I intend this newly created blog to give me a place where my thoughts can be read and hopefully reacted to by certain individuals so we can see how the discussion develops. There are lots of questions that need to be asked, some of which were discussed at the consultation, and more will certainly develop. Here are a few of them:
1. What will it be called?
2. Who will lead it?
3. How will it be financed?
4. What defines a New City "type" church?
5. What levels of cooperation will be needed or desirable?
6. Who gets to determine if someone qualifies to be in the network?
7. How will the network relate to Presbyteries and the Presbyterian Church in America denomination?
8. What parameters of theology, ideology, and methodology will be established?
9. Will we need to agree on all issues, on supporting only heterogeneous churches, in other words how much "only" do we need?
10. Should we take over a pre-existing non-profit or just use the church as the "holding" company for the effort?
11. Will this be national or international in scope?
In our initial meeting we seemed to come to consensus that we can call this new thing the New City Network. I kind of like the idea of calling this new thing...."The New City Network, a Micah 6:8 coalition."
Who will lead it and how it will be financed are matters for discussion as we go forward, but at this early point not decisive for continued development. What defines our churches though is a matter for present discussion.
Following the pattern of Micah 6:8 I believe we can extract our core values. Our churches ought to be about Justice, Mercy, and humbly walking with God. We understand this Old Testament passage in light of the New Testament teachings of the Gospel, of Grace, and of the Kingdom of God. Obviously the historical reason for New City's creation was the issue of race in America combined with the Biblical imperative to make disciples of panta ta ethne (all the nations). The context of racism, racial segregation, racial isolation, and cultural integrity versus cultural imperialism were all very important in the creation of New City Fellowship in Chattanooga.
We know from Micah 6:8 that God requires that we act justly, that we love mercy, and that we walk humbly with God. This is a reflection of His character and attributes. God is a God of Justice and Mercy, it is simply who he is and to be anywhere close to him means our humiliation (in the best possible meaning of that term.) By the way I do think the New Testament concept of being broken in our sins and needful of the cleaning blood of Jesus, of needing salvation through the merciful grace of God, of being totally spiritually dependent on the sustaining mercy and grace of God, means that we are and must be delivered from self-righteousness. What a liberation this is in trying to live out justice and mercy, otherwise we become "cause oriented" and go around judging people who have not yet been radicalized by realizing the issues of need and injustice in the world. We believe this is the right way to be in regard to race, justice, mercy, etc. but we must never think we are better than anyone else. It is like everything else in Christianity, where true saints can never despise sinners because we know (and must never forget) the personal internal truth about how wretched we each truly are.
One of the words that was discussed during the consultation was the word "reconciliation." Where does this word fit in the preaching of the New Testament? Is it part of justification? Is it part of redemption? Is it part of sanctification? The question can be either simply semantic or one of framing it for proper theological understanding or possibly for theological division. Part of this controversy comes in the continual debate we have with folks who ask the question, "are you saying this kind of ministry is mandatory for everyone, or is this simply a ministry "model" which we can choose to use or not depending on our gifts or calling of ministry?"
I think one of our core values in building this kind of network is our theological opinion that reconciliation is very much part of redemption, which covers both justification and sanctification, and is not optional but mandatory on all believers. We of course believe that justification happened through the cross and the resurrection of Christ, that it happens by faith, that it is personally applied to us in God's declaration of the righteousness of Christ imputed to us by faith, that it is in no way achieved by works but only given to us by grace. However, to see justification as the only thing that happened at the cross is a distortion of Scripture. Paul declares (2 Corinthians 5) that we have the message of reconciliation, that we have the ministry of reconciliation, and this means we no longer view people, especially Christ, after the flesh. We now view people as combined in the physical body of Christ as he dies on the cross putting to death their enmity (Ephesians 2). In short reconciliation both vertically and horizontally happened at the cross. This is the basis by which we participate in the building of the spiritual Body of Christ, the Church. This is the basis by which we can love each other, and forgive each other, and be one with each other. To preach the cross as only personal justification is to preach a distorted Gospel and creates a personalized religion and not one that reflects the gathering will of Jesus, his determination to build his church as a visible community of love.
Christ enables the answer to his high priestly prayer (that we be one) in John 17 by his work on the cross, and we actualize the answer to his prayer in the living out of love in the Body, and this especially is evidenced in the sacrificial humility of the saints when they become cultural servants in order to win other people groups to Jesus. (I Corinthians 9)
So, under the heading of justice we very much include racial reconciliation. By this we do not mean simply having a congregation where various ethnic groups mingle. Racial reconciliation is needed because racism has and is happening. Racial segregation continues in our national Christian Evangelical Sunday morning practice of worship. This division continues to illustrate and exemplify one thing to the watching world, and that is division. It is the one thing Jesus prays against for his followers, and when we overcome it we reveal Christ to the world. Yet being in one building together cannot happen easily when there has been injustice and when there continues to be attitudes of superiority and demands of cultural assimilation. Reconciliation does not mean domination, it means peace, and oneness. We define peace here as not simply the absence of conflict, where some might simply stifle their feelings in order to get along, but that people get along with sincerity and love each other from the heart.
For our purposes we must seek to enlist like minded church planters and practicioners who pursue racial reconcilation. Obviously this is going to be contextual, but it must be measurable. For someone to say, "this is a New City type church" and yet be homogeneous should and ought to be an oxymoron. The practical application of this most likely will be in who we will financially support, and who we will feel is eligible to be part of this coalition. We know there are geographical locations which may be homogeneous, and we know there are middle class communities that seem to have no poor people, but the question of course for us would be then, "how do you show the multi-cultural nature of the Kingdom in your place of worship, and how do you show the pursuit of Shalom and advocacy of the poor in your location?"