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A MISSIONAL PERSPECTIVE ON CHRISTIAN FORMATION IN THE HOUSEHOLD

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We take the meal with as much gospel seriousness as we take our Scriptures;

we take the kitchen to be as essential in the work of salvation as is the sanctuary. – Eugene Peterson

This paper focuses on the Christian vocation to Christian character
and identity formation in the household. The paper presents an outline
for a practical theology of the household from the perspective of
missional vocation – an outline that culminates into integrating
processes of Christian formation and the household practices of meals,
for illuminating the missional intention of character and identity
formation in the household. The contribution of this paper is part of a
broader missional agenda to stimulate subsequent efforts to develop a
missional model for the facilitation of processes, and for the
implementation of programs, that assist Christians in their vocation as
witnesses to Christ in the context of their households.

The argument in this paper, first, explores the theological
possibility of cultivating a missional vocation to the household, as a
necessary endeavour of the missional Church. Secondly, such a
theological possibility will lead to the outline of a practical
theology of the household as a basic framework for the missional
interpretation of certain necessary processes of Christian character
and identity formation. Thirdly, this paper suggests the practice of
nurturing a culture of the table, as an appropriate fulfillment of a
missional vocation to Christian formation in the household.

Cultivating a missional vocation to the household

The English humorist P. G. Wodehouse had the following to say about
the writing of novels: ‘I believe there are two ways of writing novels.
One is mine, making a sort of musical comedy without music and ignoring
real life altogether; the other is going right deep down into life and
not caring a damn.’ Douglas Hall applies the Wodehouse quote to the
writing of theology: on the one hand, you will find the ‘musical
comedies without music’ of those theologians who ‘withdraw into their
own fortresses’ and stimulate a kind of Christianity that ‘no longer
feels obliged to go out into the marketplace to find out what is
happening there, for it believes that its doctrine has already
accounted for anything and everything that could possibly occur in the
world…’; on the other hand, you will find theologians who are willing
to delve ‘right deep down into life’, as ‘all authentic Judeo-Christian
theology must do…’

Hall’s remark about the task of theology, on the analogy of the
Wodehouse quote, is of course imbedded in his theology of the cross
that ‘assumes a strong world-orientation and presses its adherents ever
more insistently towards the actual world in which they find
themselves.’ A theology of the cross that rejects theologies of glory
‘which invariably tend to supercede creation in favor of a supramundane
redemption’ is always ‘bound to this world in all of its materiality,
ambiguity, and incompleteness.’ This understanding of the nature of the
theological enterprise resonates strongly in Jurgen Moltmann’s
kingdom-of-God theology that ‘springs from God’s love for life’ and
becomes ‘engaged wherever there is life and wherever that life is
threatened.’

A theology that (in Hall’s language above) ‘presses its
adherents… towards the actual world’ is a theology that has as its
chief end the missional vocation of the Church. Theology in itself is a
matter of vocation for Hall. It is a vocational matter, not only
because the theologian is summoned or ‘appointed by God’, but also
because it has ‘as its telos (inner aim) an apostolic rationale… to
perform a particular service in an for the community of faith…’ But,
the ‘goal toward which such theological reflection presses,’ says Hall,
‘is the generation of a missiology and an ethic that adequately express
the world-directedness of the theology of the cross.’

It is important to note that in Hall’s description theology serves
a missional church in which there is no separation of mission and
ethics. A separation of mission and ethics, as is the case in
theologies of glory, can only result in a triumphalistic ‘mission to
the world.’ In such instance, the church is a church with a mission. To
the contrast, a missional church, in which there is no separation of
mission and ethics, is an ecclesia crucis that lives with the
assumption ‘that those who would bring good news to the world must
submit themselves to the ‘imperative’ that the gospel’s ‘new
indicative’ announces.’ To have a missional vocation is to ‘live the
story’ of God’s involvement in the world. It is ‘a way of life’ that
enacts the Christic drama in the world.

This paper pursue a manner in which such a contextual,
life-oriented, and primarily missional theology (with no separation
between missiology and ethics), can inform a missional ‘ecclesia
crusis’ (who ‘lives the story’ of the missio Dei) for the cultivation
of its missional vocation to the formation of followers of Christ that
live ‘a way of life’ through enacting Christ’s way of living in the
world. It indicates the household as an appropriate life location for
such an endeavour. And it focuses on the meal as a concrete missional
practice through which it can be accomplish.

The household as an appropriate location for a missional vocation
to Christian formation is important for at least three reasons:

First of all, the acknowledgement that the debate about missional
theology and missional church needs to be enriched by exploring the
missional vocation of Christians in their everyday working and living
circumstances (also in relation to role and place of the missional
church of course), as to ensure that the missional debate does not
become a narrow ecclesiastical debate in which the institutional church
ends up as the primary focus again.

Darrell Guder, editor of the ‘Missional Church: A Vision for the
Sending of the Church in North America’ (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998),
concedes a possible ‘valid impression’ (in criticism directed at the
‘missional church project’ of the late 90’s) that ‘the church is the
priority’ in the missional church discussions – in spite of the many
ways in which the ‘inward focus’ and ‘reductionistic theologies and
practices of the church’ was critiqued in that discussions. He admits
it as ‘a serious gap in our early discussions’ that needs attention,
because it is obviously never the intention of the missional theology
and missional church debate to make the institutional church the
priority. Guder needs to be quoted more fully on this: ‘Mission rooted
in the trinitarian nature and action of God must take the emphasis upon
‘cosmos’ in both Testaments seriously. It relates theologically the
calling and practice of the church to God’s healing purposes for the
whole world. This must mean, then, that the presence and action of
Christian witness within that world must become a central emphasis of
missional theology. The preservation of the institutional church as we
have known it is not the purpose of the gospel; the church is the
instrument of God’s mission in the world… If the church is missionary
by its very nature, then the life and calling of every Christian person
is fundamentally missional. But it must be conceded that this has not
been sufficiently emphasized in the gospel and culture discussion up to
now.’

In almost similar fashion than Douglas Hall’s description of the
Church as an apostolic community in which there cannot be a separation
of mission and ethics, Guder also, stress the importance of a ‘dynamic
understanding of the interaction between discipleship and apostolate.’
The goal of the missional vocation of the church as primarily an
apostolic community is ‘the formation of the community for its vocation
of witness.’ The goal of formation for witnessing does not consist of
giving Christians another list of things to do, but rather entails the
formation of an identity of people who enacts God’s missional intention
in everything they are and do: ”How they lived together, how they
dealt with their disagreements, how they interacted with the customs
and practices of their pagan context, how rich treated poor, husbands
treated wives, owners treated slaves, parents treated children, how
they practiced their sexuality – everything was subsumed under his one
vocation: ‘you shall be my witness’…’.

The household is one of these very important life locations for the
challenge of being witnesses to Christ. Therefore, it is as an
appropriate goal for cultivating the missional vocation of theology and
church than any other sphere of life.

Secondly, the ‘family crisis’ necessitates a re-evaluation of the
Church’s responsibility towards the household as part of the church’s
missional vocation to Christian character and identity formation.

The results of studies in ‘The Religion, Culture, and Family
Project’, that took place in the Institute for Advanced Study in the
University of Chicago Divinity School during the late 90’s, indicate
‘four competing social sciences explanations of the family crisis,
namely changing cultural values (especially with the increase of
individualism), changing economic patterns, psychological causes (such
as poor socialization and inadequate communication skills) and
patriarchy (still visible, although declining).’ It is not within the
scope of this paper to give attention to all of these important
factors, and the implications it have for Christian formation in
households. But, in the development of an outline for a practical
theology as a framework for the exploration of a missional vocation to
Christian formation in the household (in the next part of this paper),
it will become clear that this paper is in agreement with the
assessment in the results of the above mentioned study that ‘the
cultural factor of inordinate individualism – the desire to attain more
expressive and utilitarian satisfactions for oneself – is critical’.
Families are clearly in need of an ethics of mutuality and equal regard
based on the Christian story, to assist them in the formation of a
household that counters an ‘inordinate individualism’ and promotes a
missional vocation to life.

Larry Rasmussen, in his work on moral and community fragmentation,
warns against the impact of such an ‘inordinate individualism’ and its
associated utilitarianism in the household: ‘The family… has become
more and more a setting for consumption and less and less the place
where one generation initiates the next into a way of life in which all
have a significant place and day-by-day participation… the family is
less and less the most common locus of manifold engagement.’ Rasmussen
draws upon the work of the moral philosopher, Albert Borgmann, and his
description of ‘the device paradigm’. In short, Borgmann shows how the
grammar of an increasingly technological society shapes the social and
moral relations in society. Borgmann highlights the irony of how, on
the one hand, modernity heightens human interdependence, but, on the
other hand, reduces human contact to little more than mere points of
labor and commodities. Human relationships become ‘commodities whose
utility we measure and consume’, with the consequence that there is
less and less ‘scope for people to develop their own moral capacities’
and it is more and more a reality that moral networks dissolve.

In a context like this, where the force of modernity becomes quite
clear in its most depersonalized forms and implications, Christian
character and identity formation entails the cultivation of a deeply
counter-cultural perspective on, and lifestyle with regard to, selfhood
and relationships. Nancy Ammerman’s most recent research on ‘American
Congregations and their Partners’ shows a big enough ‘concern about
fragmentation and community’ amongst congregational leaders.
Unfortunately, not many know how to assist families in these
circumstances. The emphasis in so called ‘family ministries’ is still
very much on creating church based gatherings for members of families
‘to find category-appropriate places in congregations’ (groups for
singles, seniors, men, women, and youth), rather than concentrating on
Christian formation in the setting of the household itself.

This paper suggests an alternative approach to ‘family ministry’ –
an approach that compliments any church based activities that deserve
its merit, with a primary focus on Christian character and identity
formation at the location of the household and within the setting of
the family itself.

Thirdly, there is an urgent need to reclaim the household as ‘First
Church’ and ‘Little Church’ for the sake of Christian character and
identity formation.

Browning et al uses the terminology ‘First Church’ and ‘Little
Church’ as an indication of a strategy that can be initiated by local
congregations and parishes to enhance ‘home-based worship.’ They
present it as a strategy that brings continuity between the gathered
ecclesia and the church at home. It is an essential strategy at times
when home and public worship become more and more differentiated. As
Protestant authors, Browning et al not only find the reclaiming of the
home-based ‘church’ important, but also find in the Protestant
tradition an appropriate ‘dialogical, and nonpatriarchal model’ for
reclaiming it: ‘Our model grounds parental authority in a dialogue
between parents’ own covenant with God and the church’s covenant. This
assumes that God has a covenant with both church and family. Parental
authority, therefore, should evolve from a dialogue with a church that
itself is dedicated to an appreciative yet critical inquiry into its
traditions.’

Christian formation in the household

What would be the theological guidelines for supporting this
possibility of a missional vocation to the household? This question
suggests that a missional vocation to the household is in need of a
practical theology of the household that allows missional
interpretations of the Christian formation that takes place in the
household. This paper presents a preliminary outline for such a
practical theology as a basic framework for deliberating on what
processes of Christian formation in the household are necessary from a
missional point of view.

The framework presented in this paper draws upon ‘four themes that
can inform a practical theology of the family’ emerging from ‘The
Religion, Culture, and Family Project’. The four themes is the result
of a study of tradition and scripture, but the authors also consider it
‘as ideals that can command philosophical support and be consistent
with experience and reason.’ A brief look at these four themes will lay
the foundation for a practical theology of the household that
illuminates processes of Christian formation from a missional
perspective.

Browning et al begin by asserting, as a first theme, that ‘love as
mutuality or equal regard… is the core of Christian love’ in
families. They do concede though that love as mutuality or equal regard
is not necessarily uniquely Christian , but then show that it ‘becomes
explicitly Christian when it is grounded on the imago Dei in humans and
renewed by the capacity for sacrificial love, a love that recapitulates
the Christic drama and the passion of God.’ Based on the mutuality of
the Biblical love command, love as equal regard is developed as more
than just an exclusive regard for the other. They rather describe it as
a ‘reversible logic of the kind written about by neo-Kantians’ (like
Lawrence Kohlberg and John Rawls), because ‘love as equal regard does
not exclude self-love, self-regard, or an ordinate concern with one’s
own self-fulfillment.’

To nurture love as mutuality or equal regard in the household is
consider being a fundamentally important process of Christian formation
in this paper’s outline of a framework for a practical theology of the
household from a missional perspective. The reason for that becomes
even clearer if we look at three qualifications that Browning et al
present for a better understanding of love as mutuality or equal
regard.

First, mutuality and equal regard is intersubjective and dialogical
concepts. Using Jurgen Habermas’s theory of intersubjective discourse ,
and applied to family relationships, Browning et al reject an
understanding of these concepts in monological terms as an act or
judgment of an individual with regard to another individual. To the
contrary, ‘love as equal regard is not something that one individual
expresses unilaterally toward another. It is something that people
create together… through successive attempts to communicate needs and
desires, to listen and understand, to empathize with, hold, and accept,
and then to live their mutual agreements.’ Therefore, the nurturing of
love as mutuality or equal regard in the household entails the
cultivation of ‘a covenant of intersubjective dialogue’.

Secondly, love as mutuality and equal regard means to be the
‘promoter of the good things of life.’ With reference to Paul Ricoeur,
Browning et al describe love not only as respect for one another, but
also as ‘a proactive commitment to do good to the beloved.’ To work for
the welfare of the other in the household represents the ‘teleological’
element of love. It is an important aspect of mutuality to promote the
‘premoral values and goods’ in the other. These ‘premoral values and
goods’ includes, among other, ‘a sense of self-esteem, the need for
interpersonal regard, and affirmation by others.’ A household culture
of love as mutuality or equal regard will also involve the formation of
members of the household who promotes ‘the good things of life’ in each
other.

Thirdly, love as mutuality or equal regard can functions within a
narrative context. Browning et al say, ‘Learning how to communicate
intersubjective equal regard for the other is really learning to
express respect for the life history or narrative of the other’s self.’
This aspect is crucial for identity formation, because an understanding
of selfhood is mainly of a narrative nature. With reference to Alasdair
MacIntyre, Browning et al put it as follow: ‘Narrative selfhood is a
combination of the stories we are born into and the stories we create
as we live our lives. Hence, to love the other as oneself means to
regard and empathize with the narrative identity of the other just as
one regards and empathizes with one’s own.’ Equal regard only becomes
concrete when a person’s ultimate worth is valued within the context of
that person’s personal history. This is extremely important, ‘not only
(for) how families are formed but, more important, how they are
sustained.’ This paper will indicate (in its third part) that it is
equally important for a missional interpretation of Christian formation
in a household.

The second of the four themes defines the first theme of love as
mutuality or equal regard in terms of the Christian element of
self-sacrifice or self-giving. Self-sacrificial love is not the ideal
of the Christian life or an end in itself though, but rather ‘derived
from equal regard’ (in contrast to so many popular versions of
Christian love which makes self-sacrifice the goal). Using Ephesians as
a basis text, Browning et al makes love as mutuality the goal, while
self-giving and self-sacrifice ‘is needed to renew the true goal of
love’, namely mutuality. They present us with a kind of a ‘Christian
realism’ that accounts for the reality of sin and the ‘near
impossibility’ of any moment of self-sacrifice. Therefore, we need the
Christic drama of the Passion of God (‘with all of its attendant
features of forgiveness, patience, and renewal’) that aid and assist us
as a drama to participate in. They sum it up as follow: ‘This
additional capacity for sacrificial self-giving inspired by the
suffering and grace of God is what turns love as equal regard into a
distinctively Christian reality.’ In the third part of this paper, it
will become clear that self-giving is an important feature for the
interpretation of a culture of the table as missional practice in the
processes of Christian formation in a household.

The third of the four themes claims, ‘a love ethic of mutuality is
more intelligible when stated within a theory of the marital and human
life cycles.’ Participation in love as mutuality and equal regard
occurs within a life-cycle context of the household. Life cycles is
seen as the combination of ‘the natural processes of growth and decay’
(the cycle of birth, growth, aging and death) and ‘historically
situated narratives’ (for example family traditions). This aspect of
mutuality and equal regard is important for Christian formation,
because ‘family formation is a process of biological, psychological,
historical, and religiocultural negotiation’ that takes place as part
of the covenant of intersubjective dialogue.

It becomes a ‘dialogue between diverse narrative identities’ (of
which the Christian narrative is obviously an all-important one in the
household of Christians) that ‘gives stability to the natural
dimensions of family formation.’

Browning et al use hermeneutic theory (with specific reference to
Hans-Georg Gadamer) to show how ideals and positive visions play a
vital part in the processes of dialogue in a household, and how these
ideals and visions are also entangled with images of the divine .
Therefore, it is not only the narratives of the members of the
household that play a vital part, but also the narratives of broader
historical traditions and traditions of wider communities such as
religiocultural traditions. They put it as follow: ‘Images of the
divine mediated by tradition and parent-shaped images of the divine
interact and modify each other to varying degrees, depending on our
patterns of socialization. Therefore, because God-images inherited from
tradition help us reconstruct images of our human parents, who are
experienced as divine, it makes a big difference what our traditions
tell us about the nature of God’s love, trustworthiness, forgiveness,
or suffering.’

Against this background of processes of dialogue within the context
of life cycles of a household, Browning et al also makes a very helpful
analogy between love as equal regard and Erik Erikson’s definition of
generativity. Erikson’s definition of generativity, from a
developmental psychology perspective, is ‘the concern in establishing
and guiding the next generation.’ Although Erickson uses ‘generativity’
as an adult virtue, Browning et al apply it as an ethical principle
‘that blends the ordo caritas (the formal character of equal regard)
with the ordo bonorum (the premoral developmental needs that love meets
and actualizes).’ It involves both parents and children, and it refers
to ‘a deepening experience of mutuality between parent and child’ where
both need each other to meet the developmental needs throughout the
life cycle of the household.

One of the most important aspects in this process of generativity
is the need for mutual recognition. The growing of capacities for
mutuality and equal regard in a household starts at a very early stage
with mutual recognition taking place between parent and infant, which
lays the foundation for a life of dialogue between them as a way in
which both the parent and child get a sense of their lives being
enriched by the other. This mutual recognition obviously also takes on
dimensions of religious experiences within households where religious
sensibilities are part of the narratives in that household. The nature
of this recognition in each other is of the utmost importance from a
missional perspective. In the third part of this paper, when
considering the nurturing of a culture of the table as a practice to
achieve Christian formation from a missional perspective, the aspect of
recognition features prominently.

The fourth (and last) theme entails the importance of putting the
household in perspective with relation to the Kingdom of God. Browning
et al sum it up as follow: ‘As important as families are, they must be
seen as subordinate to both the reign of God and the common good.’ It
is imperative from a missional point of view to reject any form of
family idolatry. Such a rejection does not come in the form of a
‘repressive view’ in which family affections are completely repressed
or rejected. It rather presents a ‘transformative view’ in which family
affections are transformed and extended for the purposes of a wider
community, ‘all the way to the universal community or family of God.’
This view on a family is not only very important from a missional point
of view, but also helpful to deliberate on the partnership between
household and Church.

It is the contention in this paper that a missional vocation to the
household, as well as a missional interpretation of Christian character
and identity formation in the household, has to revolve around the
cultivation of love as mutuality and equality as a covenant of
intersubjective dialogue in which narrative identities become the
sources for self-giving and doing good to each other through processes
of generativity and recognition, and for the sake of society and the
larger good of God’s Kingdom. It is also the contention in this paper
that the nurturing of a culture of the table presents itself as an
appropriate missional practice for actualizing such a cultivation of
Christian formation in the household.

Nurturing a culture of the table in the household

Nurturing a culture of the table is an appropriate practice for
achieving the basic objectives described (above) in the outline for a
practical theology that guides the cultivation of a household setting
in which Christian formation can take place with missional intention.
This paper presents four reasons for such a contention:

First, a culture of the table as a Christian practice sensitize
those who sit around the table to the presence of God, and, by
participating at the table, presents an opportunity to understand the
Gospel itself.

A missional interpretation of Christian formation in the household
would first of all point to the vocation of a people who always lives
in the presence of the One who appoints or summons them. Paul Stevens
says, ‘The Christian doctrine of vocation… starts with being called
to Someone before we are called to do something.’ Christian identity
formation starts at the continuous creation of an awareness that we
belong to God and live in His presence. Having meals and participating
in the culture of the table is a uniquely Christian way of creating
such awareness.

A necessary link between the Eucharist and our daily meals makes
this possible. Peterson views a culture of the table as ‘the most
accessible and natural occasion for cultivating the focal practice of
the Eucharist in our daily lives.’ An understanding of the relationship
between the Meal and our meals is of crucial importance for creating a
sense of God who is in our midst. Christine Pohl describes it as
follow: ‘…in the context of shared meals, the presence of God’s
Kingdom is prefigured, revealed, and reflected.’ A shared meal is an
activity ‘most closely tied to the reality of God’s Kingdom.’

Jesus Himself chose the meal as a focal practice for bringing the
Kingdom of God into the lives of people. Our meals become the settings
for bringing all those narratives of Jesus’ participation in meals into
our own identity formation. Meals help us to remember all those stories
of Jesus that empowered previous generations of Christians to embody
God’s graciousness in their own lives and the lives of other people. In
this way, a culture of the table becomes the setting for understanding
the Gospel itself.

The ultimate way in which this is true, is of course to understand
the meal within the context of Jesus’ sacrifice at the cross. Peterson
says, ‘The word that pulses at the center of the holy Eucharist and the
meals in our homes alike is ‘sacrifice’.’ Our meals remind us of the
focal event of Jesus’ work of salvation, namely to sacrifice Himself at
the cross. There is nothing more difficult, says Peterson, than
removing the matter of sacrifice ‘from the pages of sacred Scripture…
into the assumptions and practices of our everyday Christian lives.’
Moreover, as already indicated in the outline for a practical theology
for the household, sacrifice is a necessary feature of a uniquely
Christian understanding of love as mutuality or equal regard. Meals, as
a reference to the great Sacrifice, can help us cultivating the spirit
of sacrifice that renews our mutuality and equal regard over and over
again. Peterson puts it as follow: ‘For a people like us, trained in a
culture of getting things done (pragmatism) and taking care of
ourselves (individualism), sacrifice doesn’t seem at all obvious;
neither does it seem attractive.’

Meals help us not to avoid this crucial dimension of our Christian
lives by making sacrifice local and immediate. Peterson shows how ‘a
meal prepared and served to family and guests is a giving up of
ourselves for another’ and how ‘food on the table is life given and
offered so that others can live.’ In this way, ‘preparing and cooking,
serving and eating meals’ can bring a ‘daily structure to our
participation in the work of salvation’ that is missional by its very
nature – a way of life that does not keep the blessings of the Lord to
yourself, but that give away the grace of the Lord to others, and in
the process giving something of yourself away.

Second, a culture of the table as a Christian practice cultivates a
covenant of intersubjective dialogue that enhances personal
relationships of mutuality and equal regard.

A missional vocation to Christian character and identity formation
in the household reflects the spirit of a theologia crusis that only
knows the narrative of Jesus as the One who was not only prepared to
give Himself for other people, but also to engage with them in settings
of dialogue. It is contrary the spirit of theologies of glory that
‘mission to’ people in a rather truimphalistic and paternalistic manner
as a cause or project that needs to be completed as efficiently as
possible. A way to intentionally and deliberately promote dialogue as
part of the household culture is to nurture a culture of the table as a
setting that cultivates mutuality and equal regard.

A culture of the table that creates space for intersubjective
dialogue is of course totally counter-cultural. This paper earlier
referred to the work of Borgmann with regard to the influence of an
increasingly technological society on the morals of society. Peterson
also picks up the same theme on how ‘the machine and its metaphors have
dominated not only the way we live but the way we talk about the way we
live.’ A culture of the table counters the technological culture of
society that wants things done quickly and efficiently, because ‘meals
take time, meals are inefficient, meals are not ‘productive’.’ It
cultivates a regard for people that values and respect them, rather
than reducing them to commodities.

Unfortunately, ‘the centrality of the meal in our lives is greatly
diminished. We still eat, of course, but the intricate cultural world
of the meal has disintegrated. The exponential rise of fast-food meals
means that there is little leisure for conversation; the vast explosion
of restaurants is evidence that far less food preparation and clean-up
takes place in homes; in many homes the television set is the dominant
presence at family meals, virtually eliminating personal relationships
and conversation; the frequency with which pre-prepared and frozen
meals are used erodes the culture of family recipes and common work.’
That presents the challenge of creating a culture of the table where
food and conversation is closely linked. ‘Around a dinner table,’ says
Pohl, ‘family and guests share food and life.’ The focus is on people
rather than the food.

To sit around a table at home and have fellowship with one another
is ‘an important way of recognizing the equal value and dignity of
persons.’ The table is the place of intersubjective dialogue where
everyone’s contribution is valued. It is the setting for expressing
care, respect, recognition, and equality. This paper emphasized the
importance of mutual recognition in the outline for a practical
theology of the household that cultivates Christian formation. The
table is the setting for nurturing recognition as part of Christian
character formation, because the table presents an excellent
opportunity to ‘respecting the dignity and equal worth of every person
and valuing their contributions, or at least their potential
contributions, to the larger community.’ Recognition cannot be
sustained on the level of abstract commitments. It can only be
exercised in concrete situations as is presented by a culture of the
table.

Recognition also has a strong missional implication to it. The
challenge, from a distinct Christian point of view, is to recognize the
value and contribution of those who are rejected by dominating cultures
and society. Therefore, it is appropriate to include at the table those
that are the most vulnerable in society (the poor and neediest) whose
sense of dignity have been affected by cultures that generally do not
value the marginalized in their midst. Recognition becomes a way of
‘welcoming persons of different status and background into a single
place and often a shared meal.’ Within the context of Christian
hospitality, meals become far more than merely a pleasant practice. It
becomes a counter cultural means to be subversive to society’s way of
regarding a valuing people in a consumerist culture. Meals are the
means to point to a different value system in dealing with
relationships.

In this way, a culture of the table can become the setting for
transcending boundaries of class, race and close friendships.
Hospitality was the mark of the early church in distinguishing it from
the rest of its surroundings, and in establishing the authenticity of
the gospel. Moreover, it was especially meals that provide the setting
for hospitality as a missional practice in households. Meals brought
the members of the household into the reality of struggling with
cultural boundaries. Pohl has the opinion that we, as the church, find
ourselves in a similar situation today with regard to our missional
vocation: ‘We, like the early church, find ourselves in a fragmented
and multicultural society that yearns for relationships, identity, and
meaning. Our mobile and self-oriented society is characterized by
disturbing levels of loneliness, alienation, and estrangement.’ It is
the missional vocation of the household, through the practice of shared
meals with strangers, to become the sacrament of God’s love to the
world.

Third, a culture of the table as a Christian practice reclaims the moral dimension of the habit of hospitality as a way of life.

By nurturing a culture of the table, those who sit around the table
are also nurtured into a habit of hospitality. It is not within the
scope of this paper to explore the rich meaning of the tradition and
practice of hospitality as such, but the advantages for Christian
formation is clear in the way that Pohl describes it: ‘To raise
hospitable children… you must be what you are trying to teach…
Children learn hospitality from parents who have room in their lives
for their family as well as for their guests. Children will resent
hospitality if it is not broad enough to include them, but they will
grow into hospitality as they share in its life-giving environment.’
Hospitality is a way of life that you can only cultivate over a long
period.

Hospitality is fundamental to the formation of Christian identity,
but unfortunately, it ‘lost its moral dimension’. The meaning of the
word changed in modern times to a popular usage more related to ‘tea
parties, bland conversation, and a general atmosphere of coziness.’ It
has generally been reduced to ‘a nice extra if we have the time or the
resources’ , but does not carry in the essence of it a moral obligation
that is an integral part of a true expression of Christian life any
more.

One of the main reasons for that is the reduction of hospitality to
mere entertainment or commerce. There is always the temptation to use
hospitality as a means for entertaining other, and for using it to
achieve advantages from those who are entertained. It is part of the
instrumental way of thinking in a commercialized and technological
society. ‘We continually ask,’ says Pohl, ‘…what will it accomplish?’
or ‘…how is it useful?’ Hospitality becomes a means to an end, rather
than a way of life that imitates the very essence of the Gospel.

Real hospitality, contrary to entertainment, carries within itself
an openness to the stranger who is not part of the family or close
friends. Pohl warns against the risk ‘in focusing our hospitality on
those closest to us’ and to ‘become so oriented to friends and family
that there is no room or time for others who have few friendship and
family networks to sustain them.’ At the centre of Christian formation
in the household is the missional intention to nurture a hospitality
toward the stranger. Hospitality, and consequently the opportunity that
a culture of the table presents, is integrally part of the Christian
vocation to witness. In both the Old and New Testament, hospitality was
strongly associated with an explicit and essential expression of the
gospel. In the early church, it played a crucial role in the spreading
of the gospel and establishing the credibility thereof. Hospitality was
never optional for Christians, and neither was it an activity only for
those who are ‘gifted’ to do it. It is at the heart of the gospel’s
missional intention.

Fourth, a culture of the table as a Christian practice provides the opportunity for the household’s partnership with the Church.

The location of hospitality in ancient times was, although not
exclusively, primarily the household. There are many examples from both
the Old and New Testament. However, it is important to notice that
hospitality also transcends the household as such. Pohl talks about the
‘overlap of household and church’. Hospitality experienced in the
household refers to a more fundamental reality of which the church is
an equally important location. Part of the reason for the lost of a
moral dimension to hospitality is the effect of urbanization and
industrialization that brought about smaller and more private
households.

This paper conclude with a quote from Pohl: ‘The future of
Christian hospitality is partly tied to the future of the home and
family. Recovering hospitality will involve reclaiming the household
and the church, so that the two institutions can work in partnership
for the sake of the world.’ On how to assist the household in its
missional vocation to nurture a culture of the table as a setting for
Christian formation is really the challenge for the Church’s own
missional vocation. This paper pleads for a creative effort in
developing processes and programs to fulfill that vocation.

THE END OF CHRISTENDOM AND THE FUTURE OF CHRISTIANITY.

Written by webmeester on . Posted in PMC Articles

“Christendom” means the dominion or sovereignty of the Christian religion.

The Christendom phase of the Christian movement is drawing to a decisive close.

The question is: Can we get over regarding this as a catastrophe
and begin to experience it as a doorway into a future that is more in
keeping with what our Lord first had in mind when He called disciples
to accompany him on his mission to redeem the world through love, not
power?

The decline and fall of Christendom…

What started to develop in the fourth century under emperors
Constantine and Theodosius I – the imperial church with its great power
– now comes to an end. That beginning and this ending are the two great
social transitions in the course of Christianity in the world.

Christendom gives way to new cultural realities, including
widespread secularism and religious pluralism. New attitudes are
developing toward the whole phenomenon of religion: that it is strictly
an option; that it is a purely individual decision; that there is no
reason why the children of believing parents should be considered
potential members of religious communions; that religion may be useful,
but truth does not apply to this category, and so on.

Although some semblance of Christendom may find a new home in
Africa, Asia, and Latin America, its period of Western dominance is
over.

The status of the confessing church is no longer one of singular
power and influence but that of a peripheral voice. Precisely as such,
however, this voice may be a prophetic one.

Denominations behave as if nothing had happened – as if we were
still living in a basically Christian civilization; as if the Christian
religion were still quite obviously the official religion of the
official culture; as if we could go carry on baptizing, marrying, and
burying everybody as we have always done; as if governments would
listen to us, and educational systems would respect us.

Too many confessions of faith do not succeed because they still
assume a Christendom framework. They speak as though from positions
within the power centers of society. Therefore they almost always fail
to convince anyone outside the fold or even to raise significant
questions.

The church’s responses to the end of the Christendom era.

If not expanding the church’s sphere of influence and territory, what are churches for?

The most common answer that is presently given is a concentration
upon the congregation itself: The church’s purpose is to be a
fellowship, a “friendly church”. In cities and towns that are large and
impersonal, the church is a meeting place where people “get to know one
another” and to “care”. In the livelier congregations, programs are
developed for every age and stage of life. This is accompanied with
outreach and social programs. Strangers making their way into the
fellowship should be welcomed, and they should be encouraged to attend,
because of the fellowship. But only rarely, it is felt, would it be
appropriate to approach others as disciples of a quite explicit faith
tradition. Even Christian preaching must honor the rights of others to
believe what they will.

Christians are called not only to serve their neighbors but to
confess their faith. Congregations have to be communities, not only of
fellowship but of discipleship – not only of behavior but also of
Christian confession.

Concentration upon fellowship has definite limits. Its success is
dependent upon its location among a constituency that places high
premium upon such fellowship; hence its strong identification with
suburban, racially and economically homogenous churches.

The problem with the friendly church model is that those who are
looking for meaning (the most gripping search of humanity in the modern
context) are not likely to find it. The main reason for this is that
consistent friendliness goes hand in hand with the avoidance of deeper
human concerns.

If Christians want to preserve their faith and not just some of its
moral and aesthetic spin-off, they are going to have to become more
articulate about their basic beliefs and about the manner in which
these beliefs, when taken seriously, distance them from many of the
values and pursuits of society at large.

Our theological task: Disestablishing the church.

God is offering us another possibility, a new form, indeed a new
life. But we may accept this gift of the new only if we relinquish the
old to which we are stubbornly clinging.

We must relinquish the social status that belongs to our past: the
comfortable relationships with ruling classes; the continuous
confirmation of accepted social values and mores by means of which we
sustain those relationships; the espousal of “charities” that ease our
guilty consciences while allowing us to maintain neutrality with
respect to the social structures that make such “charities” necessary;
the silent acceptance of racial, sexual, gender and economic
injustices, or their trivialization through tokenism; the failure to
probe the depths of human and creaturely pathos by confining sin to
petty immorality or doctrinal refinements drawn from the past, and so
on.

We must give up the redundant role of official religious cult in
society. We must disengage from the dominant culture. This is the
necessary precondition for a meaningful engagement of that same
dominant culture or society.

Intentional disengagement from the dominant culture means that
every Christian should learn how to distinguish the Christian message
from the operative assumptions, values, and pursuits of the host
society. The Christian message is not just a stained-glass version of
the worldview of that same social stratum.

This disengagement is aimed at the reengagement of the same
society. There are no shortcuts. We must begin with the basics. Without
a deeper understanding of what Christians profess, it is absurd to
think that ordinary folk will be able to distinguish what is true to
the Judeo-Christian tradition from the mishmash of modernism,
postmodernism, secularism, pietism, and free-enterprise democracy with
which Christianity in our context is so fantastically interwoven.

Instead of catering exclusively to what are usually described as
“pastoral needs” (though the term often cloaks institutional busywork),
ministers today are recalled to the teaching office.

The Christian Movement in a Post-Modern era. Being Salt, Yeast, and Light…

The end of Christendom could be the beginning of something more
nearly like the church – the disciple community described by the
Scriptures and treasured throughout the ages by prophetic minorities.

To grasp this opportunity, however, we must relinquish our
centuries-old ambition to be the official religion, the dominant
religion, of the dominant culture. We must disengage ourselves from our
society if we are going to reengage our society at the level of truth,
justice, and love. We must stand off from the liberal middle-class
culture with which we have been consistently identified; rediscover our
own distinctive foundations and the ethical directives that derives
from them; and allow ourselves, if necessary, to become aliens in our
own land.

In this way we find ourselves in an awkward situation vis-à-vis our
society. We are a disciple community distinguished from the world (Rom
12:2) as well as sent decisively into the world (Matt 28:19). The
church is in the world just because it is not simply of the world.

Christian disengagement from the dominant culture is not to be
confused with the abandonment of that culture. The end that we are to
seek is the redemption of our world – the world that is truly ours and
of which we are ourselves part.

If we are faithful and imaginative enough to disentangle our
authentic faith tradition from its cultural wrapping, we will have
something to bring to our world that it does not have – a perspective
on itself, a judgment of its pretensions and injustices, an offer of
renewal and hope.

We will be able to bring this to our world

• while actively discerning how God wants us to live in the world,

• while engaging in the formation of a community which breaks the homogeneous mold that churches still project,

• while searching for God “in the midst of life”, therefore engaging in the quest for transcendence and mystery, and

• while searching for meaning, carrying our emptiness and yearning into the presence of the Holy One.

Our role as Christians is precisely what Jesus said it was: to be
salt, yeast, and light. Our Lord’s metaphors for his community of
witness were all of them modest ones: a little salt, a little yeast, a
little light.

Christendom wanted to be great, large, magnificent. It thought
itself the object of God’s expansive grace; it forgot the meaning of
its election to worldly responsibility.

Today we are constrained by the divine Spirit to rediscover the
possibilities of littleness. We are to decrease in order that the
Christ may increase. We cannot enter this new phase without pain, for
truly we have been glorious in this world’s own terms. It seems to many
of us a humiliation that we are made to reconsider our destiny as
“little flocks”.

Can such a calling be worthy of the servants of the Sovereign of
the Universe? Yet, if that Sovereign be the One who reigns from the
cross, could any other calling be thought legitimate?

A CHURCH WITHOUT WALLS

Written by webmeester on . Posted in PMC Articles

Presbytery of Irvine and Kilmarnock

This is the introductory speech given to the General Assembly of
the Church of Scotland in May, 2001 by the Convener of the Special
Commission anent Review and Reform, the Rev Peter Neilson. This is also
available at http://www.churchofscotland.org.uk

Moderator, this is a time for discernment.

In General Assembly, we gather to discern what God may be saying to
us as God’s people at this time. The Special Commission on Review and
Reform offers one voice among many, praying that

together we may discern the call of the Spirit.

We see the way ahead as a relational reformation rooted in the grace of God.

We see the way ahead as a movement where the people of God walk
free to share in the mission of God. We see a church without walls. We
see people with Jesus at the centre, travelling

where Jesus takes them.

The future begins today.

We have discerned the primary purposes of the Church by returning
to the Gospels. The core calling of the Church is to follow Jesus as

Lord, to share in the mission of Christ and to turn back to God
and to neighbour in worship and witness. We call the Church to risk the

way of Jesus.

We have described a journey, not a destination. We have focused on
starting points for the journey that are accessible to all: following
Jesus, being imaginatively local, building Christ-inspired
friendships and releasing the gifts of God’s people to the call of the
Kingdom. If any
Christian or any congregation takes any of these first steps of
faith and obedience, a new Church will emerge in 20 years time that
only God can
create. No futuristic vision. God’s future begins with today’s obedience.

We have addressed the structures of the mind rather than
organisation and procedures. In this we follow Jesus’ way when he
called for new wineskins for the new wine – challenging mindsets that
could not see the Kingdom way. Old mindsets in new structures multiply
old problems. Mindsets are renewed only through relationships with God
and each other that go deeper and wider than our safety zones.

We have decided to entrust the process of change to the Spirit of
God and the people of God. We may have been expected to introduce a
managed process of change led by consultants and experts in
organisational change.

We decided against that. Every follower of Jesus here today is
responsible before God for the church of God. We have no other plan.

Picture this . . .

But we do have a vision that wraps around two key words: ‘local and
relational.’ Picture communities of Christian people wrestling with the
call of Jesus Christ, helping each other live out the Gospel story in
daily life. Picture local communities of faith where all generations
find
a home. Picture a new generation set free to create new churches from the ground up.

Forget the petty worship wars and the systems that suck our energy.

Picture a crowd of people with Jesus at the centre, following where
Jesus takes them. Picture Jesus introducing us to the people in the
community he would call friends – and see the Church without walls
gather round.

Picture rich and poor in just relationships, with local church and
global Church as partners in a movement of alternative globalisation.

Times have changed. Our 19th-century model of mission was simple:
one minister in one building in one parish. Throughout the 20th century
that
model has creaked and groaned as congregations have united,
ministers have become fewer and life has become less settled. And yet,
the old mindset lives on as the assumed norm, chastising us as we
struggle to make it work. It is time to let it go.

Picture our society: push-button, quick-click, multiple-choice
lifestyles with designer identities. People meet in cafes and clubs, in
markets and shopping malls. Patterns of belonging and believing are
more fluid. ‘A Church without walls’ meets people where they are and
accompanies them as friends – like Jesus on the Emmaus Road: listening
to the dreams and
disillusionment, gently setting this dislocated life in the
redeeming story of suffering and resurrection, and sharing the
hospitality of a
supper table where Christ makes his surprise appearance.

In this society we picture a simpler Church of fellow travellers,
‘strugglers anonymous’ in a bruising world. This is a Church of
hospitality and where the word of God is given a chance to burn
in the hearts of those who are unlikely to sit in a pew to hear it.
This is a
Church for the adventurers who rise to the challenge of a world
renewed in righteousness by God and for God as creation is healed.

Such a church will have learned the art of Christian friendship: so
committed to the other that we let go our cherished ways for the sake
of strangers who might become friends – our friends and the friends of
Jesus; and so transparently honest about God that we give away what we
have come to know of God’s love in every way we can. Friendship is the
starting point for discipleship. Discipleship is the basis of
leadership.

The supporting and equipping of such a church will take many types
of people: pastors helping others to care, youth workers helping young
people find their voice, evangelists taking us to the borderlands of
faith and doubt, communicators who are at home with the website and the
mixing desk, teachers who can open Scripture to life and life to
scripture, artists who touch places others cannot reach, contemplatives
and intercessors who teach us to pray.
In a word, teamwork.

It will take a community of leaders to build a community of God’s
people who will offer a sign of God’s healing community in a fractured
world.

The shape of things to come – but how will this happen?

We have seen a new shape for the Church. We have seen a Church that
is ‘upside down’. We have affirmed the local church as the centre of
gravity for our nation-wide Church – the centre of gravity which pulls
to itself a new regionalised support system as presbyterian
interdependency is refocused to serve the local agenda; and a centre of
gravity which draws to itself resources of people and money so that
local vision and local initiative is funded and fuelled to point the
way to the future.

The primary focus of this report is about the regeneration of local communities of faith by the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

In the midst of all this, we call the Church to pause – to pray and
learn to live more consciously with God. The heart of reform is the
reform of the heart. We recommend a Sabbath rest for the people of God.
Just picture this – in Lent 2002 and 2003 a fast from church activities
to allow time for prayerful retreat and deepening friendships.

We call for an investment of time in relationships with churches
around us. This is where mindsets are changed as we learn to be open to
people beyond our walls. Trust is developed over time. We travel
together into a future shaped by God the Trinity.

Discerning and deciding

Moderator, this is a time for discernment.

Discernment begins with knowing our own hearts in the presence of
God. The commission looked into our own hearts and saw two barriers to
change – the barriers of fear and power. We ask the General Assembly to
search their hearts as we engage in this conversation and debate, to
discern where we may be limited by fear, or seduced by power.

We are at a critical moment in the life of the Church. We discern a
mood for change. That mood can turn into a movement if a critical mass
of
people make the critical choices to follow where the Spirit is leading.

We discern Jesus walking on the stormy water, inviting us to step out of the boat and join him.

We discern the purpose, the shape and the process of continuing
reform of the Church in the call of the Risen Christ: ‘Follow me.’

Confession

Written by webmeester on . Posted in About us

Vision for Embodiment:

To listen to God’s specific call to us, to let God send us and, through the Holy Spirit, empower us to participate in God’s mission in the world, so that both our outreach and our life together as a church are a witness to Jesus Christ.

How does this realize in practice?

The Partnership for Missional Churches facilitates a diversity of denominational Churches in Southern-Africa to live according to God’s call, to be sent in everything they are and do – in their total life and work. ‘In their homes, across the street, to the whole world!’

We learn together with Churches what it is to cross invisible barriers (personal, societal, class, economic and cultural.

We help Churches to discover God’s missional calling (as being sent in every moment and situation to share God’s peace, reconciliation and healing to the world).

We help Churches to make a culture shift from doing maintenance of its ministries to being a missional Church. Churches in rural and city settings learn to discern the signs of the times, to see that their ecclesiological and ministries functions within a ‘Christiandom’ paradigm, while the entire society is increasingly being characterized by a ‘post-modern’ culture.

We help Churches to faithfully discern this post-modern reality with hope through a missional faith.

We build the ministerial capacity of ministers and members with innovating programmes and processes. Churhes are organized within a Cluster of congregations where reciprocal learning and growth takes place.

We believe that it is God who is calling us to live and work as a missional church ; – people for God’s preferred future for this world.

WORKING THE ANGLES – EUGENE H. PETERSON

Written by webmeester on . Posted in Books

In Working the Angles, Peterson calls the attention of his fellow
pastors to three basic acts—which he sees as the three angles of a
triangle—that are so critical to the pastoral ministry that they
determine the shape of everything else. The acts—prayer, reading
Scripture, and giving spiritual direction—are acts of attention to God
in three different contexts: oneself, the community of faith, and
another person. Only by being attentive to these three critical acts,
says Peterson, can pastors fulfill their prime responsibility of
keeping the religious community attentive to God.

Written out of the author’s own experience as pastor of a “single
pastor church,” this well-written, provocative book will be stimulating
reading for lay Christians and pastors alike.

WHAT SAINT PAUL REALLY SAID – N. T. WRIGHT

Written by webmeester on . Posted in Books

In What Saint Paul Really Said, N.T. Wright—a world authority on
the life and letters of Paul—leads readers through the current
scholarly discussion of Paul and gives a concise account of the actual
contribution Paul made to the birth of Christianity. Wright offers a
critique of the argument that claims that it was Paul who founded
Christianity and shows clearly that Paul was not “the founder of
Christianity” but was the faithful witness and herald of Jesus of
Nazareth, the Jewish Messiah and the risen Lord of the Christian faith.