Day two of the conference began once again with exuberant worship but moments of serious prayer and scripture. It seems amazing how the body of Christ responds to God’s word and our words of praise, petition, and intercession regardless of the language.
Regional Education Coordinator Dr. Ruben Fernandez introduced our second senior scholar tasked with summarizing and synthesizing papers addressing the question “how did we get here?” a historical investigation of the church.
Dr. Floyd Cunningham opened by noting the papers, while historical in nature, were also shaped by practical concerns and some came with specific suggestions. Cunningham organized the papers as they discussed not only the past but also the present and a hoped-for future. Cunningham (whose paper alongside the panelists is located on Didache: Faithful Teaching), concluded these observations.
We cannot really to be a holiness church – a church witnessing to Oneness in Christ – without being an international church. The Spirit of Christ creates a living Body in which there is no “east or west, north or south, but one great fellowship of love.” We are still in the process of becoming what we are intended to be. Let us not give up that hope
Once again the conference then dispersed to gather in small groups made up of diverse, global, participants. Many of the groups include diverse languages and multiple cultures.
The groups returned to engage the panel of historical theologians. Many of the presenters had to respond to specific questions about how the church might change organizational structures, engage disparity within the global church, the challenge (and appropriateness) of colonization language, understanding the the balance between releasing central control and relinquishing the church’s ability to respond in areas where strong, local, cultures threaten to overwhelm the church with an administrative triabalism that serves neither the local or global church.
Panelists like Harold Raser, did note that historically the church had made improvements from its early, culturally blind, efforts; but more work was left to be done. I was struck how many of the questions pressed contemporary concerns, sometimes beyond the scholarship of historians. Still the panel attempted to think with the conference on the implications they had often posted as suggestions for reform based on the general historical trajectory of the church. Often theological questions emerged as well, yet the historical “weight” pressed this theology into the daily lives of people.
The second senior scholar paper shaped the afternoon sessions. Dr. Alex Varughese provided concise overview of a wealth of paper presentations. Varughese summarized his observations under seven key themes, artfully pulling the papers into conversation with each other. For instance, under the theme “the church is an inclusive community,” Varughese noted:
Mastronardi-Fernández shows that the church as God’s family is a well-integrated family which promotes the equality of all human beings as well as equality of genders. The mission of the church is to bring all human beings, without regard for their socio-economic conditions and without excluding anyone, with open arms and hearts, into a restored relationship with God. In Acts, the church is an inclusive community that fully participates in the plans and purposes of God’s salvific work that extends beyond geographical, cultural, and social boundaries (Thompson). In Revelation, the church that worships God invites others into the worship of God. The vision of the New Jerusalem in Revelation challenges the church on earth to be a community that embraces all nations, cultures and peoples, and thus to be an instrument of blessing to peoples from every corner and crevice of the earth (Gen 12:1-3) (Flemming).
After small groups, the panelists gathered to discuss their papers often by responding to small group papers. Early discussions centered around Dean Flemmings view of the Revelation not as a futuristic vision of the church but as an imaginative and artistic “vision” of the way the church might live concretely today.
Overall the group discussed how scripture intersects with a number of themes that shape the church in it’s worship, in its life together (particularly as multicultural and multinational communions) and practices. Answering a question about how prayer guides administrative practices, Dick Thompson noted that the church was often in prayer in the book of Acts but often those (primarily corporate) prayers involved very little administration as we know today. The scholars did seem to differ slightly on the means of transformation, Sara Whittle saw scripture accomplishing transformation primarily as it guides worship while Eduardo Velázquez was more willing to explore concrete principles from scripture to guide specific engagement in the Christian life. Monica Elizabeth Mastronardi-Fernández noted perhaps our struggle to teach scripture in a way that transforms daily life lies less with our understanding of the text and more with our teaching methods. In all the panel proved one of the richest experience with a clear passion for scripture by everyone.
I want to post one final note on the small groups. As mentioned before there are sparing pictures of the small groups (indeed of all participants) because some participants live in a part of the world where their identities as Christians come at great sacrifice, even physical danger. Yet in these groups something remarkable occurs as people from different cultures listen carefully to each other. Admittedly the conversations may not always dwell over the papers, but they still provide a rich well of resource of mutual theological engagement. Working behind the scenes for so long with the journal, it is heartening to see us move from text to voice (reading to talking) and, hopefully, from voice to action when the members return to their respective regions.
Two such examples serve as an important postscript to this day. In light of the experience of apartheid, and the church’s silence at times during this struggle, Dr. Filimao Chambo updated the conference of the African church’s journey with this difficult issue. Chambo expressed appreciation of the heartfelt interest of many in the conference, yet noted that the issue remains a complex matter (as others noted) so discernment on how best to proceed remains a real challenge. In addition Nazarene Compassionate Ministry (NCM) also made two special appeals for helps with issues that challenge Africa, the first being the need for clean water, a challenge that not only creates medical problems but also saps the lives of people as they struggle to find water. In addition they requested help in overcoming the burgeoning problem of human trafficking that threatens helpless, dependent, people around this globe.
Chambo’s words, and the appeals of NCM, reminded me once again of the complexity of the world the church must address and how we need to listen carefully to those engaging those struggles so that the people affected might guide us in our response as well.