Martin Luther King, Jr. Nobel Lecture: "The Quest for Peace and Justice"
"5 Brave Religious Leaders Who Fought Christian Theocracy in America:
We shouldn't overlook members of the Christian clergy who have buttressed the church-state wall."
February 13, 2012
by Rob Boston, senior policy analyst at Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
WHAT DISTINGUISHES THE “EVANGELICAL” CHURCHES?
There are two distinguishing characteristics of the Evangelical Churches which were a part of the German Evangelical Synod (and which later became part of the Evangelical and Reformed Church, and now the United Church of Christ). Both of these distinctive marks come from their unique history.
When, in the Nineteenth Century, the German immigrants came up the Mississippi River and settled in the Missouri Valley basin, they were divided between those of a Lutheran persuasion, who were quite strict in doctrine (ancestors of the Missouri Synod Lutheran Churches) and those “free-thinking” Germans who were impressed by the scientific discoveries of the time and who thought Christian faith an outmoded superstition. Between these two were those who formed the “German Evangelical Church Union in the West.” They were marked by an open-ness of spirit and a deep-seated trust in Jesus Christ. As they developed, they wanted to preserve this balance of freedom and faith and were constantly quoting the saying of the Seventeenth Century Lutheran, Peter Meiderlin: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” (see footnote)
These German people were also influenced by the movement of Pietism in Germany, which held not only that Christians should be faithful to Jesus Christ, but also that they should express their faith in concrete deeds by ministering to those in need. This influence was strengthened by the need to care for the victims of a great cholera epidemic which struck the area. The result was that one of the founding pastors opened an orphanage in his home, which later became the Evangelical Children’s Home. There developed also Deaconess Hospital, Emmaus Homes, and many other institutions to care for the orphan, the sick, the widow, the disabled, as a result of that epidemic.
To this day, the unique marks of the Evangelical Churches are their willingness to accept diversity where Christ is truly honored, and their desire to express Christian faith through Christian social welfare.
David Beebe, August 22, 2005
For further information on Peter Meiderlin, see:
The Collegial Character of Authorized Ministry in the United Church of Christ
by Rev. David Lewis Beebe, Th.D.
In the United States historically there were three professions known as “the learned professions.” Preparation for each of these was originally either by “reading” (reading the Law, reading Medicine, or reading Theology) or by attending an academic institution. “Reading” usually involved some kind of mentoring. These professions were, of course: lawyers, physicians, and clergy.
As the nation developed, more and more the standard approach for all three was to secure an undergraduate degree and then to spend several years in graduate study. In either case one did not enter these professions – and does not – simply by completing the academic training. It was and is necessary to pass examinations: passing the bar, passing boards, or gaining ecclesiastical approval.
In other words, in all three professions one is approved and later held to standards which have been established by the professional bodies in each field. In ministry there is a further element: the fact that to be “ordained” means to be under “orders.” In more connectional or heirarchical communions, this being under orders is expressed by the authority of ecclesiastical superiors. In the United Church of Christ, this authority is expressed collegially by the ministers and delegates to the Association, the body which authorizes and holds standing. Normally this authorization, subject to the decisions of the Association, is done by a committee on the ministry.
There appears to be a widespread mis-perception of the nature of the autonomy of our local congregations. This mis-perception does not fairly balance the three principles of faith, freedom, and fellowship Historically and theologically our congregational autonomy does not rise from unbridled localism, but rather from a sense that conscience must be free to obey conviction. In Christological language, we are free from all other lords in order to obey our one Lord, Jesus Christ. That is why our constitution says that the ”United Church of Christ acknowledges Jesus Christ as the sole head of the Church.” We are not so much free to do as we please as rather we are bound to do as we believe. For this reason, as well as for the peace and unity of the church, United Church of Christ congregations and their predecessors have seldom approved of one congregation ordaining clergy. They have recognized this power in the fellowship of the churches.
It is therefore an important point that, while our churches are autonomous within the bounds of conscience, our clergy are both authorized and collegial. That is, they are expected to adhere to the standards established by their colleagues.
It is also an important point that representation to both the Association and the Conference is by Ministers and Congregations. Pastors do not belong to the Association by virtue of being pastors but by virtue of being ordained ministers of the Association, either authorized by ordination or by recognition of their ordained status. That is why an Association is called “an Association of Ministers and Churches.”
There are interesting historical reasons for this practice, both from the Evangelical and from the Congregational roots of the denomination:
The origins of the Evangelical Synod were in the German Evangelical Church Society of the West, organized by four missionary pastors in the Gravois Settlement south of St. Louis in the mid-Nineteenth Century. Even after the Synod was established, it was possible for a pastor to be a member of the Synod before his congregation joined. Indeed the pastor of St. Paul United Church of Christ (then “St. Paul Evangelical”) in Waterloo, Illinois, was president of the Synod long before the congregation joined. He was the son of one of the founders.
In like manner, the early New England pastors gathered together in association (or “consociation”) as a professional body before their congregations joined.
The “Christian” root of our denomination came from several strains, one of them Presbyterian with an emphasis on the presbytery of clergy and one of them from the Methodist connectional system, but in reaction among other things against the authority of bishops. Other roots were less connectional. The Reformed Churches tended to be more accepting of the authority of the Synod.
By now the point should be clear: United Church of Christ pastors (or indeed any pastors who understand their ordination vows) are not free to “hang out their shingles” and do as they wish. They are first of all vowed to follow Jesus Christ and, secondly, committed to share in ministry as representatives of the church.
Professional societies have standards and ethics. The standards of the United Church of Christ expect that our clergy will be collegial, attending Association and Conference gatherings and being reviewed by our committees on the ministry. Our code of ethics (the present one is in the Manual on the Ministry) clearly describes how we will behave toward our congregations, toward other clergy, toward our own families and personal well-being, and toward the practice of our faith.
Although I came into ordained ministry in the search for my own spiritual vocation, I am in ministry because I am a servant of the gospel, and a covenanted partner in the life of the church. St. Cyprian may have been speaking too strongly when he said that “outside the church there is no salvation.” But we are on solid ground when we say that “Without the church there is no ordained ministry.”
Copyright © David Beebe, 2008
STEWARDS AND WITNESSES
"For the saving grace of God was shown forth to all people."
Titus 3:11 (Richmond Lattimore translation)
For a century and a half at least, Stewardship and mission have been linked in the life of the Church. The uncertainty about stewardship so widespread these days is really in large part an uncertainty about mission. The resolution of both (like the resolution of a fuzzy slide projection) will come as the churches become clear about what Jesus Christ is calling them to do.
This is the simple proposition - or series of propositions - which I want to spell out here. Like all simple propositions, it has exceptions and overlooks a lot. But it has the virtue of focusing on a real and central issue.
In the middle of the Nineteenth Century, Europe and North America became aware of a wider world. A combination of steamships, the telegraph, the Crimean War, and other events farther east led to a growing sense of the oneness of the world. Among Christians, this became a challenge to mission. It was during this period that methods of church giving called "systematic benevolence" developed. They had other roots, including congregational support and the effort to counter-balance materialism, yet a main motivation for this increase in systematic giving was the call to mission.
Dr. Abel Stevens, a church leader and historian of the time, wrote: "Everywhere does the Macedonian vision stand out on the boundaries of the nations, and beckon us." Later in the same address, he said that the "next great idea" to gain prominence in the church would be the idea of Christian use of property: "A change, amounting to a revolution, must come over Christendom in this respect before Christianity can fairly accomplish its mission in our world."
Sixty years later, the Methodist stewardship and mission leader, Harvey Calkins, remarked about this period:
To but one other generation has there come such a massing of the human appeal, and that was sixty years after. The decade from 1840 to 1850 and the decade from 1900 to 1910 are marvelously alike. He referred to the Student Volunteer Movement, the push to "evangelize the world in this generation," and the world Christian awareness which led to the First World Ecumenical Missionary Conference in London in 1890 and ultimately to the World Council of Churches. This period too was one marked by technological changes which opened the world more readily to Christian mission. One of the related movements to this missionary thrust was the developing stewardship movement.
Many things happened to change our world and our world awareness since those days of zeal for mission. But two of them are important for what I am saying here. One is the (to my mind) very unfortunate division between "evangelical" and "mainline" churches, growing out of the Fundamentalist/Modernist controversy. This left the "Gospel" sliced in half, between an often individualistic "personal gospel" and a "social gospel" sometimes hard to distinguish from political and ideological agendas. The other is the very fact of encountering world cultures and religions and discovering the presence there of genuine spirituality. For many thoughtful Christians this caused reservations about the missionary enterprise.
Mark Noll has described this effect:
Since World War II, general theological uncertainty in the mainline churches has been matched by an increasing uncertainty about the idea of evangelization itself. Voices can still be heard in such bodies defending the need to proclaim the gospel as the sole hope of the world. More typical, however, are two other stances. One is the growing conviction that although Christianity enjoys a unique status as God's fullest revelation, other world religions share part of that truth. The other is the belief that Christianity is an important expression of human religion but that it need not necessarily be promulgated as a replacement for the religions practiced by the other peoples of the world.
I believe that much of the uncertainty about stewardship and the decrease in giving to the wider mission of the churches is directly related to this change of perspective. Among more "evangelical" church members there is a sense that money going to "missions" does not really go to the task of evangelization. Among more "liberal" church members there is a question why we should be sending money to the mission enterprise anyway. And both are unclear about what distinguishes much Christian mission from humanitarian enterprises.
Perhaps both Evangelicals and Liberals have been too narrow. Evangelicals have often seen their task as converting people. Liberals have often talked about "building the kingdom of God" or "Reign of God." But surely, God is concerned about more than individuals and intends to save the whole world. The saving act is the saving of society as well as persons. Just as surely (at least as I see it), God is demonstrably at work outside the bounds of the Christian Church. And, just as surely, the task of Christians is neither to convert people nor to bring the reign of God, but to see what God is doing in the world, to understand how Jesus Christ is the clue to these deeds and to witness to what we have discovered. The key is witness!
In an important and overlooked book, The Trinitarian Faith and Today's Mission, Lesslie Newbigin dealt with these matters. Newbigin pointed out that a full understanding of the Trinity means recognizing that God is working in the whole world beyond the borders of the Church. Along with many others, he recognized that the Holy Spirit has provided a field in which the Christian faith can grow. But he also pointed out that even in the gift of hope which came in Jesus Christ, the world has been learning hope. It is from the hope which biblical faith brings that the seed of world revolutionary movements has spread. It is the task of Christians to witness to the meaning in these events: The task of the Church in relation to the events of world history is not to be the governor and controller of them, but to be the suffering servant and witness of the Lord, manifesting in its witness the true meaning of these events.
But what is the witness? What can replace (or re-ignite) the fiery zeal for mission which sparked the earlier stewardship movement. I believe that it must be a renewed and passionate commitment to Jesus Christ. It was the Jewish theologian, Martin Buber, who said that the heart of Christianity is the following of Jesus and that "the fiery centre in the history of Christianity is the endeavour to keep this following alive after the death of Jesus." But that renewed commitment does not demand that we ignore the other works of God in the world or in other faiths. It does require, I believe, that we rediscover the reality of the resurrection, which is the core of our creed.
In order for mission and stewardship to come alive again, it is not necessary to deny the breadth of God's work. But it is necessary to rediscover the fire. It is necessary that we witness to the ways Jesus Christ is at work in the world. And that means proclaiming with living conviction that he is really alive. The core of our Gospel is that Jesus Christ is risen.
. Some of the material in this article was used by the author in a presentation to the stewardship gathering of the United Church of Canada in September, 1993. . Richmond Lattimore, translator, Acts and Letters of the Apostles. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1982. . Quoted by Harvey Reeves Calkins in A Man and His Money (New York: Methodist Book Concern, 1914), pp. 105, 107. For introducing me to this book, as well as to much else that is considered here, I am deeply indebted to the Reverend Dr. Robert Wood Lynn. . Indeed, the Christian mission has always been carried on the back of emerging technology. Cf. the use of Roman roads and galleys in the first century, and the use of the Gutenberg press in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Today, it is jet planes and the Internet. . Mark A. Noll, A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada (Grand Rapids" Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1992), p. 535. . Compare Lesslie Newbigin, The Trinitarian Faith and Today's Mission (Richmond, VA: John Knox Press, 1964), p. 39f. . Martin Buber, Two Types of Faith (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1961), p. 96.
A Matter of Context
(David Beebe, October 2012)
Consider what a difference the context makes. For instance:
FEB, MAR, APR
GNP, NET, APR
CBS, NPR, APM, APR
In the first series, APR means April; in the second, annual percentage rate; and in the third, though it is dated, American Public Radio.
Or consider how risky it would be to remark on a plane, “There is a balm in Gilead.”
But the matter of context is not simply the context of words, including homophones. It is also the context of the situation.
Consider: A few years ago, while attending a summer church workshop, we were asked to put together from felt and other scraps something to symbolize reconciliation. This was at the time of the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland. I patched a square of green with a square of orange, binding the two with a white celtic cross. Someone remarked: “What does that have to do with reconciliation?” I responded: “Try carrying this banner down the streets of Belfast today and you quickly will learn.”
Or consider what happened some years ago, in the 60’s, when I was a college chaplain in Georgia. I had preached a sermon in chapel on the need to learn patience. A group of black citizens was gathered for a meeting on our campus. As I arrived, a bit late, the college president was telling the audience that they should have heard my sermon on patience. I said to the assembly: “I am quite willing to talk to our students about patience but you have been patient long enough!”
It is all a matter of context.