Day three of the global theology conference began with the same focus on worship as the first two days. While the program noted these times as “morning devotions” in a sense the reflected more the praise and worship of morning “services” as young leaders from NTC-Muldersdrift led (physically led) many of the congregation.This remarkable time was also peppered by selected readings in multiple languages including German, Chinese, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and other “heart languages” that shaped the participants of our gatherings. Our thanks to Kathy Mowry for facilitating these moments of morning devotion.
Dr. Greg Crofford, Regional Education Coordinator for Africa Region introduced the opening session centered on the theme “who will guide us?” specifically the resources written under the theme of theology/doctrine.
- What the Church Does
- What the Church Is
- How the Church can be One and yet Diverse
As with the papers, Noble’s summary can be found at Didache: Faithful Teaching. As Noble notes: “The six essays we have all read in the Theology section address a number of issues. Two of them address questions of the church’s ministry, two address ecclesiology proper, particularly the doctrine of church and sacraments, and two address the particular issues of being a global fellowship.”
Noble’s presentation provided the impetus for one final round of small group discussion. Each group chose to wrestle with different issues in regards to the summaries and the provocative assertions in the original works. I must admit that I relished the time in small group as I learned so much from leaders of other global areas, even if their faces cannot be shown.
The group returned for a stimulating panel discussion that covered a broad range of issues implicit within the papers. The responses by various theologians on the same subjects were often diverse, expressing professional yet personal theological convictions often in decidedly provocative statements. The issues that surfaced through the questions to the panel were often difficult to categorize but several seemed quite salient. One conversation reflected a tension between economic theories. Noble suggested in his paper the need for economic models that foster wealth creation for the sake of flourishing; yet Deirdre Brower-Latz was quick to admonish that her concern revolved around our need to see the poor as real flesh and blood people and any economic theory has to be tempered by a strong orientation to justice and compassion.
A number of questions surfaced on the role of the sacraments, both with baptism as a model of incorporation into the body of Christ and the implications of an “open table” with the practice of Eucharist. Scholar responses revealed how these two issues remain interrelated since the historically the church has remained quite divided on just how much baptism should define access to the Lord’s Table. As individual themes the scholars appeared quite diverse in their personal opinions, seeming to value baptism but also wanting to preserve access to communion as a form of grace. Most of the scholars seemed to resist a believer’s church approach where the Lord’s Supper remained merely a memorializing of a past event. One concern is that making believer’s faith a sole criteria tends to put the emphasis on the believer’s “ability” rather than the grace available in communion to both heal and also nurture our spiritual walk.
The panel discussion set the stage for the final event of concluding reflections by the senior scholars and subsequent discussion with the participants in the conference. Dr. Kent Brower began by offering four themes he saw resident in the conference:
- Theology needs to be done in Christ’s body, the church
- There needs to be ongoing engagement with a holistic or wholeness view of salvation that includes both repentance and healing
- The means of grace was stressed through the conference, not only in liturgical and sacramental practice but also in the “ordinary” means of grace of engaging with the poor (as a sacramental act) and living life fully
- Denominational structures must affirm and reflect our ecclesiology (which does not mean they must be dismantled but examined carefully to determine power relations.)
Brower noted that the small groups reflection a form of “connection” where people mutually shared with other. However Brower stressed that the same connectional power was evident in non-formal settings around meals, discussions over “tea times,” and the general flow of the conference.
Each Senior Scholar also responded. Dr. Jorge Julca noted how much our methodology should reflect our ecclesiology, noting the strength of the small group gatherings as a model of theological reflection. Yet he also noted that we need to discern when we cannot be silent in the face of difficult challenges, confronting our fears by asking whether we truly risk losing our theology by naming injustice or by being silent. Julca noted the interrelationship between contextuality and theology, particular in addressing the plight of the poor in South America.
Floyd Cunningham noted that some of the concerns of previous global theology conferences have been addressed and challenged the attendees that perhaps some of our theological reflection proves too myopic, focusing only on our denomination rather than relating to the larger, historic church. Cunningham noted a quote from Mendel Taylor that described the Holy Spirit pouring out like streams and rivers of God. Cunningham noted that the church structures must remain in the flow of that stream rather than risking erecting “dams” that impede the flow.
Alex Varughese offered a powerful personal testimony but then turned to two key themes. First he admonished the church must remain the voice of God for others in the world and we need to focus on inclusiveness, particularly for women called to ministry. Varughese noted the tragedy of having women called that can find no service, a challenge the church to which must respond. Secondly Varughese noted that we need to connect our eschatology to our ecclesiology. Throughout the conference various presentations gave an alternative eschatology to the escapist mentality of many futurist, “end-times,” travesties.
Tom Noble closed the singular presentations noting that the church must remain God glorifying, Christ centered, and Holy Spirit filled. We have to understand that a ecclesiology is doctrine and we need to center our understanding of the church in light of our confession of the triune God. Noble caution any separation between “being” and “doing,” any dichotomy of theory and practice. He noted that while the Gospel of John proclaims the “Word became flesh” we must focus on the Word instead of the “flesh” (anthropology) lest we become reliant on social sciences to guide us. Finally Noble asserted we need to talk less of a universal atonement but rather on a “corporate” atonement recognizing that there will be a judgment (not “all” will be saved) which indicates a clear boundary between the church and the world.
The presentations provoked a rich interchange between Senior Scholars and attendees in the panel portion. For the sake of time many of the themes were
repeated from earlier reports: Baptism and the role of the Eucharist in relation to the Word (revealed in scripture); an appeal for resources to assist those in leadership to understand their role as theological guides for the church; the place of the poor, and the need to re-emphasize the gifts of the spirit not only for ministry but also empowering laity.
As the session closed on the question “how should we proceed” both co-chairs, Dr. Dan Copp and Dr. Carla Sunberg, offered concluding reflections. Dr. Copp concluded with the observation that the conference was indeed a means of grace. Noting how other denominations do not always have the same close relationship between churches and educational centers (schools, colleges, seminaries), Copp encourage us to “seek the Lord to help us steward this gift” of partnership in the Church of the Nazarene. Dr. Sunberg noted how the very process of the conference modeled what it means to be the church in our diversity, mutuality, inclusiveness. She noted
as the world looks on I think they would discover a beautiful and diverse body of Christ willing to be in conversation about the critical and difficult issues over which we may not always agree. However, my hope and prayer is that as we draw on the Trinitarian model we will find that the holy love found in the very nature of God will be that which binds this global church together, and that our witness to the world will be, “Look how they love one another.
The conference began Sunday night with general worship service and a stirring message by Dr. Fillimao Chambo, the Regional Director for the Africa region Church of the Nazarene. Chambo shaped our conversations by reminding us that theology must always be Christ centered and focused on Christ’s transforming power. The conference also concluded in like manner with worship lead by all six members of the Board of General Superintendents. The Superintendents were present throughout the conference, listening attentively to presentations, participating in small groups and engaged in meals and other non-formal aspects of the conference as they listened to the discourse by other members of the “body.” In response, the generals collectively responded by leading the conference in worship. Each member participated through the leading of prayer, the reading of the scripture, the proclamation of the word in sermon, and in our response to God’s grace in celebrating Eucharist, thanksgiving, by participating “in Christ” through the bread and cup. In this sense the Lord’s Table became the place where conference
participants became the “body of Christ” together, with Jesus as our head, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. Our theology was manifested today in our celebration, our doxology, of God’s work in the church, and in our missional desire to follow God’s ongoing redemptive movement into the world where God is already at work.