Today's morning reports were from the Central Pastoral Office for Hispanic Ministries (www.obrahispana.org), North American Pacific / Asian Disciples (napad.net) and the National Convocation (www.disciples.org/convo). These three fellowships represent some of the fastest growing and most dynamic segments of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I think one of the most poignant points of interest for me is the diversity these fellowships bring to the denomination. Although many might disagree with me, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) was born in a 19th century frontier culture. We were overwhelming a white unity movement that in many ways reflected the predominant values of most 19th century frontier white folks. Although we are a movement that looks to the first century church as a model for ministry and evangelism, that vision was filtered through a white culture and values. Generalizations of ethnic groups are not all that helpful, but these fellowships offer a perspective that will drive us to a vision of dynamic change. The prophetic word from our Latino, Pacific Asian and African American fellowships force us to understand our identity in a new context of this post modern, post Christian world.
When our founders offered a word to reconsider what was essential to our Christian expression, things like creeds, hierarchy and simplicity in faith/practice were bothersome to many of their contemporaries within the European denominations of the 19th century. Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians and Baptists all looked at us with wariness and suspicion as we preached an open table for the Lord's Supper, a radical call to transformation through adult baptism and a truly catholic/ecumenical understanding of the Church of Jesus Christ. Many of our radical positions of 100 years ago have themselves become entrenched identity markers for who we think we should be in this contemporary culture. Our ethnic fellowships remind us of our original values. What would our Church look like with the dynamic worship, insightful theology and a new understanding of prophetic leadership that many of our ethnic fellowships bring to our new fabric? Internationally, we are seeing profound growth among Christians in the Southern hemisphere, in Africa, South America and Asia. Has the North American Church become the new European colonial church which we worked so hard to challenge? If our very identity changed to include new concepts of leadership brought to us by our African American brothers and sisters, how might congregations be transformed to empower ministry in the whole church? If our worship changed to include new concepts of celebration brought to us by our Latino/a brothers and sisters, how might our own worship bring people to encounter God in a new and dynamic way? If our call to personal accountability and spiritual discipline were transformed by the presence of our Pacific / Asian brothers and sisters, how might our own lives be re-focused toward a fuller understanding of mutual accountability? I am somewhat uncomfortable with the call from some of my contemporaries to be more hospitable to our ethnic brothers and sisters because the very idea conveys that we are in and they are trying to get in. Hospitality is indeed a Christian discipline, no argument here. However, the Church doesn't belong to us in the first place. God has called all of us into the Church through our baptism. Still, I remember the critique of one particular Latino visitor to FCC-Ashland that we must be careful not to entrench our own culture of respectability and characterize it as inherently "Christian." Our speaker this morning reminded us that Christianity is sufficiently fluid to welcome all people and all cultures to the central message that God's love has been revealed through Jesus Christ. Yet again, I am not sure any of us have the answers, but the challenge to begin the conversation has been set before us. In Ashland, the fastest growing ethnic group is Latino/a. How will our congregation be prepared to continue to do ministry in the years to come?
The closing worship service today featured the powerful preaching of Dr. Fred Craddock. His focus on this year's theme of "Tell It!" reminds us that to tell others of how God has met us through Christ requires courage. It reminded me that one does not need to articulate a philosophical proof of God or a neatly packaged theology that reasonably presents proofs for belief. All we have to do is tell people about God. The Holy Spirit does the real work. One speaker reminded us today that a river never rises above its source. I hope we will all continue the conversation of how we might celebrate the freshness of a worldwide Christianity. A willingness to allow Christ to be the source of our river in which we are baptized that will flood the world with God's love. Our "end times" Christian brothers and sisters continue to frighten us with a perspective that a worldwide church is a sign of an anti-Christ mentality. Nonsense. Christ did not found an ethnic Church. Christ did not institute a European Church or an American Church or a white Church. Christ instituted THE Church. It is frightening for some, uncomfortable for others but an exciting prospect for all of us for God has chosen this moment and all of those around us to do this work of unity in the midst of diversity. Still, difficult questions remain. What if our openness brings us into fellowship with those who might propose a perspective that tries to silence those of a certain gender? What if our openness bring us into fellowship with those who might propose a position that narrows our theological perspective away from mutual respect to an new creedalism of social views or political opinions? Ultimately, from a historical perspective, the Church has been here before. We have lived through times of great growth and faithfulness. We have also lived through times of Crusades and Inquisitions. Still, the Church has lived and carried on the work of God's realm. In the long run, Truth always wins. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that often those to whom the promise of God has been made never see the fruition of that gift. Yet, those ancient prophets and patriarchs/matriarchs lived by faith that God was at work in the midst of the confusion, debate and arguments. That faith is still present, still powerful and for those who are confident of the sovereignty of God, it offers us a confidence that no matter what, our call is to faithfulness to the passion and power of the Holy Spirit. Do not be afraid. Do not try to protect God. God is perfectly capable of handling whatever might seek to prevent the Gospel of peace, grace and mercy. God won. The resurrection proves that. Death, evil, sin, ignorance, hate and greed are already defeated. Thanks be to God.