Sunday, August 7, 2011

Rebuilding edifices to cement past differences

I wonder what it would take to get Christians seriously changing our ways to overcome our differences and to worship God together as one body of Christ? One can imagine scenarios in which, say, we are all thrown in prison and restricted to one gathering in one place per week in order to corporately worship God, or we are just a few people in an isolated village and it makes perfectly good sense to work out corporate worship as one group. Here in Christchurch we are neither imprisoned (in the usual sense) nor a few people, but we are in an extraordinary situation in which we could if we chose to do so, imagine a new ecumenicity. But to imagine this new ecumenicity we would need to break out of the imprisonment of our past divisions.

Writing in yesterday's Press (page C5, no i-link yet), Martin van Beynen, who frequently delights in parading his atheistic secularism, makes an excellent case for Christians coming up with a new way of gathering together in an edifice in order to worship God. His column is titled, “Save space, just one church should cover it.”

“Rebuilding the churches would be a failure of imagination. Imagine the square without the Cathedral. It could be a wonderful clear space with exciting things happening right around its edge. The ruins could serve as a memorial. ... All I am suggesting is the churches combine to give their buck more bang and to create a facility which is both a sensational piece of architecture and as well as something relevant and useful in our secular age. ... I just don’t like to see money wasted and if the churches decide to commit their dwindling resources to rebuilding edifices which serve no use other than to cement past differences and fill up air space, I can’t see the point.”
Would rebuilding our churches of differing denominations "cement past differences"? It is hard to see how such rebuilding would not do so!

Is it worth taking this unique opportunity in the life of one city in the post-Christian Western world to do things differently?

It is not as though the case for a new ecumenicity is actually based on Martin van Beynen's atheistic secularist critique of Christianity. It is based, we may care to recall, on the fundamentals of Christian theology: there is only one God, that God is Father Son and Holy Spirit Three Persons in One Being, one gospel, one faith, one baptism, one body of Christ. It is also based on one understanding of liturgy: that we worship the Father through the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit. There is no other worship which is true and genuine Christian worship, and neither Father, Son nor Spirit are divided into Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Orthodox, Pentecostal, Reformed and Lutheran.

Of course there are a hundred difficulties (or more) to overcoming our present divisions. History, style, habit, diversity in theology and liturgy, local and regional commitments, you name it, there is a reason not far away to bring up for why we cannot be united, why if we were it would be difficult, indeed likely that we would just divide again and so forth.

But are these reasons good reasons? Standing before the judgement throne of God will our answer sound horribly pathetic when the Father asks us why as a Christian of Christchurch we failed to use the opportunity presented to us to cooperate with the Son in answering his prayer ut unim sint (that they may be one)? Will we be embarrassed and speechless as to why we did not challenge the various denominations spending upwards of $100 - 200 million dollars to ensure that we each had a great church or cathedral to call our own when some smart timetabling and mutual determination could ensure that one large church would service the needs of us all (i.e. to have a large worship space for occasional regional gatherings, to have a spacious sacred space for sacred acts such as ordinations, etc)?

There is only one God and only one gospel. Do we believe that? Are we willing to act on that?

I don't think this is the last word on this opportunity. I am genuinely interested in your responses, including those which tell me I am naive, wrong, barking up the wrong tree or just barking!

Link to a post by Bosco Peters on Liturgy, pointed out below in Comments by Stephen Donald re church buildings


carl jacobs said...

Unity is possible between those who possess a common Gospel. Your first task is therefore to define 'Gospel.' Roman Catholics and Protestants teach different Gospels for example. No unity is possible between those two types.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Carl,

I think I am talking about two different levels to Christian unity. (1) The highest, deepest, widest and broadest level in which we have communion together based on a common gospel: to which your remarks are pertinent and succinctly express a great challenge. (2) Sufficient unity of purpose and common interest to share an ecclesial edifice together, though the uses would be distinguished so Romans would go to a Roman Catholic service, Presbyterians to a Presbyterian service and so forth.

Brother David said...

Sufficient unity of purpose and common interest to share an ecclesial edifice together, though the uses would be distinguished so members of the Metropolitan Community Church would go to an MCC service.

Paul Powers said...

Why limit this to churches? Instead of rebuilding every house that was destroyed or damaged by the quakes, why not build larger houses that can accomodate several families? It would be a more efficient use of resources. Admittedly, there might be some awkwardness among people who got along fine when they were in neighboring houses, but find it difficult to live under the same roof. But we're all God's children, so shouldn't we be able to live together despite our differences?

Peter Carrell said...

Indeed, David, since we are talking about a city, a community and a church, the name for this new large church could be the Metropolitan Community Church!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Paul,
If the onlooking world thought that Christians would have more credibility through Christian families living together communally then we ought to consider that. Generally I hear a wistfulness on the part of the world for the church to look and act in a more united way than currently.

carl jacobs said...

Peter Carrell

Please forgive me if I misunderstood, but the MCC is an American church that is largely homosexual in membership. The comment by Brother David thus appeared to me to be an attempt to drive out the allowable limits of shared space. The question he implicitly posed is "Would an MCC congregation be allowed to share a building?" That is an excellent question, and takes the discussion back to questions of doctrine and common Gospel.

To share a building is to implicitly grant some form of legitimacy to the sharing organization. I would not for example share space with a Mormon congregation. To do so would be to financially aid them in their mission. It would also give the false impression that Mormonism is a legitimate form of Christianity. Such considerations dramatically narrow the list of potential partners. It means the issue of common Gospel cannot be evaded and your two questions collapse into one. I could only share a building with a church that I considered to be a part of the Church.


Paul Powers said...

I wasn't just talking about Christian families living together. I meant families of every--and no--faith. After all, sauce for the goose....

In the particular context of Christchurch, it might make some sense for two or more congregations from the same denomination, or even from different denominations to share worship space. But the fact that two congregations find themselves unable to do so isn't necessarily a sign of disunity, especially if they can work together to spread the gospel.

By the way, "Metropolitan Community Church" ïs the name of a denomination in the United States with particular outreach to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Paul,
OK - am clearer now - thanks!

Some of our churches in Chch are basically fine and have no need to entertain sharing facilities with another (e.g. because in that area there are no other churches looking to share facilities).

But in other cases there definitely is sense in contemplating sharing of facilities and/or merging of parishes and/or new arrangements between churches in a given area of the city.

The larger inner city churches are a little different, tending to gather people from all over the city, so also raising questions about whether a given denomination needs as many inner city churches as it has, let alone the question of how Christianity is best represented in the inner city.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Carl
In a brief comment I cannot pretend to deal with every angle of the problem you are drawing attention to, but here are a couple of thoughts:
(1) a necessary condition of church sharing would be adherence to the Apostolic and Nicene Creeds (with the minor variation that Eastern and Western versions of the latter would both count);
(2) what would be the basis on which other factors ruled out church sharing: understanding the Bible? tradition? Christian ethics? make these so tight that (say) the MCC is ruled out, then (conceivably) many churches would be ruled out from sharing ... before long there would be no sharing lest a building be (in a real sense, no mockery intended) contaminated by impurity of theology, belief, action etc.

Thus were I the Autokrat in charge of Chch church rebuilding I would err on the side of a generous understanding of Christian unity ... so some sharing took place and not none!

carl jacobs said...

Peter Carrell

There are many churches that formally affirm both the Apostles and Nicene Creed even as they functionally deny them. In theory this is a good test, but in practice it would require definition. The Creeds assume certain understandings. Those understandings must be enforced. You can't have people saying things like "Sure I believe Jesus rose from the dead, but it was a spiritual or metaphorical thing. He didn't actually walk out of the tomb."

As for other factors, I don't think there would be too many problems in practice since heterodoxy correlates so strongly with heteropraxis. If you find the later you will almost certainly find the former. Indeed, heteropraxis is usually a derivative of heterodoxy. But, to answer your question directly, yes, proper Christian ethic is a necessary condition. Otherwise you create a scandal for the Church. So, no, the MCC is bounced right out the front door.

There is plenty of room for cooperation and sharing between those churches that truly share unity in the Gospel. Calvinist and Arminian, Paedo and Credo, Amillenial and Premillenial, Spiritual Presence and Memorial, Cessationist and non-cessationist, hierarchical and congregationalist - we can beat on each other with clubs in the afternoon and share communion in the evening. But the shared unity of the Gospel that allows for shared Communion is an essential component. That means no Christian Counterfeits.

So I will say it clearly. At the top of that list of counterfeits are the neo-gnostic liberal churches that litter the modern landscape like weeds. The implication is clear. A conservative Anglican church could properly share a building with a conservative Baptist church but not with a liberal Anglican church. Heresy must be properly identified and isolated.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Carl,

I am cautious about "neo-gnostic liberal" churches like you are.

In practice I find that pinning down just who are the "neo-gnostic liberals" among us can be difficult: some folk are good at keeping their heartfelt beliefs to themselves in their hearts!

The creeds are objective in one way at least: they are a set of words which can be printed in a service order. If a congregation sharing a church is willing to print those words in their order of service then that may be enough sign of unity in doctrine for sharing of facilities. But there are other praxis elements that would need to be worked through too.

liturgy said...

People keep asking me, as they must be asking you, the names of the people on the planning group that is looking at issues such as your ideas and how we contact them. Can you help? Have I missed that announcement & where was it?


Peter Carrell said...

I may have missed something, Bosco, otherwise I expect something to be announced soon.

Bryden Black said...

Given we have no longer an ecumenical body/association in NZ (which itself might be under judgement ...), what indeed is this opportunity in God's goodness?!

I have little truck with the writer of this article's own ideology but he does ask an important question; and the fact that he asks it does not deny its possibly being something the Living God is also asking ... Are we, the local church, courageous enough though?

Stephen Donald said...

Fascinating discussion guys - great some in Chch are at least considering option of sharing spaces, for as Bosco has put it before 'the church building is primarily there to keep the rain off the Church' [Link this please Peter?]

Much of my ministry has involved worship and other activities in shared buildings (different denominations, community groups, ethnicities / languages) and while 'interesting' mis-undertandings have arisen, the journey has been worth the effort.

Peter - you suggest that if too narrow a view of who should be in (or more importantly, out - no pun intended) "before long there would be no sharing lest a building be ... contaminated by impurity of theology, belief, action etc." As with other so-called 'innovations', there will always be those who feel excluded by inclusion. Given the shared experience of disaster over the past year and renewed sense of community, Christchurch Christians have a good chance of finding a new way forward together. Every blessing SD