Thursday, June 16, 2005

Principles and Petitions (We're almost there)

Common Christian Party Principles

1. We are committed to the love and worship of the God of the Bible as revealed through the person of Jesus Christ; pledging allegiance to Christ as Lord and Savior, above any other allegiance, whether it be defined by family, race, class, political party, ideology, or nationality.

2. We are committed to extending the love of Jesus Christ to all members of God's church, the Body Politic of Christ, whether Catholic or Protestant; as well as those who have other religious beliefs or none at all.

3. Like Christ, we seek to be in solidarity with the poorest and most oppressed peoples of the world by being their voice and helping them find their own, and working for a more just world in which there is no more poverty or discrimination.

4. We are committed to practicing peace in the way of our Lord with our fellow Christians, neighbors, and adversaries, and resisting the temptation to violence and war.

We pray that we are able to live up to these principles, which we believe to be inspired by Scripture and the Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus the Christ, Amen.

Common Christian Party Petitions

1. Father God, we pray that the gift of salvation, which is the liberation of your Kingdom and your justice be made manifest in the lives of all the people of the world.

2. We pray for the day when there is no more poverty or financial hardship, because everyone who works is compensated generously (no matter how menial their duties) and the richest among us take less, so that the poorest among us can have more.

3. We pray for the end of violence in all of it's forms; war, terrorism, murder, and abuse, which will happen when the spirit of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, has filled the hearts of people with so much love, that violence is no longer a plausible option for resolving conflicts and differences, whether internal or external.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Why We're a Party (Principles reflect Vocabulary)

It seems that the initial principles or petitions that were proposed in previous posts are a good start. Anthony raised an important issue, however, and that is this matter of being what we want to see in the world, which is what we believe God wants to see in the world (the love, peace, and justice of Jesus Christ). The petitions that I outlined are actually an attempt to align our desires with the reality of the Kingdom of God, which is the new world that God has created (Mark 1:15, 2 Corinthians 5:17). This new kingdom/world has it's beginning in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (i.e. the apocalypse) and we now live in the tension of the passing away of the old world and all of it's competing rulers and powers and the emergence of the new world which is under the lordship of Jesus Christ. Not that God was not always in ultimate control of his Creation, but through Christ now the Creation is finally capable of being what it was always meant to be - God's Kingdom on earth, which is why we pray daily for that Kingdom to come here as it is in heaven.

This reality of the Kingdom of Heaven down here, is best evidenced when the people of God, the church, live according to the divine will of the Father, loving and worshiping Him alone and loving each other as Christ loves. This love is not restricted to "members" of the church however, because the second of the greatest commandments is to love our neighbors as ourselves, even if our neighbor happens to be our enemy. This is a very tall order, yet only when we live up to these duties of citizenship in God's Kingdom, do we truly see and experience the New Creation. It is this understanding that we are citizen's of a Kingdom not of this world that leads us to a very biblical, yet strangely and unfortunately rather obscure, understanding of the church's political role in society.

Anthony has been a big fan of a theologian named John Howard Yoder for more than a few years now. I have been reluctant to really grapple with Yoder's theological insights, but my spiritual journey and fellowship with Anthony has made it impossible for me to not explore the revelatory perspectives that Yoder offers. I did not learn that the Greek term for church, "ekklesia" referred to a political assembly of citizens gathered to do the city's business from Yoder, but he (along with those who study his writing such as scholars Stanley Hauerwas and Douglas Harink) are helping me see the full implications of the social, and political origins of the early first century church. Knowing that "ekklesia" is derived from the ancient Greek word "polis" which was the town hall meeting and directly relates to our word "politic", hammers the point home even further.

But, if the term the church appropriated from Greco-Roman culture had inherently and unavoidable political denotations as well as connotations, in what way was the church political? It seems that the church was political not in a civic sense, but rather in a communal sense. In other words, the church's aim was not to participate in the politics of the Roman Empire and jockey for position, so that they might lord over people, as the Gentiles did (Christ instructed against that kind of activity; Matthew 20:25-26), but instead they were to form an alternative community with it's own political structure and dynamics patterned after God's Kingdom, rather than the kingdoms and governments of the world.

While Caesar's peace and security is dependent upon war and violence, the church's peace would be dependent upon grace and the non-violent way of Christ, for the Lord said "My kingdom is not of this world, if [it] were... my servant's would fight, so that I would not be delivered to the [Jewish leaders] ; but now My kingdom is not from here," (John 18:36). It is interesting to note that Jesus fell out of favor with the other revolutionaries of his day, because he did not desire to be an imperial Messiah. After feeding about five thousand people, "Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone," (John 16:15). Jesus rejected the power of the world and all the violence that inevitably comes with it. As followers of Christ we are called to be exemplars of true peace in an Orwellian world that says "War is Peace."

While the empire's prosperity means abundant riches for a handful of citizens, as millions languish in poverty, the church is that alternative political/socio-economic system in which the believers share everything in common, sell possessions, goods, land, and/or houses so that there is no one who lacks what they need (Acts 2:44-45, Acts 4:32-35). Jesus said, "in as much as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me," (Matthew 25:40). Jesus identifies "the least" as the hungry, the homeless, the poor, the sick, and the incarcerated. "If Jesus is our model," my good friend Minister Eric Smith likes to say, than we too must enter into solidarity with the least of these. You may happen to fall into this category, which means you are blessed, because our Lord was and is anointed to preach the gospel to you. You are the heart of His ministry and when the church in America once again comes into alignment with Christ's heart in regards to the poor, we will see an outburst of God's kingdom like never before.

Most of all, if the gods of this world are money and power, we must proclaim the true and living God who was revealed through a Galilean peasant named Jesus Christ. He told us that you can not serve God and money, because you will hate one and love the other, or be loyal to one and despise the other (Matthew 6:24, Luke 16:13). It is only through loving the God of justice and peace above any other god, whose Son "being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross." Indeed it was a cross reserved for those who threatened the political status-quo. For the Jewish elites, the death of Christ was a way to maintain what little power they had. For Pontius Pilate, ordering Jesus' execution was simply politics as usual.

I have just presented you with a view of Christ and the call of the church, that may seem radical to you. I believe that once you begin to read the holy text, in a way that is closer to what the early disciples understood, one realizes that this thing called Christianity is radical or if you prefer as I do, revolutionary. But in an age when church has come to symbolize a place where people come to realize their individual potential and the "good news" of the Gospel has been reduced to an optimistic, economic forecast, it is difficult to see the this revolutionary power in the Jesus of the Bible, and the church that He has constituted. Because, the church has become too infected with the individualism and materialism of the larger society, the term "church" itself, may be inadequate for conveying a more politically conscious message.

There are some who are very comfortable mixing church with politics, but they tend to do so in a very narrow and partisan way. The Common Christian Party is not interested in the false dichotomy of Left v. Right, Democrats v. Republicans, and Liberals v. Conservatives. We believe the lens by which we interpret reality, including political matters, should be Jesus and His cross. As finite, infinitely flawed human beings our sight will never be perfect, but wedding yourself to worldly ideologies will ensure that you are half-blind, with a patch over at least one eye. We must engage in a politics that is particular to the way of the Christ.

Perhaps (at least until we regain our Christ-centered political consciousness), we should at certain times refer to our selves as the "Body Politic of Christ", instead of simply the Body of Christ, and "the party," instead of the church. The notion of a body politic is very explicit in it's representation. Party is slightly less so, yet still provides much more clarity in terms of ecclesial politics, than the word church, currently does. When it is not used in a recreational context (e.g. birthday party) or in reference to a person or group, the term party has very strong political connotations and can be defined as a "political group organized to promote and support it's principles and candidates for public office," (dictionary.com). We believe in promoting, supporting, and more importantly living the principles of Jesus Christ, which have profound political implications, and this is why we designate ourselves as a party.

As far as endorsing and funding candidates for public office, on principle we are unable to officially support any political candidate. We have no problem evaluating candidates in light of the values of God's kingdom as we understand them. The reality is, the two dominant parties in this country put critically thinking Christians in a dilemma. Neither has platforms which are adequately conducive to the emerging New Creation (I plan to expound upon this issue in the future). It would be nice to see candidates which reflect a comprehensive Christian position that goes beyond one or two hot button issues (e.g. abortion or healthcare), but in my estimation it would be almost impossible to get elected, because of the degree of truth-telling that would be required. But, we do believe in a God of the impossible.

Before closing I wanted to draw your attention back to that word party. As noted, the term can be defined in a variety of ways. There is one other definition that we think is appropriate for our usage. In addition to being a politically oriented group of Christians, it would be quite acceptable, to also think about us as Christians who celebrate and have fun. Granted we are somewhat like nerds and writing this stuff is fun for us, but we also like to enjoy life in a number of ways. To be "saved" in orthodox Christian teaching is to have true life; it is to be liberated spiritually, mentally, economically and politically, in part now and in greater measure tomorrow on one side of the grave or the other. That's something to celebrate every chance we get. Join the party!

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Party Principles: Anthony's 1st Response

I thought it was helpful how Rod offered up the analogy of both the Ten Commandments for the nation of Israel and the Ten Points created by the Black Panther Party in our formulation of Common Christian Party principles. For Rod to lay this out in the form of a petition opens us up more to God than the easy work of laying out basic principles. Take the Ten Commandments as an example. Many Christians see these commandments as Ten Rules to follow. I see them more as a description of a community that is following after God and is captured by God's vision for a community. The Ten Commandments offer up a vision for what kind of community or people God wants. That's why I find it odd that people will rarely read the rest of the Torah but they'll read the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments become a description for Israel when they chose to follow the rest of the Torah. For us here at CCP we are attempting to formulate a vision for what Christians should be about in our day and time. I think you have started on a good foot. If I can summarize it.

We want to be a people that:

1. Faithfully embody the justice, mercy, and love of God in our communities.
2. See poverty as something that should be going out the door.
3. Have learned the ways of peace as exemplified by Jesus from Nazareth.

At this point I can only think of one principle I would add to this list. I don't know how I would word it but it would have to do with there being no real distinction between issues related to social/economic justice and the gospel of Jesus Christ. That the gospel implies real-world concerns. That concern for realities like Darfur are not add-ons to the gospel but are pretty much a part of the fabric of being faithful witnesses to the gospel. How can this become a part of our petitionary principles?

Formulating Party Principles

Anthony and I have decided to formulate a set of basic principles that our evolving party will be based upon. Of course Jesus Christ, the Gospels, and the Bible will be the underlying framework for all that we do, to the extent that we are able to remain faithful. God gave the people of Israel Ten Commandments to live by. Though not a Christian organization per se, The Black Panther Party had a similar format in their Ten Point Program. Many of their principles or ideals (though in retrospect some are fairly ambiguous and underdeveloped, most if not all, are rather consistent with biblical concepts of justice):

Black Panther Party's Ten Points

1. We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our Black Community.
2. We want full employment for our people.
3. We want an end to the robbery by the white man of our Black Community.
4. We want decent housing, fit for shelter of human beings.
5. We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present-day society.
6. We want all black men to be exempt from military service.
7. We want an immediate end to police brutality and murder of black people.
8. We want freedom for all black men held in federal, state, county and city prisons and jails.
9. We want all black people when brought to trial to be tried in court by a jury of their peer
group or people from their black communities, as defined by the Constitution of the United States.
10. We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace.

Whereas the Black Panther Party was making certain political demands upon the state, we realize that our primary appeal has to be made to God, who is sovereign even over the most powerful country in the world. This may seem strange for those of us who have been reared in a democratic society, where we consider it a birth right to beseech certain actions from our elected officials. Though, I personally believe that Christians should engage as non-partisans in the political process for the common good and the glory of God, ultimately politicians are not the final authority on any matter. I'm not sure how many principles we will have, though I suspect it will not be more than ten. We would like to articulate our principles, no petitions, in the form of prayers. However, wherever we put our faith, we must also be willing to put our actions. I will start with just 3 possibilities and Anthony will respond to my proposals while suggesting his own. Through this dialogical process we ask that the Holy Spirit would take us where we need to go.

Common Christian Party Petitions

1. Father God, we pray that the gift of salvation, which is the liberation of your Kingdom and your justice be made manifest in the lives of all the people of the world.
2. We pray for the day when there is no more poverty or financial hardship, because everyone who works is compensated generously (no matter how menial their duties) and the richest among us take less, so that the poorest among us can have more.
3. We pray for the end of violence in all of it's forms; war, terrorism, murder, and abuse, which will happen when the spirit of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, has filled the hearts of people with so much love, that violence is no longer a plausible option for resolving conflicts and differences, whether internal or external.

Worship in the Spirit of Justice

Brian McLaren and CRCC will be hosting a number of gatherings in D.C. during June and July dealing with issues related to justice and peace throughout the globe.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Dinner Dialogue I: Being A Christian in a Bank Town

We had a total of 12 participants for our first dialogue on Friday, April 22, 2005, the commencement of Passover. Not a bad number when you think about the significance of the number 12 in Scripture (12 disciples, 12 tribes of Israel). Here is an overview for the discussion (Some of the responses from the participants are recorded in bold along with subsequent commentary and biblical references, which are in italics):

Opening Prayer (Rod):

Father God, We thank you for this opportunity to gather in your presence for the purpose of understanding what it means to be a Christian in this community. We ask that your spirit would guide this dialogue, in such a way that you would be glorified and all parties here would be blessed. May this be only the beginning of a fellowship of believers who seek to be more faithful to your will. We thank you for the food that we are about to receive and ask that your grace & peace be upon everyone in this establishment. As we eat, let us be mindful of those who go hungry this evening and remember that we serve a Lord who fed multitudes. In Jesus Christ name we pray. Amen.

Dialogue:

1. What was it about tonight's topic that prompted you to come to the dialogue tonight?

"We're all sheep." That caught my attention and I wanted to see what that's really all about.

I've known Rod for awhile now, and Anthony as well. We all got to know each other in a church that we were members of. I want to support these brothers in whatever they try to do, especially if it's for God.

Being someone who works in the school system, trying to make sure that all children get a quality education, I see the inequities, and I'm having a hard time being a Christian in that situation. I relate to the topic on that broader level.

When I heard that the title of the dialogue was, "Being a Christian in a Bank Town," I thought, what does one have to do with the other. I'm here to find out.

2. Before we delve into what it means to be a Christian in a Bank Town, we should first talk about what a Christian is. What is a Christian based on your understanding?

A Christian is someone who believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and has died for the sins of the world.

A Christian is someone who does good works, has a clear conscience, and does what they can to help others.

The term Christian was originally a derogatory term used by Gentiles. It essentially means to be Christ-like.

To be a Christian is to follow this person named Jesus Christ. For the Christian, Jesus is the model for how one lives. We strive to do what he says and live by his example.

When we follow Christ, we express our love for Him, for it is written, "If you love Me, you will keep my commandments," (John 14:15 ).

The greatest of these commandments are: "You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is first and the great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself," (Matthew 22:37-39).

3. We agree that being a Christian revolves around this notion of following this person named Jesus Christ, who is our lord, savior, and shepherd. One can not be a lord or king, without a kingdom. Jesus came preaching to all the people of Israel, the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel (Mark 1:15)." What is the kingdom of God?

There is a Kingdom of God in heaven and the coming Kingdom of God, here on earth (Which is why we pray, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven...").

We [Christians] are the Kingdom of God ("For indeed, the Kingdom is within you," (Luke 17:21).

The Kingdom of God is like a wedding banquet, a king gave for his son. When he invited all the special guests to come to the banquet they refused, so the king invited anyone who was willing, the good and bad alike, the poor and those considered unimportant (Matthew 22:1-11).

When you read the various parables and teachings about the Kingdom of God in the Bible, you come away with the understanding that the Kingdom represents God's love, mercy, peace, and justice.

4. What distinguishes the Kingdom of God from Corporate America? What values did Christ embody that seem to contradict some of the values of corporations?

Corporate America can be a very competitive, even cut-throat place. The Kingdom of God is not like that.

The Kingdom of God is founded on the love of God, and Christians should be motivated by that same love for God and for each other. The primary motivation for Corporate America is profit and oftentimes profit is more important than people.

The god of corporations is mammon, which is the biblical term for money. Jesus teaches us that we can not serve God and mammon (Luke 6:13).

To serve mammon over God is idolatry.

As an educator, I don't work in an environment that's supposed to be profit driven, but I still see a lot of the same behaviors that take place in corporate America. The children are supposed to come first, but the bureaucracy gets in the way, as well as people's own personal agendas.

I work for a company that has a lot of kingdom values I believe. We invest in poor communities and employ people that other businesses won't. We're not perfect, but I have the sense that I'm not just working to make money. I feel like I'm making a difference.

5. So, with this basic understanding of following Christ in the context of the Kingdom of God, we can begin to understand what Christ means by "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me" (NKJV John 10:27). In the Bank Town article, an employee said "We're all sheep", not just bank employees, but everyone who works for Corporate America, perhaps even the government and other organizations as well. We all have to eat and live, so we all have to work. Even if we own our businesses there is a much larger economic framework that we have to submit to, if we want to be successful in this capitalist society. Thinking about those differences between God's Kingdom and Corporate America, how can we show that our true shepherd is Christ and not those who sign our paychecks, even as we do our best to be good employees, for God is not glorified by a bad work ethic?

It's hard because you're surrounded by so many people who could care less about serving Christ or anybody other than themselves or the bottom-line.

As a C.E.O. can you really operate in a Christ-like manner? So, much shady activity is done to maintain profitability. Maybe if you're willing to settle for something less than #1 or even #2, because your values are more important than your profits, you might be able to do it.

I'm the only African-American in management [above a supervisory level] in my company. I had the opportunity to help address some racial tensions in one of our locations not too long ago. Recently, one of our HR managers made a racially insensitive comment that offended, not just me, but a lot of other people. I'm trying to use these situations to convince our C.E.O. and other executives to make some structural changes to improve diversity and cultural awareness in our company. This could be a professional mistake, but I feel it's the right thing to do. I believe I'm doing what God wants me do.

When we choose to do God's will regardless of the cost we may have to pay, in terms of our career, we are showing who our Lord and our shepherd is. We must use prayer, wisdom, and all of the resources that are available to us to ensure that we are doing not only the right thing, but acting within the right time frame. We are called to be salt (preservers of the good) and the light in the darkness, wherever we find ourselves (Matthew 5:13-14).

6. Consider the following verse of Scripture: "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places," (Ephes. 6:12). In this statement written by the Apostle Paul, he is making a distinction between Rome and the dark forces which influenced and even controlled its actions. Rome was the most powerful empire the world had ever seen at that time because of its bloody wars and oppression of millions of people. It's the same government that crucified Christ at the request of Jewish leaders. Most Jews believed that Rome was an evil empire, but no empire or state completely embodies evil, anymore than any state completely embodies good. Obviously, Corporate America has a positive side, but how to we wrestle with those aspects of it, that go against our faith and God's kingdom?

This was a challenging question for the group to address. We oftentimes do not think about the greed, selfishness, prejudice, and disrespect that we experience and sometimes perpetuate as being spiritual forces to be resisted. Corporate America does indeed have it's virtues. It allows millions to pay their bills, take care of their children, and affords many a decent or even comfortable standard of living. Corporations make many charitable contributions to society in areas such as education, medical research, and the arts.

However, there is a growing trend in which people are becoming more and more dehumanized. People are being treated as just another expense to be cut, so that profits can be raised. On one hand, people are the lifeblood of any organization, but for corporations they are also liabilities. Employees are downsized while those who are left behind must work twice as hard for the same pay. Jobs are outsourced, a natural phenomenon in a globalized world, but the wages often fail to lift international workers above the poverty level in their countries. Of course the bank jobs that have been exported to India, pay the employees there at a much cheaper rate, yet relatively well given their cost of living. As Christians in America, it's not that we don't want to see other people prosper, but we should stand opposed to the sense of helplessness and powerlessness that too many workers feel, because they are at the complete mercy of executive decisions and market forces.

Christians are those who must go against the grain of conventional wisdom, and insist that people are more important than profits. Rank and file employees should be consulted before outsourcing begins and mergers and acquisitions take place, because they are the ones who are potentially most affected from a negative standpoint, and those who remain will receive the least in financial rewards for doing more work. Unlike most C.E.O.'s, after downsizing or displacement, most workers will not receive a large salary increase or bonus. People must be valued more than the products they sell, if we are to be governed by love and not by greed.

7. We know that we are to love both God and our neighbor. How can we better love and support our neighbors who have lost their jobs due to circumstances beyond their control?

People need to get organized. We don't fight for ourselves.

True, we do need to get organized, but North Carolina, being a "right to work state", i.e. "right to get fired for any arbitrary reason state" is one of the most hostile to labor unions. Unions have been the primary way that workers have been able to gain greater bargaining power in our country. And when people know they could be let go on any given day, they're afraid to speak up, especially with little to no support. Ideally, Christians should be that support network and even that voice, for those who are vulnerable and afraid.

Final Thoughts:

We talked a lot about how Christians should influence the workplace, but now you have churches that act like corporations. That's what we should have been talking about!... Too many churches are just as obsessed with money as Corporate America.

Sounds like we have our topic for our next dialogue.

This was a very fruitful conversation. We need more of this kind of dialogue, where we can come together and talk about what's really important. I encourage you to keep it going.

We are simply here to bear witness to the Gospel that we have been reading for these past several years and have grown to love. The Jesus that we encounter in Scripture does not seem to be presented in many sermons and teachings today. When you read the Bible, you see Jesus turning over money tables, challenging the leaders of the day, standing up for poor people, hanging out with those considered to be unrighteous. You don't see Jesus spending a lot of time appealing to people's self-interest by promising them a personal blessing. When we experience the Kingdom of God, everybody's blessed.

Closing Quote on "A Revolution of Values":

Excerpted from Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s: "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence" Speech (April 4, 1967 - He was assassinated one year later on April 4, 1968)

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities. If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.

This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers around the world wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? That the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message, of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours.

Closing Prayer (Anthony)

Monday, April 25, 2005

Invitation for Dinner Dialogue I (April 22, 2005):

"We're all sheep."

After a layoff, "you feel sorry for the guy; then you quick get back to work, so it's not you," said a local employee in a recent Charlotte Observer report called "Bank Town: Wachovia, B of A, bring jobs, instability." "It's not just Bank of America. It's all companies. We're all sheep."

We believe that we are all in fact sheep, the question is, "Whose sheep are we?" As Christians, do we ultimately serve God or our corporate masters. Jesus said, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me" (NKJV John 10:27). To what extent do we hear His voice, and how willing are we to follow Him in a time of escalating economic insecurity due to downsizing, outsourcing, and employee displacement? Should we simply accept things the way they are or should we wrestle with the principalities and powers of the market place, who put profit before people? Even if Corporate America has been good to us, what should we do for our brothers and sisters who have experienced the downside of business as usual?We invite you to participate in a dialogue to explore these and other questions related to the subject, "Being Christian in a Bank Town," at Town Restaurant in Gateway Village, 710 W. Trade Street starting at 6:30 PM on Friday April 22, 2005. Please R.S.V.P. by Friday, April 15th.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Re-reading Acts again for the first time

This will be my first post on our new site. I am very excited about what I believe God is doing throughout the Church. One of the things I believe God is doing is inspiring Christians to re-read often neglected text that point to Christian beliefs and practices that have been long forgotten in large segments of the Church. Why have they been forgotten? Not too sure. I have some ideas. Lately I have been impressed to do some re-reading of the book of Acts. Rod on his post "How We Got Here" talked about some of the realities that have brought us to this point in our tutelage under Jesus from Nazareth. At the end of his post he quotes a passage in the New Testament book of Acts that captures the essence of what the Christian Common Party is about:

Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all (Acts 4:32-33).

A another passage in Acts (2:44-45) captures again the essence of this endeavor. What these passages in Act point to is the revolutionary and subversive nature of the message of Jesus. It appears from the text that sharing things in common and bearing witness to the Risen Lord is somehow interrelated. I do not believe that the text here is a proponent of some modern form of Communism or Socialism. But what the text does point to is the mutuality that existed in the early Church. A mutuality of gifts and resources. Such a mutuality would have been extremely subversive in the world of the early Christians.

In the world of Acts the dominant social/economic relationship was that of the patron and client. The patron was a powerful figure that exercised economic and political hegemony over the client. The client, typically a peasant or someone indebted to the patron, was a person subservient socially, politically, and economically to the patron. In the gospels a patron-client relationship existed between the Roman Emperor (patron) and King Herod (client). Herod was subservient to the patronage of Caesar politically and economically. That is part of the reason why Herod was afraid of Jesus' growing popularity and fame in first century Palestine. Jesus represented a threat to social order of Herod. Herod was afraid that Jesus' subversive message of the kingdom of God could cause serious instability in his kingdom. As a client that would have proven most detrimental with his relationship with Caesar. Caesar expected his clients (slaves) to handle business as usual. So you can imagine the fear Herod felt when he saw Jesus gaining popularity with the poor and marginalized in Palestine. Jesus threatened the legitimacy of Herod's power amongst the poor and marginalized. The practice of radical mutuality practiced by the early Church in the book of Acts was a continuation of Jesus' message of the gospel. Jesus' message of the gospel of the kingdom and the early Christian communities continuation of that message presented a grave threat to the Powers that be that wanted to maintain the status quo. What was so threatening about this message of mutuality or holding things in common is that it challenged the way people saw power and how it was distributed in society. That's why the message of the cross was interpreted as 'foolish' by the Romans. How could a crucified Peasant rule the world? Such a suggestion would later cause Roman citizens to describe the early apostles as those that turned the world upside down.

Enter now. There are many Christian communities that have this understanding of the call of the gospel. They realize that the gospel isn't a call to re-prioritize private inner feelings. They realize that the gospel is about participating in the radical message of Jesus. It is about participation in the kingdom of God. A kingdom that is the inbreaking of God's peace (shalom) into a fallen world. A kingdom that challenges the falleness of our society and tells it to repent and believe the good news. With such an understanding the Common Christian Party considers itself a part of that Christian tradition that see itself as a continuation with those saints that held all things in common in the book of Acts.

Anthony Smith


Monday, April 04, 2005

How we got here...

Seven years ago, upon graduating from college, I met a young man named Anthony who had moved across country from Seattle to Charlotte, North Carolina with his church. I was in a state of spiritual crisis and he was a budding minister. We met at a local U.S. Bureau of the Census office (interestingly enough, a census played a significant part in the early life of Jesus Christ). Since he was a former skeptic of the Christian faith, he was able to address many of my critical, yet sincere questions and perspectives. After much prodding by the Holy Spirit, I finally accepted Anthony's invitation to visit his fledgling church.

I was able to hear and meet the prophetic leaning, charismatic Senior Pastor and experienced the presence of God in a way that I never imagined possible. A few weeks later, shortly after the birth of my beautiful daughter, I took my first step into the Kingdom of God, despite my lingering doubts. Though I learned a lot from the pastor of the church, it was the growing discipleship relationship between Anthony and myself, that most impacted my early spiritual and theological development.

Fast forward seven years later through the downfall of our cherished church, the subsequent spiritual exile and ecclesial dislocation of our souls, economic hardship, vocational stagnation, loneliness of single life on one hand and the trials and tribulations of marriage on the other, the challenges of fatherhood, countless conversations on what it really means to be a Christian in today's society, growing frustration with the status-quo nature of the American church, and an unquenchable desire to do something of consequence to further the justice and peace of God's kingdom. This is an overly brief synopsis of how we got here, but hopefully it gives you some idea.

The purpose of this blog is to chronicle the story of the Common Christian Party and the faith, dialogue, and action that will hopefully allow this particular group of Christians to fulfill their role in the much larger body of Christ.


Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all (Acts 4:32-33).

- Roderick Garvin