Dogma and Diversity Meets Communion and Gospel

Robert Calvert, in an article written for the Lausanne Conversation entitled " Secularity: Dogma meets Diversity in Europe", makes the following comment," The challenge of secularity is to make the case for the truth of Christ in societies that are pluralistic and globalized and to build the peace of Christ in societies that are broken and divided. Evangelical Christians, who need to critically engage rather than to escape the challenge of this secular age, are empowered for this by the astonishing announcement that "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself." Calvert argues that the way forward for the church is to engage with the broken parts of our societies and in doing so show that Christianity is not simply about sterile dogma and truth issues but it is about living these dogmas out in a practical way so that we reconstruct the Kingdom not simply through grand words but through postive actions that change the hearts and lives of communities. Well that's how I've interpreted his contribution. The dogma of secularity can be and often is overtaken by the pragmatic approach of secularists and Christians alike, who seek to subvert those who want to promote stereotypes when it comes to faith based organisations. The picture of the bread and the wine on the street is a subversive and converting idea. Offering communion on the street was enacting out in a powerful way the truth that Christ is reconciling the world to himself. I believe the church has always been in a unique position to be the changemaker in our local communities. Surely, that is what the church was established by Jesus to do. Calvert points out that secularism is the result of the "Death of God Theology" As many of you know this kind of thinking can find its roots back to the philosophy of Emmanuel Kant. He sees us humans as disengaged,estranged from one another without relationship, he sees us humans as unwilling to except any law but our own, certainly no external laws from an external and eternal God. Kant has had an enormous influence in the way that the modern world sees itself. There is little doubt that his philosophy has influenced the thinking behind social science and our religious studies, especially here in Europe. It means that human beings think they can find the answer from within themselves. This kind of thinking is prone to believe that the individual will always seek to establish himself or herself over against community. It is very Darwinian, the strongest always survives. Yet the paradox is that people are drawn to community yet feel and think community will always rob them of their freedom and perhaps their survival. Now the Gospel of Christ proclaims a belief that you can only be totally free when you are in community and engaging in communion. The one and the many need not be mutually exclusive. The teaching of Jesus highlighted in John's gospel is all about unity. The one and the many in Christ. Paul further explores this idea in Corinthians 12 when he speaks of the freedom of the different parts of the body within the unity of the one body. It is this teaching that is at the heart of a new emerging church that I can see developing and making interesting subversive inroads into our secular society of the 21st century. Robert Calvert alludes to the fact that Orthdox Christians are now working in partnership with Christians from more Independent style churches. For me the miracle is that many more of the Independent Charasmatic churches are engaging with the more traditional or mainline churches. I was speaking to an Indian pastor who was staying with me last month from a small Independent church in Chemmai, he confirmed to me that many of the mainline churches in India are being influenced by the Indpendents and vice versa. This coming together to engage in acts of charity are all to my mind signs of the Kingdom. Often from this flows an exchange of worship styles and also the breaking down of barriers and walls that Paul speaks of in Ephesians. It is not only a partnership with other churches that can change communities, it is also partnerships with local governments and other charitable agencies. The church can be truly 'salt and light' when we work alongside others of good heart who want to bring about justice in the world. I can only talk for the UK but I am encouraged by the number of statuatary agencies and Charitable Foundations that are open and willing to help fund work of a social nature that is carried out by fgaith communities. Firgive me referencing my own congregation but it acts as an example of engaging with the secualar world. We run four social outreach programmes out of our congregation here in Bo'ness as well as our international development work. A greater proportion of our funding comes from what we might call secular agencies. The BBC Children In Need fund our "Bounce Higher Programme, this is a programme that seeks to connect with children and families and offer them support and encouragement at various points in their lives where they might be feeling a bit vulnerable. Our programme supporting elderly people who suffer from dementia is partial funded by the Social Work Department, and our Christian Counselling programme is run out of the local Medical Centre. Our youth programme has developed and grown and has a not insignificant role to play in the local High School. Finally our not for profit media company is engaging with all kinds of projects and commissions both Christian and secular, including developing n online emerging church programme. All this makes me aware of the great opportunities that are available to churches and Christian communities who want to begin to engage with the issues of our day. We may not start with handing out tracts and singing gospel songs but the reality is that sooner or later the topics of forgiveness and injustice guilt and truthfulness raise their heads and in the context of authentic relationship the gospel can be explored and received. Yes the Christian church needs to critically engage with the secular world and be shining examples of integrity and resourceful creativity. I am convinced that we need to reflect more upon what it means to be free in Christ and live for each other in community. To love God and serve the world and to also serve God and love the world. It has been my experience that very often it is Gospel and Communion that breaks open Dogma and Diversity. Communion holds diversity in unity and I think that's not a bad piece of dogma. Check out Robert Calvert's Article
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