Week 9 – Fuellenbach Ch. 8

November 23, 2007

Again the question of identity captures my attention: “The identity of the church depends ultimately on its kingdom consciousness based on scripture” (219). Often in history, the church has defined itself by contrast to whatever is outside it: the us/them binary. We are the kingdom, and everything outside that boundary is other, secular, not holy and not part of the kingdom. As we’ve discovered this quarter, the kingdom of God is not in any way limited to the church, though the church is certainly part of the kingdom. When defining ourselves as the church, if we want to be an icon of the Trinity and point to the kingdom of God, we have to look to scriptural models. The aspects of the emerging churches we talked about in class Wednesday are exactly that kind of scriptural model I mean. To be part of the kingdom is to be part of the Missio Dei, pointing toward Jesus always, looking for where He is working and joining in. When we define the church in these terms instead of who comes into our buildings on Sunday mornings, we’ll be a lot closer to an accurate identity as the church that furthers the kingdom of God.

Week 8 – Fuellenbach Ch. 7

November 14, 2007

I found a lot of intriguing and interesting concepts in this chapter, but for the sake of space I’ll only mention this one: “The communities possess a holistic view of history; the story of humanity and the story of salvation are seen as intrinsically interconnected” (181). I know I keep bringing up my Storytelling class, but it’s a really useful example of what God is teaching me this quarter. We talked a lot about this interconnection between God’s story, our own stories, and the biblical text. Our best stories are those that include a little of all three categories. Everything relates to everything else, and because we are by nature narrative people, story is the best way to communicate anything. We’re part of the kingdom of God. That cannot be separated from our own stories or from the biblical text. That’s why we’re called to look for where God is already working in the world and go join in. It’s all about being part of His story.

Week 7 – Fuellenbach Ch. 6

November 11, 2007

I love what Fuellenbach says about community and discipleship in this chapter: “By seeing ministry as discipleship we can avoid making sharp distinctions between the disciples and become able to introduce into the church once again true equality among all. Discipleship is the common denominator that unites us all, because all are followers and learners in relation to Jesus Christ” (118). This rather long quotation is central to my paper topic because this is just the kind of thing my former senior pastor failed to realize. We are all disciples of Christ and all equal on that level, so we all have something valid and important to add to a community environment. One person running to world does not a community make, nor is it a good example of how to be a disciple of Christ. Ministry should be about discipleship, not about leadership. It’s about cultivating that relationship with God and enabling others to do the same, not about running programs or standing in the pulpit on Sunday morning. Maybe those things are part of the process, but that’s not what it’s about. When leaders take the role of guiding and enabling rather than orchestrating and dictating, the community becomes more representative of the Trinity: “The mutual indwelling of th persons of the Holy Trinity is paralleled by the coinherence of the members of the church. In the church there is no conflict between freedom and authority; there is only unity, but not totalitarianism” (151). Good stuff.

“The story of God’s saving love presented in the Bible has to be told again and again so that we will be able to discover today the same God active in our own time” (105). This is the charge of the church today, to reveal God today through story. Whether we are telling a Bible story, our own story, or the story of someone inspiring–the purpose is to couch God in a palatable format, and that format is changing as quickly as today’s culture.

“The church as an icon of the Trinity brings forth that unity with the Triune God and with one another for which the kingdom of God is the perfect expression” (89). Is the church really an icon of the Trinity? Do people really look at the church, with all its divisions and factions and petty arguments, and think: ah, that’s such a perfect representation of the Trinity? I think it’s a truer statement that we need to be reminded that the church is not the kingdom of God but that the kingdom of God is certainly present in the church as certainly as it is present out of it. This is more of the centered-set model thinking. But the Trinity is all about unity, and I don’t really see a unity emphasis within the church right now. We’re too busy splitting to think about coming together. Maybe Fuellenbach is referring to the RCC.

I appreciate the assertion that the Roman Catholic Church does not reserve exclusive rights to “Church” but extends the definition to all Christian communities “in which Christ is present” and who are “instruments of the Spirit in saving and sanctifying people” (69). I once went to a Catholic service where the priest’s entire message expressed the idea that the RCC was the “one true church.” Since then, of course, I have had much more positive experiences with Catholics. While I wouldn’t go so far as to extend the definition of “Church” to all humanity (the gate is narrow and few enter it), I am learning to view the Body as more of a centered-set than a bounded set. Still, I don’t think we should run ourselves aground for the sake of a succinct definition to something so organic.

I like what Fuellenbach has to say about community in this chapter. He describes the Spirit as unifying: “The experience of the Spirit…was [in the early church] a community-creating experience, a body of Christ experience, an experience of being knit into a community” (51). It’s also our call and mission to continue to build community (55). What does this say about the role of the Trinity in community? Clearly the Spirit acts as the glue to hold the early church together as they struggle to learn how to follow Jesus and work together to embody Him on earth. As the Father sent the Son, so the Son sent the Spirit. And the Spirit sends us, out into the world to draw people into the community of the church–on a local and a global level. More paper reflection? The community is not a stagnant entity; it grows or it dies.

Fuellenbach echoes Bonhoeffer through much of his first chapter, especially the beginning. Interesting that he notes toward the end that though Jesus never emphasized the establishment of a separate community for believers, they themselves immediately formed such a community in the early church. I’m not sure what to make of that statement just now, but it makes me think. Does the fact that Jesus never “instituted” a church community mean that we’ve missed the point? Does it matter at all? Personally, I’m deeply interested in the concept of community for today’s Christian culture. How does Jesus’ ministry fit into our understanding of community today?