I've been engaging in a conversation with denizens of the Disciples of Christ community about our polity. The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), as a denomination -- like all others -- came into existence in 1968. Leaders of the church at the time took the step for a number of reasons, one being simple honesty. We claimed to be something other than a denomination, even as we existed in denominational form. A document was written that sought to link together congregations with one another and with structures that lay beyond the local congregation -- including Regions (then state societies) and what became the General Church (then a combination of agencies and missionary societies that reported to the annual International Convention).
As the Disciples brought all of these parts together the sought to call each of these "manifestations" (now expressions) church. Of course this raises the question of what makes a church a church? What are the marks of the church?
As we think about this question, let me pose another. What binds us together -- beyond the congregation?
The framers of Restructure in the 1960s used the idea of covenant to link congregations, regions, and the General Church. But has this been a successful venture. Have we understood what covenant means? Is it merely a word that lacks any real meaning? In a Facebook Conversation responding to my question about congregational responsibilities to the wider church, one of the respondents, who has significant experience not only as a local pastor but in regional ministry. From that vantage point he questioned the relevancy of this idea of covenant -- at least in practice it has little meaning.
So, my follow up question concerned what ties do bind? What will draw us out of our tendency to live in our congregational silos? What are the ways in which local congregations, which is where most ecclesial life takes place week in and week out place themselves in a position to listen to other outside voices inviting them to join in ministry together?
Among the suggestions included sharing good work together and our shared heritage (these are just two of several). Picking up on this, I'd like to ask how a shared heritage can draw us out of our silos to affirm and respect entities that lie beyond the local congregation? Since the Disciples claim to be non-creedal and shy away from talking theology (in my estimation the later is a mistake), what is it about our heritage that will help guide us? And more practically, what will encourage our participation and support, including financial support with these extra-congregational entities? If, for instance, heritage is important, should there be a prioritization of where dollars are sent to fund "stuff" outside the congregation?
Regarding the last question, should we direct most of our support to denominational entities, or should we be open to other, ecumenical ventures? My answer to that question would be a need for finding the right balance. When I came to Central Woodward almost all "outreach" dollars were sent to the denomination. Because our primary endowment requires a third be sent to outreach, that meant we provided a healthy contribution to the denomination. But, we set aside very little for local ventures. We changed that formula shortly after I came. We still give a healthy amount to Disciples Mission Fund, but we have set aside a sizable amount for what we call Mission Directed Funds, most of which are shared locally to support ventures like Motown Mission, Gospel in Action Detroit, Metro Coalition of Congregations, and other places. The value of this is that where our treasure goes, so goes our own involvement! As a faith community that prioritizes Christian unity, this seems to make sense!
That said, I think these are questions that apply to all of our faith communities. What binds us not only to denominations but to other faith communities?
Yes, what are the ties that bind and bring blessing to all?