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The Reforming Church Is a Community of Koinonia

A year-long series of weekly essays re-imagining the Reforming Church.  This is not a scholarly effort, crafting neither an ecclesiastical nor a theological system.  Rather, it is simply a futurist’s snapshot –  it is how I imagine the church proceeding forward through the next decades in the tradition of the Reformation.

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 1:2

Koinonia is the transliterated form of the Greek word κοινωνία which appears in the New Testament something like 20 times.  It is variously translated as community, fellowship, communion, sharing, even contribution, and participation, depending on which English translation of the Bible is used.  Fundamentally, it describes life within the Fellowship of the Followers of the Way.  But more than that, it is an orientation of community living into the image of community with Jesus Christ.

In its ideal form, the Fellowship of the Followers of the Way is a community of prayer, service, and sharing within a covenant of equality and peace in which all but its essential assets designated for life, family, food, and home are committed to service in the name of Jesus Christ.

The Reforming Church is committed to living fully in the world, without withdrawing, yet at the same time it is committed to a life together without respect to sex, age, wealth, position, or power, and all its resources are directed towards service in the community and the world in the name of Jesus Christ.

Respecting family integrity, community in koinonia is not a cultic withdrawal, nor a community in which all members find all their services in the community itself.  Koinonia community does not mean the community members will necessarily find their barber or piano teacher in the community, for example.  Koinonia is not an ascetic community, and neither is koinonia an autocracy nor is it dependent on a charismatic leader.  It is instead, the Followers of the Way of Jesus Christ living in a democratic community in which they are intentional about reaching out beyond themselves in every enterprise.

Koinonia it is a joyful community in which members find encouragement to share, to serve, to recover, and to take heart.

In the final analysis, I must admit, I don’t really know what koinonia looks like.  I know there are some who have made passable models; but as to the nuts and bolts of forming such a community, my futurist snap shot remains out of focus. As koinonia is a practice that has few successful antecedents, I am mostly dependent on the prophetic and apostolic vision of which we get only a glimpse in Acts 2:43-47 and Acts 4:32-37.

Experimental communities of koinonia are on the table for the Reforming Church.  Is it a viable model for today and for the church in every age?  Or was it a model unique to the specific context of the first-century church?   However the model shapes up, in koinonia the point and the focus is the witness of the good news of Jesus Christ and his hope for the world.

“To the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever!” – Romans 16:27

 The Reforming Church Critically Appropriates Koinonia

All Saints Cathedral
The door of the Church of All Saints – the Castle Church – in Wittenberg, Germany.

A year-long series of weekly essays re-imagining the Reforming Church.  This is not a scholarly effort, crafting neither an ecclesiastical nor a theological system.  Rather, it is simply a futurist’s snapshot –  it is how I imagine the church proceeding forward through the next decades in the tradition of the Reformation.

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 1:2

There is a short paragraph (Acts 2:43-47) describing the nameless economic system of the early church.  The key verses read, “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need” (NRSV Acts 2:44-45).  I have heard this verse dismissed out-of-hand as a failed system of economic reality.  Perhaps this critique was a critique of Communism’s economic system which most fundamentally does not allow for private ownership of property.

Of course, Luke, in penning the Acts of the Apostles was only describing life together in the early church.  He was not attempting to articulate an economic system.  And yet, this verse remains impossibly difficult to interpret considering our national (USA) myth steeped in Capitalism and its vitriolic push back against Socialism and Communism.

In another story, penned by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles, the story of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-10) is a curious tale.   Ananias and Sapphira conspire to hide some of their assets from the Apostles with sobering results.  Clearly, Ananias’ and Sapphira’s decision contravened what was apparently an established practice in the early church (Acts 4:32-37).  Common ownership for the good of all was becoming the norm in the early church.  Barnabas, who becomes more prominent in Luke’s story of the early church, first comes to light in these verses (4:36-37) selling a field and giving the proceeds to the Apostles.

It is confusing when reading the tale of Ananias and Sapphira.  Was it okay to personally own land?  While owning the land was there an obligation to commit it to the common good?  Was it mandatory to give all the proceeds from the sale of land to the Apostles?  Apparently, yes!  If the intent was to further establish as normative in the church common ownership, what happened?  If this practice continued what evidence is there?  How long was it practiced?  Why is it not still practiced?

The context of the Reforming Church is in a world with vast resources quickly evaporating from 99% of the world’s population.  It is for this reason, that the Reforming Church turns its attention to the practice of the early church.

In Acts 2:42 the Greek word koinonia describes life together among the Followers of the Way of Jesus Christ.  The Reforming Church critically appropriates koinonia.

To the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever!” – Romans 16:-27

 The Reforming Church Is All Inclusive.

A year-long series of weekly essays re-imagining the Reforming Church.  This is not a scholarly effort, crafting neither an ecclesiastical nor a theological system.  Rather, it is simply a futurist’s snapshot –  it is how I imagine the church proceeding forward through the next decades in the tradition of the Reformation.

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 1:2

Years ago, I read Niebuhr’s Social Sources of Denominationalism which, as I recall, was an academic lament of the divisive barriers within the church.  Beyond the expected divides over doctrine and theology, the church is also divided over class, race, and wealth.  In fact, the premise of the book was that these social sources were clearer indicators of the divide in the church than doctrine and theology.

And yet, I remember listening to a lecture given by Jürgen Moltmann[1] in Nashville at Vanderbilt University nearly 40 years ago when I was an ecclesial tadpole, characterizing the church as whole, inclusive of class, wealth, race, disability (which I remember specifically), and maybe if he were to give that lecture today he would add sexual identity.  For years, I have articulated my vision of the Church in my invitation to the Eucharistic Table:  All are welcomed, young and old, rich and poor, male and female, red and yellow, black and white, of every nation and ethnicity.

The Reforming Church is constantly vigilant, taking care as to mend any breach in its solidarity.  This solidarity is key to the Church’s witness, which takes care to share the hope of Jesus Christ in a voice that is familiar to all.  That is a voice which speaks in the language of the people whether that language is one of the languages of the world, or the nuances of language lent by wealth, power, nationality, race or any other social construct that defines the Church’s context.

To the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever!” – Romans 16:27

[1] Reformed German Theologian, Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology at the University of Tübingen.

The Reforming Church is Cross-Cultural

A year-long series of weekly essays re-imagining the Reforming Church.  This is not a scholarly effort, crafting neither an ecclesiastical nor a theological system.  Rather, it is simply a futurist’s snapshot –  it is how I imagine the church proceeding forward through the next decades in the tradition of the Reformation.

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 1:2

I’m back, having spent two weeks on the classic Trek, Tour du Mont Blanc!  I will host at rmwgrace.com my daily journal with pictures at a later time.  For now, back to the Reforming Church. . . .

For the Reforming Church, the matter of culture is two-sided.  On the one side, the Reforming Church adapts its witness to the cultural group of its context.  On the other side, the Reforming Church is itself intercultural, reflecting the cultural identity of its context.  The Reforming Church’s witness is no longer monolithically composed of one group.  In isolated areas, yes, but on the whole, the cultural context of the Reforming Church is very mixed and the Followers of Jesus Christ reflect that mix.  As language is one of the bearers of culture, the Reforming Church, in the great tradition of the Reformation witnessing in the language of the people, is fluent in the language of the people.  Similarly, whatever the cultural customs, norms, “learned and shared values of a group of interacting people”[i] the Reforming Church is both at the same time, of and witnessing to persons of that same shared cultural context.

The Apostle Paul described in 1 Corinthians 9 his intent to identify with all people for the sake of the gospel.  He writes, “I have become all things to all people so that I might by any means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings” (NRSV 22b-23).  When the Reforming Church finds itself witnessing in a context foreign to its own cultural identity, like the Apostle Paul, it takes on the cultural identity of its context.

The Reforming Church, at the same time, seeks to be transformative in its context.  Always vigilant, the Reforming Church appropriates cultural customs and norms critically.  The Way of Jesus Christ is in culture with a vision of the world as God intends.  And so also, in as much as possible, the Reforming Church.  The Reforming Church cannot exist comfortably with customs that do not reflect God’s world view and thus stands for and witnesses to its context the hope of God.  Even more than this, the Reforming Church is counter-cultural taking measures to be transformed into the image of God.[ii]

To the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever!” – Romans 16:27

[i] I am helped here by Mari D. González’s article, “Cross-Cultural vs. Intercultural.”  In the article she cites this phrase, attributing it to Milton J. Bennett who she identifies as an intercultural communication pioneer.  See https://ixmaticommunications.com/2011/02/03/cross-cultural-vs-intercultural/

[ii] I am particularly grateful to my pastor, Rev. Danie deBeer for challenging me to revisit this essay.  He reminded me of H. Richard Niebuhr’s wisdom regarding culture and how the church is to be above culture “and contra-cultural, being able to change the culture. . . .”

There is No Longer Jew or Greek. . . . .

A year-long series of weekly essays re-imagining the Reforming Church.  This is not a scholarly effort, crafting neither an ecclesiastical nor a theological system.  Rather, it is simply a futurist’s snapshot –  it is how I imagine the church proceeding forward through the next decades in the tradition of the Reformation.

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 1:2

Just a heads up.  I will be traveling for the next three weeks and I am not altogether certain that I will keep my self-imposed Sunday deadline.  But I will do my best and publish as I am able.

The Apostle Paul writes to the Galatians, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (NRSV 3:28).  Similarly, the Reforming Church is one in Christ Jesus, “Red and yellow, black and white”.  As the Sunday school song teaches our children, “They are precious in his sight.”  Except the Reforming Church expresses this in the first-person plural.  They are we.  This is true of individual congregations and their leaders as well as regional expressions of the Reforming Church.

The Reforming Church is all who believe in Jesus Christ and serve him, including and making no distinctions between young and old, male and female, racial identity, sexual identity, and cultural/ethnic identity, and language group.  The Reforming Church is not blind to these obvious differences between persons and recognizes that whatever the challenge these differences in persons creates they will be bridged, much like the effort to translate the gospel into the languages of the people.

To the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever!” – Romans 16:27