Monday, July 08, 2013

Lord Teach Us to Pray -- Reflections for the Disciples of Christ General Assembly

Once again my denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) will be gathering for its biennial General Assembly.  We're gathering in Orlando, FL, with an estimated crowd of about 4500 people from across the nation and the world.  We'll gather for worship, for educational events, for fellowship, and for business.  Yes, one aspect of our time together will be business sessions where we hear reports from agencies and constituency groups, along with the General Minister and President, the Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins.  We'll vote on some rather mundane items of business and some rather controversial items as well. There is a resolution supporting immigration reform and one that calls for our churches to be welcoming and gracious, especially to persons whose sexual orientation is other than heterosexual.  The latter appears to be rather divisive.  I'm praying that we can deal with the question of welcome in a way that is gracious.  From what I've seen so far, the rhetoric is anything but gracious -- but more about that in a later post.

The theme of this year's General Assembly is Lord Teach Us to Pray.  Of course this is a reference to the question posed by the Disciples to Jesus, a question that led to Jesus providing them with what we call the Lord's Prayer  or the Our Father.  I've explored this prayer in some depth in my book Ultimate  Allegiance: The Subversive Nature of the Lord's Prayer, so I won't go into detail on this important prayer -- you can pick up a copy of the book instead.  But what I would like to do is consider what it means for us to gather as a body of Christians, who share a heritage, who don't always agree on issues, to share life together with prayer as our guide.

If we simply think of prayer in pietistic terms, as something we do in private with God  that has nothing to do with the way we live our lives in public -- is this being true to the way Jesus prayed and taught his disciples to pray?  When we gather as the body of Christ in our local assemblies, in regional assemblies, or denomination-wide assemblies do we take seriously the call to prayer?  When we stand to speak, do we do so in an attitude of prayer?  Are see seeking the votes of other like-minded folks, or direction from God?  There is a Latin phrase used in more political contexts that seems to express the way we often work as church -- Vox Populi, Vox Dei -- the voice of the people is the voice of God.  That phrase was used in 17th and 18th century English politics by those who sought to oppose divine right monarchy.  One of the key figures in developing this view was John Locke, whose writings have influenced the development of the Stone-Campbell Movement and the branch that I am a member of  -- the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

It could well be that the voice of the people is the voice of God, but how do we discern this to be true?  How do we approach God in such a way that we can reach this understanding?  Do we really pray?  Or do we pray perfunctorily?   We do it to say we did it, but we're not really interested in hearing  the voice of God.    

As those of us gathering in Orlando for the 2013 General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), what will we hear in the context of our worship that will guide us to prayer so that when we gather to take up business we will have sought the wisdom of God through prayer?  

5 comments:

John McCauslin said...

Those gathering in Orlando are a manifestation of the Church, not just a deliberative, adjudicative body drawn from among DOC, but those gathered souls will be a distinct manifestation of church, in and of itself. Perhaps some reflection is called for on what it means to be a manifestation of the church?

Robert Cornwall said...

John, first, welcome back home, but second Disciples have struggled with what it means to be church beyond the local assembly. For many of us the deliberative part is almost a necessary evil and not the reason for our gathering. Perhaps those of us who go representing the local congregation need to see ourselves less as voting delegates and more as representative members of the broader body that includes three manifestations.

John McCauslin said...

Not just three manifestations, but. ...wherever two or more are gathered.... Attendees need to see their participation in worship as primary, and personal, and in community with those present. Their deliberative actions perhaps should be seen as generated by, and in expression of, the transformative effect of their worship. If they come to the Assembly with a pre-set agenda, for or against, and if they refuse to listen for the still voice of the Spirit as it moves among them, if they refuse to to be open to the Whisper of the Spirit as it moves among them, then they have wasted their time and have utterly failed in whatever mission the thought they were attending to at the Assembly.

Ed Coble said...

Thoughtful and challenging. I hope to follow your posts during the Assembly. Looking forward to your impressions.

Robert Cornwall said...

Thank you Ed!