Church in Mission: Five Practices For The Church in the World (pt. 5)

Series contents | Introduction | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five

For this last post in my church in mission series I want to explain the five practices that John Howard Yoder offers the church as a means of faithfulness and witness in mission. But first, by way of review, I’d like to restate my overall argument. I’ve argued that much of the church’s style of mission in the West has been shaped around consumerism, something we see in the way the church uses the word ‘relevancy.’ Following Yoder, I said that the church’s mission and ethics is to be first and foremost rooted in taking the life of Jesus (the incarnation) as our starting point for mission. Then I moved on to explaining how the church is to be a bi-cultural community. This community is always positioned within exile, refuses to become absolute (whether through physical power or other means) and seeks to transform, or bring the peace of the city in which it finds itself. The church is a remembering community, one formed around texts, practices, songs, and stories, but it is also an active, transforming community and is called to live out the reality of God’s kingdom now. This is an outlook, I think, the church must accept more and more Christendom crumbles.

If the Church, as Bi-Cultural community, is to be a people that not only seeks to remember its history but transform whatever society it is in, then how is it to go about this transformation? How do we go from self-preservation to societal transformation? Yoder, in his book Body Politics, names five practices he believes all churches can and should do, practices that not only govern and shape the church (or help it remember), but also point outward as a model for a new way of living that all of society can be transformed by.

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Five Transforming Practices For The Church
  1. Binding and Loosing: Taking his cue from Matthew 18, Yoder argues that one of the core practices of the church is to offer reconciliation (or withhold it), and make moral decisions. Forgiveness is a key function of the church as it is formed around the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, this includes, the forgiveness and love one is to offer his or her enemies. Yoder says,

    “If decision making through reconciling dialogue is the way for the people of God to define the ongoing meaning of their peoplehood, it is also the model for the ways of wider society should make decisions and resolve conflict” (For the Nations 44-46).

  2. Eucharist as Common Meal: Yoder makes the rather provocative statement that all the church ought to practice the Eucharist as a common meal. This is not to say that the church should not practice the Eucharist in whatever way it already does, but that the primary mode of the Eucharist should always be aimed at the body of Christ sharing what it has with those in need. This economic leveling not only takes into account the important role of eating within community we see in Jesus’ ministry, but also helps make the point that all are welcome and fed at the table of the Lord.
  3. Baptism as New Humanity: New Humanity, “Means Jewishness and Gentileness have flowed together in one new cultural history of salvation” (44-46). Baptism, however it is practiced, must be at the core of the way the church operates. The baptized are brought into a new humanity. We are made to live as a new creation in christ, “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” (Gal. 3:28). Here the church is also called to interethnic unity, “Interethnic reconciliation is a part of redemption. It is not a social idealism supported by an appeal to creation or reason. It is the result of the cross??? (44-46). And it is in this “humanizing” baptism that suffering is often required.
  4. Multiplicity of Gifts: This practice looks to affirm the Spirit’s work within the church. All have been given gifts according to the gracious work of God’s Spirit. There isn’t a hierarchy of persons within the church, rather there is to be a shared vision of all persons playing their role within the body.

    “‘Every person in the community has been given by the Spirit a distinctive portion of grace which consists in a role in the community.’ That role can and should be named, so that the individual can be challenged to fulfill it well, and so that the community can rejoice in it and monitors its functioning. Every member of the body has a role; no role is more central than any other, and the least honored roles should be most affirmed” (44-46).

  5. Open Meeting: This practice borrowed from the Quaker way of doing worship and business is rooted in our redemption in Christ. If we are all brothers and sisters sharing a multiplicity of Gifts, then we all come to worship (and business) empowered by the Spirit of Christ, and ought to be free to “have the floor” when called to do so. I see this practice as a culmination of the other four. If the church is to be a reconciling place, a place of new creation, common meals, and a community where we are free to share our gifts, then the church must be a place free of domination, a place were all are able to follow the guidance of the Spirit (Yoder does mention the importance of a moderator as seen in 1 Cor. 14). This idea is not rooted in the way things are or the order of creation:

    But in the divine intervention which we call the work of reconciliation, which ascribes status to the underdog and the outsider, loosens tongues and opens ears. That everyone has something to say gets a hearing is not a given, the way things are; it is a gift which the community enabled by the power of the Spirit to impart (44-46).

While these five practices may seem fairly straight-forward, and even simplistic, on the surface we are all aware of the difficulty it is to find communities that faithfully embody such behavior. Not only are these practices a prophetic call to the church to take our faith more seriously in Christ, but they also act as compelling witness to the rest of the world.

And finally, this is where the connection is made with our daily lives. These practices are for everyone and for every part of our lives; practices for those of us working in ministry, school, family life, design, film, TV, music, carpentry, and all the various things we do on a daily basis. Where do you see these five practices in your own life? In your church community? In the world? Does your laboring, whether it is making art, directing films, creating rock music, or caring for your young ones, does it embody love of enemy, sharing what you have with others, living reconciled to those who are different from us, is it free from domination, does it look for the gifts in others, or announce the fact that others do have value in this world? These practice, though simple, can penetrate every aspect of our lives, and witness to the world in a way I think we all long to see.