Changing World, Unchanging Gospel: Being the Body of Christ in the Ancient New Way (Romans 5-8)
What do we mean by "The Ancient New Way"?
The "new way" is both old and new, and is not something that we've "thought up." Rather, God offered the world this new way a long time ago and we are trying to walk in it. The gospel of Jesus is based on events from about two thousand years ago when he came to the earth in human form, was crucified, and resurrected. Yet it is real, true, and life-transforming today, as if it just happened. Jesus makes all things new and the people who believe in the good news become new creations. The "new way" is actually the ancient way of Jesus lived out today in fresh, contemporary, meaningful ways. Jesus Himself shows us the value of the ancient by constantly appealing to the Old Testament scriptures. At the same time, He brought the good news of the kingdom in "new wineskins". He was the eternal God, present at creation, yet was a "new" expression of God, God in human form.
We think Romans 5-8 is a summary of the good news that God the Father has rescued us through Jesus Christ His Son and empowers us to live new lives now through the Holy Spirit. "But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code" (Romans 7:6, NIV).
We recognize, appreciate, and value the our church's "family tree" in the Churches of Christ, and what is sometimes known as the "Restoration Movement." One of the deepest roots in this heritage is the boldness to challenge tradition, to challenge "the way we've always done things," to challenge our own assumptions and interpretations. Early leaders in this movement wanted to focus on Jesus and gather around Scripture to find common ground and gain understanding. At East Sunshine, we want to do the same thing -- focus on Jesus and, as His disciples, continually learn with each other from God's word. This is an ancient pursuit for a new day.
Our desire to be the body of Christ to the world today has led us to some conclusions and practices that are different from our heritage. Some have said, "You don't look like a Church of Christ. You don't do things the way Churches of Christ have always done them. You don't see things or speak of things in the same way." That is true. However, there is purpose behind these "new" things - to proclaim and live out the unchanging gospel in an ever-changing world. Yet we do not want to trample on our heritage, but rather to learn from it. We are not simply setting aside one "old" form for a "new" form which we intend to be the form forever. Instead, we expect every generation, even each wave of leadership, to seek God and to pursue His work in their own context. We expect, and even want to train, the next generation to be different than we are now! This is part of what it means to be the "Body of Christ in the Ancient New Way."
Here are more specifics of what we mean:
Seeing God in the Ancient New Way--We desire to grow in our understanding of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We want to give glory to the Father as we honor and obey Jesus as Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit. We believe that Jesus helps us see and know the otherwise unseen Father and Spirit. (For more, listen to the sermon that preceded this class.)
Understanding the Gospel in the Ancient New Way--We believe the gospel is the coming and incarnation of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, his death, burial, and resurrection, his sending of the Holy Spirit, and his future return. Jesus taught that some matters were "more important" than others (Matthew 23:23), and the Apostle Paul declared that there were things of "first importance" (1 Corinthians 15:3). The Gospel, then, is contained in the New Testament, but is not everything written in it. For example, the form of the Sunday morning worship assembly, the way of organizing church, beliefs about spiritual gifts, or the interpretation of the details of Jesus' return to earth, though important, are not part of the gospel, and should not detract us from it.
The Nature and Interpretation of Scripture in the Ancient New Way--We believe that the Bible is God's inspired, authoritative word for our lives. While Scripture contains many commands and examples, we believe that these ultimately point us to who God is and who we are in him. In other words, Scripture is about relationship (John 5:39-40). The greatest commands are to love God and to love our neighbor, and all the other commands point to these (Matthew 22:34-40). We do not see the Bible as a text book, an owner's manual, or law book, but rather as one aspect of God's revelation of himself and his grand purposes for the world. The commands, teaching, corrections, rebukes, and training are given by God for the purpose of relating to Him, to each other, and to the world in the way He desires (2 Timothy 3:16). To understand the Bible and to live obediently in its truth, we interpret it with God’s big-picture purpose in mind, and we read it in community, in context, with mercy, and with humility.
Christian Community in the Ancient New Way--The community of Christ is different from humanly formed communities because it is constructed by God, formed by the Holy Spirit, and brought to unity by Jesus. The primary relationship of each member of the Christian community is with Christ. We are unified and bound together not by our similarity of race, socioeconomic stature, denominational background, spiritual experience, educational level, age, or anything else but by Christ himself. Therefore, the presence of diversity within the community cannot threaten its unity, but instead provides an opportunity for the community to live out its identity as the body of Christ. Our common identity in Christ holds us together even though we do not all understand Scripture the same way. We are bound together by Christ even though we do not agree with each other on every point of doctrine or practice. Recognizing this, we believe that we must make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit as we search for truth together (Ephesians 4). We embrace our diversity, believing it will help us to see more, not less, of God (1 Corinthians 12).
The Nature of Worship in the Ancient New Way--Worship is one of the main things we do together when we assemble (Acts 2). However, worship is not just the Sunday morning assembly. Worship is something we are called to live out every day, in all circumstances, because we are living sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2). Our assembly as a church family includes a wide range of individual and communal responses to who God is and what He has done for us in Christ (such as praise, thanksgiving, proclamation, singing, prayer, communion, confession,etc.). The "Who" and "Why" of worship takes precedence over the "How," so while we have structure in new covenant worship, a particular pattern is not our primary focus. We believe that worship is about what we give more than what we get. First and foremost, we are giving honor, glory, and praise to God as we give ourselves to the One who have himself for us. Second, we seek to build up the body of Christ as we give ourselves to one another. God has given all people gifts for these purposes.Therefore, both men and women participate in our assemblies, and we use a variety of culturally significant media to praise God and proclaim the good news of Christ. While we are thankful for the many good traditions of our church heritage, we believe God has called us to be faithful to Him, rather than any particular tradition. (This class had no video to accompany it, since is was based on the morning's sermon.)
Love and Freedom in the Ancient New Way--We hold to Jesus' words that all people will know that we are his disciples if we love each other (John 13:34-35). We seek to love each other the ways God loves us - through grace and self-sacrifice. We are committed to loving each other at all times, and to look to the interests of others and not only to our own interests (Philippians 2:1-4). In an environment of love, people are free in Christ to serve and to worship as we give ourselves to God and to each other. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (Romans 14-15; 2 Corinthians 3:17; Galatians 5).
Becoming Part of the Church Family in the Ancient New Way--Our conviction is that Jesus called people into fellowship with him and through that fellowship moved them to repent and turn to him for life (Luke 5, 19). Repentance followed fellowship. This was the opposite of Jesus' religious contemporaries for whom fellowship followed repentance. So we not only welcome people to our church family who have put their faith in Jesus, have repentant hearts, have been baptized, and seek to live godly lives, but we also welcome people to be a part of our church family who are not yet followers of Jesus. We believe that belonging can lead to believing, and this believing will ultimately allow the Spirit to transform people into the likeness of Christ.
Loving and Serving All Persons in the Ancient New Way--We desire to be a church family which loves and serves others regardless of things such as denominational background, religious experience, race, socio-economic status, educational level, or generation. While we have a commitment to being the body of Christ to each other, challenging each other to grow in his likeness, we also have a commitment to be the body of Christ to the world around us. Because we are disciples of Jesus, we are committed to making disciples of others. We have a commitment especially to people of the next generation and to people who have no background with Jesus or his church. As Jesus extended the kingdom of God to many who were on “the outside,” so we desire to join him in that mission today.
Growth and Transformation in the Ancient New Way--We want to emphasize the diverse ways that God, through the Holy Spirit, transforms us into the likeness of Christ. We seek to nurture an environment of openness to God's Spirit, so that as we place ourselves in that environment he will put more of Christ's character and personality within us (John 15; 2 Corinthians 3; Galatians 5). We recognize the reading and study of Scripture, prayer, worship, fellowship, service, rest, confession, and fasting as some of the ways that God transforms us.
Understanding Spiritual Gifts in the Ancient New Way--We will not base our unity or fellowship on a person's view of the spiritual gifts. Within our congregation, there are a variety of views concerning spiritual gifts. Some believe that gifts such as prophecy, tongues and healing ceased with the death of the last apostle, while others believe that such gifts are still manifest today and can be a powerful tool in building up the community of faith. This congregation already reflects unity amidst this diversity as we love those on all sides of this question. We encourage those who seek to exercise such gifts to do so with humility and respect for those who do not share their belief, and that likewise, we encourage those who question the authenticity of such gifts to be gracious and loving to those who feel called to express them. The self-sacrificial love the Holy Spirit produces in us takes precedence over any particular gift He may give a person and over our differing views of this question (1 Corinthians 13; Galatians 5).
The Leadership of Our Elders in the Ancient New Way--Our elders are primarily overseers and shepherds (1 Timothy 3; 1 Peter 5). They do not want to take on the role of board member. They want to follow Jesus closely and lead others to do the same. Our elders desire to empower the church body to use their gifts to build each other up and to serve the world (Ephesians 4).
Our Purpose and Calling in the Ancient New Way--We believe the grand purpose of the church is unchanging--to love God, to love each other, and to love the world. But we also realize that these unchanging truths are lived out in a world that is always changing. We expect that future generations of the East Sunshine Church will decide on fresh ways to live out the specifics of the unchanging gospel. Just as our way of walking with Christ looks different from those who came before us, what we determine to be effective ways of serving and loving the world today (through evangelism or benevolence, for example) may not be so for those who follow us.
Relating to Other Congregations in the Ancient New Way--Some of the early Restoration Movement pioneers used to say, "We are Christians only, but not the only Christians." We affirm that just as we are imperfect in our understanding (1 Corinthians 13), other believers are as well. We want to love other followers of Jesus who affirm the Lordship of Christ and be open to fellowship, worship, and serve with them. Jesus prayed for all believers to be one (John 17) and Paul commanded that the church pray for all believers everywhere (Ephesians 6).
Seeing the Restoration in the Ancient New Way--Restoring the ancient gospel, character, and life of the church is an ongoing pursuit. The Restoration Movement should be just that-movement, a dynamic journey rather than a static final destination. We won't say, "We've arrived" until we arrive in heaven.