Friday, January 1, 2010

Common Faith - Common Mission

“Embracing Our Gifts:

-Ephesians 4: 1-6
Rev. Victor Aloyo, Jr.

As a humble servant of Christ and the Church for over thirty years serving as a lay leader and an ordained Minister of the Word and Sacraments, I can attest that we are living in exciting times and that a renewed sense of passion for the gospel is being lifted up within a society that is constantly changing. Our Constitution composed of The Book of Confessions and The Book of Order provides us with a sense of direction that embodies the opportunity for constant dialogue and creative envisioning.

There are dramatic movements that are taking place in our society and in our churches. These movements, characterized by the tremendous variety that human beings exhibit makes it all the more remarkable that we all come from the one Creator, that we all depend on God, and that we all can find salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet, we are living in a society that challenges the very nature of the "common-ness" of our faith as we interact within this ever-changing, multi-cultural society within a postmodern context. A society where differences are reinforced by systemic forces of racism, ethnocentricism, sexism, and classism. A society where the repugnance of "the other" is intensified both for those who have power and for those who are powerless. We are living in a time that is characterized by overt and intentional hate. This hatred can be found in a variety of forms but it has one common denominator----the creation that God creates to give God glory, to live harmoniously together with God, apparently finds much joy in elevating our differences so that we can remain divided, instead of valuing our differences in the unity of the Creator. As a consequence we are hating, despising, plotting against, and acting in an oppressive mentality. Estranged from the God of peace, human beings have made wholesome ethnic differences a source of deadly conflict. In greed for wealth and power, land and its fruits, one ethnic group oppresses another, excluding it from the things that rightfully belong to it, suppressing cultural distinctiveness, plundering material goods, sometimes even threatening and obliterating its very existence. These patterns of cross-cultural encounter permeate even church structures and processes.

Our "common faith" provided by the first part of our Constitution which is the Book of Confessions eloquently details our function within the diversity of God's creation (Chapter 1 of the Scots Confession; Chapter VI of the Second Helvetic Confession; Chapter IV and V of The Westminster Confession of Faith). Our "common-ness" will have a deeper value when we, in simple obedience, reach out to our neighbors across social and cultural boundaries. Increasingly it is true that one does not have to move very far geographically to meet someone whose language or way of life is very different from one's own. The influx of non-Christian immigrants to the cities, suburbs and rural areas in our country provide the church with unequaled opportunities for cross-cultural evangelism. As Jerry Appleby says in his book "Mission Have Come Home to America": "The church is in a position to reach people from all over the world in America, by having open arms and an open heart for newcomers. Her Lord calls the church to be good news and to tell the Good News." This Good News can be affirmed in our Confessions, and I'll use one statement from The Confession of 1967, as an example of the Gospel truth in our midst states: "His (Jesus Christ's) suffering makes the church sensitive to all the sufferings of mankind so that it sees the face of Christ in the faces of men in every kind of need." (9.32). Thus, any individual can be redeemed by the grace of God in Jesus Christ and reflect God's glory through his or her personality and gifts. Any culture can be redeemed without losing its uniqueness, and God's praises can be sung in any language. As such, we who are a confessional church, nurture our faith development through the careful interpretation and development of our common faith throughout history. This provides substance for an "informed faith" which is a strong desire among and within a people who have been generally influenced by a hierarchical and/or patronizing religious system.

We are living in a time where we need to embrace the gift of our Common Faith as we live out our sense of covenant community. My understanding of covenant is that there is an act of partnership based on a common vision, stirred in an atmosphere of integrity and respect. If we truly read and put into action the ten great themes of the Reformed Faith as found in our confessions, we then may be able to respond effectively the concerns and needs surrounding our communities.

Our Constitution provides the framework whereby we as the church may dialogue constructively in responding to the following questions as we seek to be faithful to our common mission; What would our communities of faith be like if we celebrated our differences? What if our communities had both respectful separation for different groups and respectful coming together? What if we decided that our multicultural communities were of such importance that we learned each other's music, not just the tunes, but the history, and the feelings of singing today and yesterday....not only music of the church, but music that comes from people's movements? What if we decided that our multicultural communities were of such importance that we learned each other's stories, not beginning with questions, but with active listening....hearing what has been written in history, how it has been written, and what has not been written and asking why....feeling each other's stories with our bodies and souls?

What if we decided that our multicultural communities were of such importance that we learned about each others' images of God? What if we opened ourselves to images of God as an old Black man or woman, or an old Asian man or woman, or a very young Native American person, or a campesino de Mejico. What if we stretched ourselves and learned each other's interpretations of Bible stories?

If we are to embrace these core values for our future then it's time for some intentional breakthroughs! It’s easy to classify cross-cultural work as “ministry” and leave it to charitable organizations. It’s easy to appoint a person to act as our proxy in a foreign land. But, this form of ministry is awfully limiting in our day and age. Each of us faces opportunities almost daily to relate multiculturally. Different cultures abound in the United States. We are a nation with roots in Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East, in addition to the people who originally populated the land.

In the midst of these varied cultures, many Christians are isolated. We relate only to people like ourselves, and so we severely limit our witness for Christ. If we are to embrace our gifts, in which we ought to, it will require that for the powerful suspending the privilege, status, and power they have enjoyed. For the powerless, it involves tranforming their patterns of protection and defensiveness into patterns of mutual agreement. The task is not easy, yet let us lift up our core values in our daily practice as we proceed in doing ministry together in the twenty-first century.