One of the common questions I get asked is who are ‘Churches of Christ?’ It’s an important question that requires careful attention. For this reason I have decided to write several articles that address this question from a different perspective, namely – who are we becoming? While our history and heritage are essential for grounding us together, our future and who we intend to be in that future space requires theological rigour and informed conversation.

It is my hope that these pieces become important conversation starters for leadership communities across our movement. The Fresh Hope family of churches is facing what I believe to be unprecedented changes going forward, and I hope to flag some of those challenges with the view of encouraging you to engage proactively in these themes.

Theme III – A Kingdom Network with Multiple Expressions

The original expressions of Churches of Christ in Australia reflect a redemptive ‘fingerprint’ that is profoundly pioneering and collaborative through relationship and structure. Not surprisingly, our family of churches was catapulted into ‘form’ through gifted apostolic zeal and evangelistic fervour. Unashamedly the Gospel was proclaimed across the cities and towns of this nation as people came seeking God’s love in genuine community.

Here in New South Wales, the early pioneers came with ‘restoration resounding’ in their hearts and minds– “The introduction of the seed of the movement (was) to restore the original Apostolic Christianity in its doctrine, its ordinances and its fruits…” [1]  It didn’t take long for new faith communities to emerge and those already functional to provide assistance and financial support to enable the building of facilities for vibrant new churches.

The dynamic of our early movement roots, reminds me of the church in Acts – enlivened by the Spirit, committed in Word and mobilised together for the advancement of the Gospel with bold and courageous faith. To a degree, as the church ages we run the risk of self-sustainability or autonomy, thereby impervious to the need to work together for kingdom outcomes.

Shifting our Mind-Sets

I remember as a young man growing up in Churches of Christ, feeling some of the suspicion and perceived irrelevance that was directed towards State Conference and their relevant structures and agencies. At times the narrative was adversarial, indifferent or reflective of an unresolved issue dating back many years. Little did I envisage that many years later, I would carry both the privilege and responsibility for leading one such Conference.

It’s a good thing that ministry formation continues to shape our mind-sets and perceptions with respect to functional ecclesiology. My own journey has shifted through ministry practice as youth director, large church, regional country church and currently Executive Ministry Director for NSW and the ACT. I highlight this not for self-aggrandisement, but to articulate how we each take our paradigms or world-views from our experience and our context. The view I now seek to carry is multidimensional; it desires to hold in tension the needs and priorities of all parties in ministry and mission.

Over the years, many have quite rightly commented that Churches of Christ are not a denomination. The term ‘denomination’ is most often used as a direct reminder that we are non-hierarchal, centralist or functional from an unhelpful head-office perspective. At other times, it is referenced (albeit regularly in my situation) that there is no authority apart from Jesus and that local churches are self-governed or led without due need or expectation to respond to broader conversations or direction from anyone else.

I would like to suggest that for future Gospel mission, we genuinely need each other! Put more explicitly, the church we are becoming can no longer operate in isolation from the family it emerged from and continues to take its identity. Could it be that in our quest for independence we have jettisoned the mutuality of ministry that leads to genuine transformation? Perhaps we have each idolised a particular expression or form of church to the detriment of all of the body of Christ. Throughout New Testament restorative practice, the church continued to network, engage and collaborate through healthy interaction in high relationship for the common good.

Transformative Kingdom Practice – The Local, Trans-Local, Global and Cosmic Church

The imperative of Jesus from the outset was to call disciples in repentance to see ‘the Kingdom of God’. The Greek word for ‘repentance’ (metanoia) has been narrowly reduced to sin management thereby losing its broader meaning of expanding one’s mind to the reality of God’s kingdom. To genuinely repent is to put behind one’s own narrow thinking, ego and self-sufficiency and surrender to the transforming reality of God’s Sovereign reign and rule. This is a cosmic mind-set.

Genuine Kingdom networking must by definition encompass the various dimensions and expressions of church. I would like to suggest that our ecclesiology includes the local church, the trans-local church (ie State Conferences), the global church (mission agencies etc) and the future cosmic church (see Ephesians 3:10). In doing so, I am advocating that each expression is no more important than the other in the context of God’s kingdom economy.

I see the church on a spectrum from local to cosmic.

The church’s maturity (inward) and witness (outward) as the ultimate agency of love, lies in her awareness as a ‘local to cosmic’ expression of the Kingdom; the first step in this awakening being a participation of the local in the trans-local. This is not a new idea: local churches in the same tribe or region working together trans-locally to train (bible college) or church plant or run youth camps or assist each other in mutual mission. It’s also a biblical model – unity of the spirit, working for God in partnership under Christ.

Trans-local (Conference) involves the diversity of the body of believers in a region, leading to a celebration of, accountability to and activation of each other’s unique calling and giftings as part of one body, serving one Master in both mission and ministry. There is a cost to this kind of journey. A move to serve both locally and trans-locally is a progression of maturity where mutual support and trust is built. The mature church is an active, movable, living environment of transformation that as it gets added to, it grows in power, peace and presence, closing the gap between the Father’s will being enacted on earth as it is in heaven. The mature church remains unified, non-divided and focused together for the task at hand.

Strangely this is our early history – our redemptive fingerprint. Our forefathers called this the ‘brotherhood’ – a term no longer used due to its restrictive language. Some reminisce and call it the good old days. I prefer to speak of ‘life together’ living the Kingdom way. I am profoundly hopeful that our future journey will be scripted in partnership and high trust.

And Together – Interdependence for Jesus’ Cause

The journey of togetherness is for some a surreal experience. Not always is our language or experience of church positive or productive. Mindful of our enemy, we press on towards a bigger goal – not merely our own salvation but the transformation of culture and society with God’s love.

Can I beckon you to help cultivate a family of inter-dependence. A future church culture that deeply is counter cultural with respect to ‘us versus them’ language or ‘those’ who don’t understand or support. The ‘and together’ language set is the universal church of Jesus maturing in its ecclesiology to sharpen its witness in an increasingly hostile world. I so hope you can celebrate and practice the new language which will be necessary for the church we are becoming.

Dr. Andrew Ball

Executive Ministry Director

For Conversation:

  • How does your church view broader relationships within the family of Churches of Christ? Is there anything in your history that is precluding you from engaging in the trans-local or global church?
  • How have you experienced church? What positive expressions of church have helped in your maturity? How do you see the trans-local and global church assisting your local church?
  • Chat together around the role of a State Conference. What feedback could you provide to improve the mutuality of relationships – towards your church, towards Conference?
  • Read Ephesians 4:14-16. What do you notice about the mature church? Perhaps maturity is also measured by our capacity to ‘give stuff away’ or support the broader church without expectation for any return. Do you agree?
  • If the cosmic church is Heaven on Earth, what consequences emerge for collaboration and unity in the Gospel cause? How long has it been since your church has partnered with another church in unity for a broader goal? If you were to audit you church with respect to engagement locally, trans-locally and globally – how do you think you’re doing?

 

[1] Jubilee Pictorial History of Churches of Christ in Australia p. 305