Deserves it’s own acronym. 😯

    • Our daughter is in Iraq right now, and she commented about meeting a Muslim chaplain and an Orthodox chaplain, and a Roman Catholic chaplain on a visit they were making to the troops. My puckish sense of humor force me to ask her whether this was the beginning of a joke.

      “A Muslim chaplain, an Orthodox chaplain, and a Roman Catholic chaplain walked into a base . . .”

      • FollowerOfHim says:

        Fr. Ernesto:

        Could you confirm for me something I read some years ago regarding how Orthodox Christians were once designated as “Protestant” by the Armed Forces? I mean, they obviously weren’t RC, after all! But maybe this was just an urbaniskos mythos or something.

        My prayers are with your daughter.

  7. Jeff Livingston says:

    Many of the churches in my town do something similar to what Prodigal Daughter describes in Atlanta. I live in Chico, a college town of about 90k in northern California. Several Sundays a year we have a “Love Chico” event. Some 20 churches don’t hold Sunday morning services but instead unite to do community service projects. The day is capped in the afternoon with an interchurch worship service in the town square.

  8. Love In the Name of Christ serves this capacity in cities all over the country. Here is a link:

    http://www.loveinc.org/

    What is unique about what is happening in Chicago is that it was started by pastors. In many communities programs like Love INC (CRWRC’s Communities First is similar: http://www.communitiesfirstassociation.org/) have struggled because churches haven’t caught the vision. If the genesis is the local church that gives it a lot more momentum.

  9. For the past three years I’ve served on the board of Love In The Name of Christ (Love INC), a local affiliate of a national organization. Our stated purpose is to (to paraphrase) “mobilize the church to transform lives and communities.” I’ve served as the board chair the past two years as we work with 25 local churches to network and meet community needs and connect unchurched families with Christians loving their neighbors in the process. National website can be found here: http://www.loveinc.org/. There are over 150 affiliates.

  10. It’ been happening in Ohio too.

    Love Akron

    These types of organizations seem to be very helpful in reaching the leadership level of local churches. I don’t see, however, much trickle-down to individuals in the various congregations.

  11. I know this may not be quite the same, but I moved to Georgetown, TX and started my counseling practice again this year in a new place. I began attending their Ministerial Alliance meetings to network and get to know the area better. I’ve been to these in other areas before, which were usually not that well attended, though it was a support for some pastors. They would often talk about doing ministry together but seemed to never get off the ground with much. However, I have found this group of pastors from all kinds of denominations, parachurch groups, chamber of commerce, public school representatives all coming together to actively engage in service and outreach to the community here. I’ve been quite impressed as they appear to be an authentic and Jesus centered group of folks.

  12. To quote from a previous post that I actually found quite interesting,

    “I knew that I should have phrased the question better. I apologise for that.

    C.’s question: Is the Holy Spirit the same One that guides the Orthodox Church to be fairly the same the One that guides Protestants to constantly be dividing like a Hydra Head? I don’t know; does he know?

    You don’t know if there One Holy Spirit or Many? Come on – if you aren’t going to do better than that just don’t bother to reply. It’s juvenile to make a pretense of prolonging a discussion while not actually attempting to engage at least some seriousness.

    How is this juvenile? I think that this may be one of the most, if not the MOST important question facing the Church today. I did not assume in my question that OC was or was not being guided by the Holy Spirit just as I did not assume that the RCC or the Protestant Hydra was or wasn’t as well.

    What did I assume? That there seems to be more cohesion amongst OC than in Protestantdom.

    Now there was factions and churches gone awry right from the get go. Look at Corinth, it was out doing its own thing and Paul had to correct it. The Holy Spirit through Paul was able to bring the Christians gone wild back in line. How is that even possible now? Could a missionary from say, Zimbabwe go to Canterbury, Rome, or Nashville and say this is not what was intended and unless you change. xy and z, you are no longer among the flock? Or vice versa? Paul, however, is an easy example since he was an apostle. What does this mean for the body of Christ in the 21st century what will it mean in 31st? It is my hope that the 31st will more cohesive than the 21st. The only way this is going to happen though is if the question is being asked brutally honest.

  13. Silvanus,

    You asked, “Could a missionary from say, Zimbabwe go to Canterbury, Rome, or Nashville and say this is not what was intended and unless you change. xy and z, you are no longer among the flock?” My answer is yes, and it is already happening. They may not be saying “you are no longer among the flock” but I’m not entirely sure you’re getting Paul correct there, anyway.

    But, many 2/3s world missionaries are in fact coming to the West to preach precisely that…and in every denomination. My mother attends a small RC church in western West Virginia. They have a priest from Africa who is all about The Gospel and preaches it so. He is also quite involved with other ministers in the area who are also all about The Gospel. When he got to the parish, he brought Paul’s Galatian hammer with him and many people left as a result, but The Gospel flourished and his bishop commended him.

    In the fall of 2008, Brother Yun, exiled from China, but spreading The Gospel everywhere he goes, convicted 100s of evangelicals in the suburbs of Chicago with his version of the hammer, too. People from all over flocked to hear him preach on the laziness of western Christianity and the sins of sectarianism, individualism, and materialism so rampant in the churches here. People’s lives were changed as a result.

    In my graduate program at Wheaton college, I’ve witnessed an evangelist from Tanzania stand up and preach a most convicting Gospel message to a room full of white evangelical westerners, all in full time ministry – and all leaving feeling terribly convicted of their ‘weak’ faith.

    The Holy Roman Empire began to lose its grip on the Gospel and descendants of northern Euorpean barbarians had to be their reminder. Northern European Enlightment intellectuals began to lose their grip on the Gospel and New World evangelicals had to be their reminder. The New World and westernized people are now losing their grip on the Gospel, and Africans, Asians, and east Asians are quickly becoming their reminder.

    So I believe the answer to your question is a resounding yes. The Holy Spirit through faithful followers WILL work to keep the Gospel alive and well. It may not end up looking like the way you’d hope or expect, but the One, Holy, Catholic Church will live on. The question isn’t can a Zimbabwean go to Canterbury, Rome, or Nashville and preach a life giving message of Truth. The question is will YOU support him or her in their efforts to do so, because they are coming, and the Holy Spirit is coming with them.

    DJ|AMDG

    • DreamingWings says:

      With all due respect; why would anyone wish to support some of these people? Even a cursory glance at what’s going on with Christianity in African countries shows a mad dash to every sort of evil. Torturing children in the guise of ‘exorcism’. Driving old women from their homes under accusations of witch craft. The multiple African countries that are pushing to make homosexuality a crime punishable by death or imprisonment. Both ‘on their own’; and under the gaze and direct influence of power western pastors.

      • And the ones who remain faithful in the midst of the things you’re talking about are truly strong Christians. These faithful ones do exist. I’ve lived in southern and western Africa and known many great Christians, as well as crazy syncretists. I realize my knowledge of African Christianity as displayed here is anecdotal and too small, but your comment is stereotypical and far too large. Somewhere in the middle are some good people who have much to offer the North American church. The topic deserves more than a “cursory glance” before judgment is made.

        • Thank you, Damaris. Although your knowledge may be anecdotal, it affirms the knowledge of many researchers and scholars studying the phenomenon I commented on. There are no shortage of academic books and articles as well as more accessible writings showing evidence of what I wrote.

          You are wise to acknowledge that there are some “crazy syncretists” there, mixing The Faith with tribal, pagan, and otherwise wrong beliefs/practices. I would argue that the same craze has been happening in the USA for even longer with Christianity. The only difference here is that “the church” affirms it (isn’t that why Christian syncretism is?).

          Mixing The Faith with Enlightenment individuality, the so-called “protestant work ethic,” nationalism, materialism, therapeutic moralism, primacy politics, and sectarian community (if community even applies) can be just as deadly to experiencing the true God as anything described above.

          DJ|AMDG

  14. I am a pastor of one of the churches that has joined the Christ Together movement in VA. I can say that God is doing some amazing stuff through this movement and is bringing the Body of Christ together in a way that is capturing the attention of our individual churches and our communities.

    We are already realizing that the scope of what we can accomplish in harmony with one another is far greater than what any one individual church can do. Another amazing thing that I have seen is how powerful our pastor meetings are for the pastors. Many people do not realize how isolating, challenging, and stressful it is to be in pastoral ministry. But when these pastors gather with others who share their calling, the bonds that have been forming are making real impacts in the lives of these leaders.

    The prayer of Jesus comes to my mind, “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” John 17:21

    When the church functions in unity the world believes that Jesus is who he says he is. What we have seen historically in our area is a church that has been divided along denominational, racial, and financial walls. That is paralleled by a community which is largely un-churched (approximately 70%). When considering what Jesus said, I do not think these facts can be separated.

    I personally praise God that Christ Together found it’s way to Hampton Roads, VA. This is a God thing, and they are the real deal! It is a blessing to be a part of a movement like this!

    • thanks for the great report, Freddy. Blessings!

      • For sure man! I could spend hours talking about all that God is already doing in our area through Christ Together! I will just say that it has only been a few months and i think there are already over 100 churches committed to partnering together! It is a very humbling and beautiful thing to witness. I believe Jesus is smiling as he sees his church standing in unity! When God looks upon us humans he doesn’t see thousands of different churches and hundreds of denominations. He sees one church, his Beautiful Bride! Be blessed man.