The Colossian Forum advocates we should listen to those we disagree with. Do you mean we should tolerate all views, even errors?
Listening to Christian brothers and sisters certainly helps us understand where they’re coming from. Often we even start to sympathize with them. But what do we do after we start to understand someone we disagree with?
Many suggest that tolerance should be our goal. Difference is uncomfortable and inconvenient, but we allow space for others to chart their own course. Tolerance preaches agreeing to disagree, leaving each other alone.
But The Colossian Forum believes that Christians are called to something much better—and more difficult—than tolerance. We belong to Christ and to each other. We share a common life, which Paul likens to a body (1 Corinthians 12). Many of our differences are intentionally given to us by the Holy Spirit so that we can build up Christ’s body (vv. 7, 11). Our differences aren’t inconveniences to be tolerated, but gifts for our overall good. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’” (v. 21). The eye doesn’t tolerate the hand. It loves and serves it.
But eyes think differently from hands. A healthy body coordinates its members across differences. We must listen to work together.
Yet sometimes difference comes from one part really getting it wrong. The hand suffers if the eye is blind. “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it” (v. 26). If the hand is to help an ailing eye, it has to think like an eye. This is hard work. It is our calling. The goal of Christ’s body is not tolerance of difference, but building up the body amidst difference. So we must listen.
Earlier this year, over 100 Christians went through the initial pilot phase of The Colossian Way. The Colossian Way equips pastors and lay leaders to change how their communities think about and handle challenging issues. You can read more about it here. Enjoy this story from one of our pilot groups!
Getting to know someone you disagree with as a person, rather than an opponent, may seem like an obvious thing to do, and yet it rarely happens.
Over the course of a 10-week Colossian Way pilot, the Campus Edge Fellowship group witnessed the power of sharing personal stories, not just arguments, and framing tense, uncomfortable conversations with worship and prayer.
The Colossian Way has each session start with people sharing their stories: who they are, their backgrounds, experiences they’ve had with the topic and why they’re interested in talking about it.
For co-facilitator Sarah Bodbyl Roels, this was one of her favorite parts. “A person’s sources of authority and the accumulation of lifelong experiences influence how they think about and interact with the world,” she said. “It’s interesting to consider that if you had the same experiences, you might think the same way.”
Surprisingly, the main source of conflict wasn’t so much creationism vs. evolution, but how much the issue of origins actually matters.
“We had a lot of, ‘Why are we even talking about this?’ discussions in the beginning,” co-faciliator Brenda Kronemeijer-Heyink said. “For most people, this isn’t a salvation issue … but that’s a clear point of tension with someone who has spent much of their time studying evolutionary biology, or someone whose belief about how the earth came into being has ostracized them from their church. There are direct implications for how you live on this planet with how you believe God brought the world into being.”
However, that tension led directly to a moment both Brenda and Sarah describe as a highlight. During an exercise where group members were asked to line themselves up on the basis of how much they thought this issue mattered, two people who were at opposite extremes (one strongly for six-day Creation, the other for evolution) found themselves standing in the same spot, united by their belief that this issue mattered a lot.
“Seeing that was really powerful,” Sarah said. “We saw them look at each other and realize, ‘Even though we disagree, we both feel so strongly about this.’ Without that, I think they would have been so exasperated that they could hardly have understood each other.”
Brenda added: “I think a huge respect for each other grew out of that, and a level of connection that they might not otherwise have had, to find that commonality with a person they disagreed with.”
Having those kinds of unexpected relationships form was a high point for the group. “It got to the point that when someone would say something, another person would chime in to support them, even though that person might have had a differing opinion,” Brenda said. “But they were still willing to reach out and bridge, and show, ‘I get where you’re at, and I understand why you say that. Even though I don’t personally hold that opinion, I validate yours.’”
In fact, the community-building was strong enough that even after the pilot was over, group members were comfortable enough with one another to gather again for general discussion and hangout time.
As much as they celebrate the relationships that formed during the pilot, Sarah and Brenda both wish there would have been a bit more conflict. “We never really got to that full boiling point. We just kind of simmered,” Sarah said. “I know many people had more to say, but they were too polite. I think we could have grown more as a group if we had had some blow-ups. Those would have created opportunities for growth in healing and relationships – you’ve hurt the other person and they’ve hurt you, but let’s move beyond that and learn to live together in community.”
However, one of the last lessons had people list what they had learned in terms of how to have positive conversations, and Brenda was pleased to see people realize, “I do have the skills to have a positive conversation about this with someone. I feel like I’m better able to do that now.”
Sarah added that one participant shared that she now understood “that good conversation and relationship-building happens not only when you take the time to understand the opinion/viewpoint of someone who disagrees with you, but also the additional time and effort to understand the person behind the opinion.”
Last week, The Colossian Forum welcomed Kim Bosko as our new Administrative Assistant. Kim previously served as the database coordinator for the Van Andel Institute’s development department. She has also worked at Kids Hope USA supporting local programs in Michigan and Ohio, and led a middle school mentoring program.
Kim earned a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Saginaw Valley State University. She also received a master’s degree in Public Health from the University of Michigan.
At The Colossian Forum, Kim will work to support staff in our programming and operations departments as well as oversee event planning and our intern program. Kim’s deep desire to serve God’s people also spills over into her life outside of work where she mentors in a local elementary school.
Kim and her husband James enjoy tackling projects around the house, playing with their dog Lilly (a golden retriever), and cooking together. Welcome, Kim!
“So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”
Istanbul. Nice. Dallas. Baton Rouge. Minneapolis. Orlando.
Outrage. Mourning. Despair. Defensiveness. Anxiety. Fear. Proclaiming the message of the Prince of Peace in times like these can feel like shouting in a hurricane.
In a culture of information and data, we struggle to find the words to express our hurt for this lost and broken world, so loved by God. Hashtags and prayer memes don’t really cut it. Quick or glib answers aren’t adequate responses to the anguish, the outcry, the despair.
We serve a God of deep, bodily connection. The writer of Colossians urges us to “seek the things that are above”, but surprisingly, what we find above is the incarnate Christ. We at The Colossian Forum strive to take this truth to heart. God is not merely a God of words, but the Word incarnate. He’s a God of embodied relationships living within us and through our bodies. Relationships and hospitality are cornerstones of how we become Christian communities that actually behave like Christians in the face of conflicts like those that permeate the headlines.
I’d invite you to consider how you can open your lives, your churches, even your homes to the pain and division of our world to become a place for its healing. Take into the body of Christ the hurt and pain of the world by reaching out to someone divided from you, from God, from grace, and offer up that relationship to God, seeking together the things above. After all, it’s in the faces of the hurting, the outcast, the lowly, that we’re most likely to encounter the risen Christ.
Changing the scripts we use in the face of tragedy can be as simple as offering a kind word over a shared meal or listening past our typical ideological differences to really hear how these events impact people. Perhaps it leads to deeper connection and community with someone with different convictions and experiences. The message of Jesus through his body, the Church, has the power to transform hearts, minds, and communities. Our broken culture of violence, name calling, animosity, and polarization won’t stop unless we change the script and become the Word incarnate—the body of Christ.
This post is excerpted from our August prayer letter. To receive the prayer letter in your inbox, click on the button below.
The booming medium of podcasts (digital audio series) provides an excellent way to learn and listen to thought leaders and those with a different life perspective. Whether you listen to podcasts on your commute, while exercising, or at home on a project day, it’s a great way to expand horizons and dig deeper into topics and current events.
At The Colossian Forum, two podcasts recently bubbled up as embodying what we do here and how we look at faith, conflict, hospitality, community, and connection.
Invisibilia focuses on the invisible forces that control human behavior – ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions. This podcast from NPR combines storytelling with science, and the current series focuses on transformation.
We loved this video from the Flip the Script episode. It shows what happens when a dinner party flips the script on a robber and offers simple hospitality.
You can listen to this episode here, and the entire series is worth a listen.
On Being, distributed by PRX and broadcasting since 2001, tackles what it means to be human and how we want to live. The guests are theologians, pastors, authors, and artists who speak reflectively and candidly about what that means in our complex, 21st century life.
The host, Krista Tippett, was a guest in May to talk about her new book. The episode is full of insights into why they do what they do, why our faith stories are so vital, and the importance of respectful conversations. You can listen to that episode here.
On Being also offers each podcast episode in unedited format, which is enjoyable to listen to the rawness and natural progression of conversation.
Recent standout episodes include:
- Listening as an Act of Love: The founder of StoryCorps talks about the sacred space that emerges when two people share and listen.
- The Wisdom of Millennials: The thoughts and reasonings of the next generation are beautifully articulated by Nathan Schneider.
- And a bonus—A Conversation with Music: Music can be deeply personal, but I thoroughly enjoyed singer Carrie Newcomer sharing her songs and poetry. It made me a fan and “I Believe” has a permanent place on my playlist.
But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean?’” So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.
2 Kings 5:13-14
The Bible is full of spectacular, grand gestures. Can you imagine locusts so dense they blocked out the sun and ate every green thing in sight? Or the strong walls of a prison breaking down due to the singing of praise songs? It’s also clear in Scripture that God reveals himself in less dramatic ways—in a still small voice, or in a gentle breeze after a mighty display of weather.
Both the spectacular and the simple are of God. But we often seek and recognize the grand movements of God more than the simple ones.
Naaman, an army commander suffering with leprosy, illustrates this well. On the advice of his wife’s servant, a captured slave girl from Israel, he traveled to Israel so the prophet Elisha would heal him. Elisha gives him simple instructions to wash seven times in the Jordan River.
Naaman erupted in fury, wanting a grand display of God’s power, and disdainfully dismissed the healing properties of the small, dirty (and likely smelly) Jordan River. No fire from heaven like Elijah prayed for with the prophets of Baal? Where’s the spectacular display of the Lord Jehovah?
His servants, the lowest of the low, approached this renown warrior with insight that cut through his rage and made him see the simplicity of Elisha’s request: wash and be clean. Naaman did what Elisha instructed, and was healed of leprosy.
The servants were the ones with the eyes to see. In our increasingly post-Christian society, we’d do well to consider playing the role of a servant by pointing people to the Jordan, to God’s ability to act through simple things (like baptism) and simple people (like you and me).
And even though washing in a small river seems simple, let’s not miss the grand and spectacular act of God that happens there: Naaman is completely healed of an incurable disease in an instant. Though an act may be simple on our part, the majesty and power of God is always a grand gesture—one we continually receive with humility.
This post is excerpted from our July prayer letter. To receive the prayer letter in your inbox, click on the button below.
Shortly after arriving at TCF, Michael Gulker suggested that I consider attending the Foundations of Christian Leadership program hosted by Leadership Education at Duke Divinity. This program focuses on the idea of traditioned innovation, which, as the name suggests, has to do with innovating within existing institutions.
When I first heard the term “traditioned innovation,” I couldn’t help but think of aggiornamento, an Italian word meaning “a bringing up to date.” The word was used by Pope John XXIII, and is most often associated with the work of the Second Vatican Council (1962–65). A rival group reacted against aggiornamento, pushing instead for ressourcement, by which they meant a return to the sources. If the first group’s future orientation emphasized innovation, the second group looked to the past and emphasized tradition.
Howard E. Root, who was an Anglican observer at the Council, appropriated this distinction in his 1972 Bampton Lectures, speaking of two kinds of radicalism, one forward-looking and the other backward-looking. In his lectures “The Limits of Radicalism,” Root addressed radicalism and tradition, and more specifically, the death of God theology that had grown from the seeds of 1960s Cambridge radicalism. Root’s concern was that these radicals were obsessed with change, evincing a perpetual anxiety for the future. Root, who was himself a one-time Cambridge radical, wished to distance himself from this particular variety of radicalism, and so advocated a radicalism rooted in tradition. Drawing upon his experience at the Second Vatican Council, Root was practicing traditioned innovation.
Why is this history important? Because it offers a backdrop for navigating our current context, one in which we face a host of wicked problems requiring a Root-styled, backward-looking radicalism. Root understood that radicalism (i.e., innovation) is necessary, but that it must be carefully distinguished from reductionism. Theological integrity (i.e., tradition) must be maintained. And yet, in maintaining tradition, we must not treat theology as a “museum subject.” Theology, after all, is not “a subject in the past tense” (Root, “The Limits of Radicalism,” Lecture 2). This led Root, in his final lecture, to conclude: “The limits of radicalism are those which end not in chaos but in the breaking of fresh ground. Let the voices speak. Let the contestants push to those limits they find for themselves. In the end, theology is not its own master. Tradition is not an overlord or a censor. It is there. What will last will last. What will fall away will fall away. Method will unfold itself in the exploration” (Root, “The Limits of Radicalism,” Lecture 8).
For Root, the exploration unfolded in a number of interesting contexts, but most relevant here is his participation as a member of the first phase of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC). Now in its third phase (2011–present), ARCIC is working through issues related to “fundamental questions regarding the ‘Church as Communion – Local and Universal’, and ‘How in communion the Local and Universal Church comes to discern right ethical teaching’.” (IARCCUM) Unlike the earlier phases that were concerned with comparing beliefs or finding common sources, this third phase – influenced by the Receptive Ecumenism project – is seeking to change the question from “What do the other traditions first need to learn from us?” to “What do we need to learn from them?” They are, in other words, seeking to innovate what was in Root’s time an innovation.
TCF is in many respects similar to this exercise in church learning. Standing in a long tradition of intra-Church dialogue, then, we are committed to facilitating dialogue on divisive topics and approaching differing perspectives as Christ-given opportunities to build community, expand knowledge, and deepen faith. Our innovation is a unique combination of conversations that might be represented as follows:
Wicked Problems + Christian Virtues = Conflict as Opportunity
Making progress on these wicked problems requires a willingness to enter into relationships, risking vulnerability, and refusing competition. It requires, in other words, that we practice the Christian virtues of love, hospitality, patience, etc. The dialogue need not be feared. It can be faced. We can, with God’s help, put hope in practice.
We’re thrilled to announce that The Colossian Forum, along with our partners at Kuyers Institute for Christian Teaching and Learning, received a grant from the John Templeton Foundation to support the next phase of the FAST (Faith and Science Teaching) Project.
FAST is a resource to equip high school teachers to engage big questions around faith and science with both confidence and creativity, with the goal of changing the way young people consider these big questions, thereby opening the way for humble inquiry and faithful pursuit of both intellectual and spiritual virtue.
The first phase of FAST will conclude this September with the launch of the FAST website. This phase centered around developing alternative and fruitful ways of integrating education at the intersection of faith and science through creation of a web-based curricular resource and training for teachers of science and religion.
FAST’s second phase (which this new grant makes possible) will:
- Nearly double the number of activities provided on the FAST website
- Produce two short films that creatively illustrate the FAST approach to teaching
- Embed FAST into a high school, creating a model to inspire other institutions
Our goal is that the FAST website will become a trusted source for high quality, creative, and integrated teaching materials that foster discipleship in the context of scientific inquiry. We couldn’t undertake this project without the support of partners like the John Templeton Foundation or without your gifts and prayers as we seek to invite young people to engage potentially thorny topics (like the intersection of faith and science) as occasions to build Christian communities that actually look Christian.
I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; they only heard it said, “The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me.
– Galatians 1:22-24
The name of Saul struck fear in the hearts of many Christians in the first century. Believers knew that when he headed their way, they’d better take cover or prepare to die for their faith. He was dangerous–the epitome of religious zealotry gone awry, vigorously persecuting Christians wherever and whenever he could.
But even the most dangerous zealot is not outside the reach of God’s redeeming love. Saul (turned Paul) recalls his stunning encounter with the risen Lord, his subsequent repentance and commissioning by Jesus himself to spread the Gospel to the Gentiles.
That’s what we find Paul doing when we encounter him in this week’s lectionary–living out his repentance, heeding God’s call to continue evangelizing the Gentiles. Of course, his dangerous reputation continued to precede him, despite his conversion.
We discover that many not only risked receiving him, they glorified God because of him. Yet, they must have been frightened, wondering if this was some sort of bait-and-switch to lure them to their deaths. After all, how does someone change THAT drastically?
Most rational people would urge caution under the circumstances. How was it that these early Christians responded with hospitality and praise rather than hostility and fear? Why didn’t they respond by circling the bandwagon to protect themselves from this potentially deadly threat?
One likely answer to these questions is that they, like Paul, underwent a radical conversion–one from fear to faith, from hostility to hospitality. They too encountered the risen Lord and were now ready to take up the practice of risky hospitality toward those whom they had previously considered (and perhaps still considered) threatening.
How might we become like those first Christians whose default response to fearful situations and changing cultural landscapes was one of vulnerable hospitality and gratefulness to God?
When confronted with deeply divisive cultural issues, we’ve seen here at The Colossian Forum how pausing to regularly meditate on our own encounter with the crucified and risen Lord helps transform us into people who see conflict through a lens of hope and glorification instead of suspicion and fear. In Christ and his body, God has already given us everything we need to be faithful; we simply need to put into practice what we have learned–that while loving others is risky, the power of the resurrection has already overcome all obstacles. Even death. Thus, the life-changing message of Jesus, though it may call us to dangerous sacrifice, can be met with joy, hope, and giving glory to God.
Engaging conflict in this way helps create communities that look like Jesus. And ultimately, this is the promised future of every Christian community. Why don’t we take a chance and begin living into that reality today? Others may just end up glorifying God because of us.
This post is excerpted from our June prayer letter. To receive the prayer letter in your inbox, click on the button below.
Rebecca Kates, former intern at The Colossian Forum, wrote a series of blog posts for us about millennials and how they see and pursue unity. Here’s part one, part two, part three, part four, part five and part six of the series. She recently graduated with a masters degree in Theological Studies at Calvin Theological Seminary, and we’re thrilled to share her insights with you.
Perfect unity and reconciliation across denominations, political affiliations, nationalities, economic levels and races is beyond our abilities and even our vision as Oscar Romero points out. Still it is the work of God to bring the kingdom and he invites us into the work he is about.
Depending on how it is done, being challenged by Christians from different traditions is a great experience. It is an experience that can, at times, be elusive in our society where it is so easy to segregate. That is why it is so important to seek out opportunities to meet with people who are different from us. The Colossian Forum model of using prayer, worship and discussions to grow in Christian love of God and neighbor while engaging challenging topics is an essential practice in developing an “ecumenical reflex”. A reflex that John Radano describes as “a conscious urge and commitment, despite major problems, to continue the reconstitution of the unity of Christians.” (John A. Radano, “The Future of Our Journey: Issues Facing Ecumenism” in Ecumenical Trends 37, no. 5 (2008): 4/68-10/74.) In the mess and confusion of bringing different traditions together, we have the chance of expanding our horizons.
We can do this in many ways and it can be done in a myriad of ways. The first step may be placing ourselves somewhere where we have the chance to encounter the other. Some people might move to a neighborhood where people do not all look the same or live the same way. It might mean a church pastor or priest calling up the church leader of the ministry or church down the street and collaborating on some project to reach out to the neighborhood. It could mean turning off the television and inviting someone you don’t know over to dinner or riding the bus instead of driving. It is important for younger generations to see older generations committed to loving their neighbors and reconciliation across peoples.
There are many different areas for the church to pursue unity and reconciliation. Transforming conflicts into opportunities could bring both healing and excitement for many in the church.
Rebecca Kates, former intern at The Colossian Forum, wrote a series of blog posts for us about millennials and how they see and pursue unity. Here’s part one, part two, part three, part four, and part five of the series. She recently graduated with a masters degree in Theological Studies at Calvin Theological Seminary, and we’re thrilled to share her insights with you.
A deep commitment to reconciliation may be the difficult work that begins to bring back this generation. The past century has seen great divisions but also great pushes toward reconciliation and often, young people have been the drivers. In the 60s young people were fed up with seeing the injustices of racial segregation and persecution (something which the church still needs to face). Michael Novak commented in 1969,
Segregation is a great human evil precisely because it is a narrow prison–a prison for both groups who are segregated one from another. Each segregated group settles for less than the full range of human possibilities. Each makes a clay god out of its own “way of life” and in the name of that idol cuts human aspirations down to size until each individual is mutilated enough to fit “in his place.”
–Identity and Intimacy. In A Theology for Radical Politics (p. 40). New York, New York: Herder and Herder New York.
When we are segregated from one another, we miss out on our full potential, which is something very important to young people. Though progress has been made in some areas of our culture to bring people together, there is a great deal more to be done. Segregation pops up in many forms. We are now more than ever separated from our neighbors. We have our private suburban homes, our own yards surrounded by a picket fence. We must drive everywhere we need to go, in our own cars, bypassing any opportunity to get to know our neighbors. The very structure of sprawling cities with no urban center promotes segregation. Similarly, our church experience is often just as segregated as the rest of our lives, as churches have split in so many ways as to allow everyone to choose what accommodates them. Perhaps young people leave the church because they aren’t experiencing the full range of human possibility that comes with diversity and reconciliation. Michael Novak further comments,
To some extent, a man needs at least two communities if he is to find himself. If he is a member of one community only, the inertia of human life seems to be such that his identity is handed to him too easily; social pressures tell him who he is. But expose a man to the possibilities of another community of life and instantly psychic energies are released, confusion arises, and the germs of creativity begin to multiply in the chaos.
–Identity and Intimacy. In A Theology for Radical Politics (p. 40). New York, New York: Herder and Herder New York.
So much life can be brought to a community when diversity and reconciliation is embraced. When we are confronted with big questions we are forced to either have faith in God or give up in despair. Though falling into despair is a risk, we never fully grow into the mature daughters and sons that God has called us to be without facing big questions and wrestling with differences. Several responses in the survey discussed in the previous blogs illustrate this point:
As members of different churches we have different approaches to the ways that we live our faith. Some of the comments, prayers and discussions that sisters and brothers from another denomination can bring forward are sometimes things we would have never thought about but that truly strengthen our faith.
Challenging but worth it. I continue to choose an ecumenical life because I can’t see my life without the richness of daily ecumenism. My Christian spirituality would be poorer without it. There are misunderstandings, carelessness, and insensitivity involved, but also so much depth. I HAVE to talk about certain theological and practical differences with my friends because I can’t take it for granted that we agree (or disagree!). … It challenges me to know my own tradition better, because I get asked about things regularly. If I were only around other Anglicans, I probably wouldn’t know Anglicanism as well as I do – because other Anglicans don’t ask me questions about it!
Our culture’s response to disagreements is often to embrace relativism or to segregate in order to not have to deal with the difficulty of working together. Though this is hard work, the students who participated in trying to live together in discipleship despite having lots of big questions found it overwhelmingly worth it. Many young people want to be challenged. They don’t mind when people do not have all the answers. They want to be at peace with the discomfort that diversity can bring, and perhaps more fundamentally, they want the commitment to one another that is stronger than the disagreements between them.
Rebecca Kates, former intern at The Colossian Forum, wrote a series of blog posts for us about millennials and how they see and pursue unity. Here’s part one, part two, part three, and part four of the series. She recently graduated with a masters degree in Theological Studies at Calvin Theological Seminary, and we’re thrilled to share her insights with you.
I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, … and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.
— Sylvia Plath, the Bell Jar
Having worked a number of years in two different college ministries and attended a variety of conferences on youth ministry, I have often heard youth ministers (myself included) lament the lack of commitment of my generation and younger. Young adults these days move from place to place; they have so many choices that many struggle so much with choosing a path that they risk not committing to anything. This is proclaimed as one of the problems contributing to young people leaving the church or the difficulty of doing effective ministry among them. Lack of commitment makes this generation difficult to reach.
While it may be true that young adults have problems with commitment, the Church has itself struggled with commitment long before this generation came to be. In order to be committed to something, a person or church must have a good practice of reconciliation when disagreements inevitably arise. Instead, when things get tough, we have seen the church splinter in thousands of different directions.
Many churches may not see this as a problem because they focus on what Chris Rice and Emmanuel Katongole in their book Reconciling All Things call a “gospel of evacuation.” This gospel focuses almost exclusively on personal piety, well-being, and individual reconciliation with God rather than a gospel that transforms people and the brokenness of social realities and history. With a sole focus on personal piety and a person’s salvation only for an eternal afterlife somewhere else, the brokenness of much of church and society can be ignored. But the good news of the gospel is to bring shalom for all of creation -people, the environment, social structures, and more. Many young adults value authenticity and will use it as an excuse to not go to church because the rituals seem inauthentic to them. What they could be rightly pointing out is that the gospel the church proclaims is not being reflected in the churches seeking out reconciliation with others. Too easily we shut out people instead.
Rebecca Kates, former intern at The Colossian Forum, wrote a series of blog posts for us about millennials and how they see and pursue unity. Here’s part one, part two and part three of the series. She recently graduated with a masters degree in Theological Studies at Calvin Theological Seminary, and we’re thrilled to share her insights with you.
Over the past several months, a group of friends and I have engaged in a series of forums regarding issues important to Millennials in the Church. Topics have included poverty and economics, environmental issues, submission in the Church, and many more. These are topics that are extremely important to the Body of Christ in the present era, but the Church is by no means unified on the answers. For these forums, young people from many different denominations have been present as we enjoyed food and drink, laughed and prayed together. Many of our participants have expressed a feeling of excitement, belonging, and rejuvenation in the midst of these conversations. How is it that in the midst of what should be contentious issues, these people have found a sense of community and belonging? What is it about these experiences that people find good and life-giving?
In my previous blogs (read part one, part two, and part three), I discussed the great potential for the Church to grow in unity. I suggested that this could be the missing factor that could draw people of my generation back to the church. The question now is what are the benefits and challenges of engaging in this sort of exercise in ecumenism?
To explore this, I turn once again to the responses of over 300 young adult participants involved or previously involved in an ecumenical college ministry, University Christian Outreach. The participants came from a variety of nondenominational churches, Protestant, Roman Catholic and various Orthodox traditions.
The participants engaged in a number of ecumenical practices including communal prayer, worship, spiritual conversations, Bible study, meals, and living situations. The model practiced here is similar to a model of receptive ecumenism where participants brought their beliefs and Christian practices from their backgrounds that could enrich and not compromise other participants beliefs and practices.
These participants had overall agreement (86.6%) that knowing Christians from different denominations had drawn them closer to Christ. How did they build relationships and what obstacles did they have to overcome?
A major challenge mentioned by participants was overcoming misconceptions they had of others or others had of them. 72.08% of participants agreed with the statement, “I had one or more misconceptions of a different denomination before meeting someone from that tradition.”
Many of the participants’ misconceptions consisted of questioning the authenticity of another’s faith in Jesus based on how the person practiced or failed to practice various spiritual activities. Many did not understand the reason behind various practices. The following responses illustrate this:
I had the misconception that Protestants were more about obeying God because if they don’t they will burn in hell forever (as opposed to Catholics trying to do it more to please God and for love). I could overcome this prejudice by spending time, praying and worshiping with them to have an experience of my own which showed me that wasn’t the case. I have been able to overcome other similar misconceptions the same say, perhaps being the most important one my relationship with Mother Mary and also the importance of the Sacraments for me.
The biggest difficulty in building a relationship with my Greek Orthodox friend was not knowing different aspects of her faith. I did not understand why she had so many icons and why she prayed with them. I asked her a lot of questions about her denomination and she explained a lot of things to me. That helped us grow closer and overcome our differences with understanding.
Some even encountered other Christians doubting their salvation or relationship with Jesus:
I was once faced with a friend’s parents and uncles having some doubts about me being saved because I was a Catholic. I had dinner at their house quite often so over time I was able to share my faith, mostly through talking about my relationship with God through Jesus and my service to church. They asked many questions so I was able to share my thoughts. It was helpful. They recognized my sincerity and dedication to evangelism and I think that helped break down some of their doubts about Catholicism or at the very least my own salvation. The whole experience showed me that they were concerned more for me than what denomination I was a part of and that was nice. They also grew to respect me. We still have a mutual respect for each other. I think there was an openness and a humility on both parts to stick to the friendship long enough to get to the point of mutual understanding and respect.
Another difficulty that was fairly common for participants was facing triumphalist attitudes from other participants or feeling proselytized:
A challenge that I have faced and continue to face is the stance of many Catholics on the inherent superiority of their church. On an emotional and intellectual level, I can feel offended or slighted by this. Here again, building relationships of trust has been key–when I have Catholic friends who I know respect me and respect my relationship with the Lord and knowledge of him, I am encouraged to be able to move forward in relationship with other Catholics, despite the overall stance that I find off putting.
The biggest challenge I had was with some Eastern Orthodox. Though I adored many of their theological views, I often find dialogue strained by some of their exclusivist views on the Church. I found some EO believers who were more willing to believe that I, as a non-Orthodox Christian, am in the Church, but my heart was still broken about the majority who do not believe I am truly in the Church of Christ. Nevertheless, when I found out their willingness to be friends, and see the image of God in me, as well as their refusal to say I am bound to hell and that they were more than hopeful for my salvation, I found peace. It took listening, and it took humbling on my part to realize that our languages and worldviews are very different, but I am thankful we can at least all see God in one another.
[Challenges arose] when he/she was more interested in his/her doctrine and converting me than in Christ’s will!
Though some complained about people assuming they had triumphalist attitudes:
A lot of people assume that being a Catholic, I am not ecumenical, am arrogant about my tradition, and think all others are wrong. I find this a common misconception that people have towards Catholics. Sharing my testimony and about my relationship with Christ helps people see that it is not our tradition that defines us and the boundaries and characteristics about our relationship with Christ. Also telling them that I very strongly believe and encourage ecumenism is helpful.
Many, however, found the attitude of downplaying the importance of differences to be challenging as one respondent put it: “A frustrating notion that there are “no big differences”. Though many people found that they learned something from a Christian of a different denomination, the majority still believed that theological differences are important and that they are part of the tradition they believe is best. These sentiments are illustrated in the following survey results:
57.68% agree or strongly agree with the statement, “My church could learn from the doctrines of a different denomination.” 21.16% disagree or strongly disagree. 21.16% neither agree nor disagree.
61.17%, agree or strongly agree with the statement, “My church could learn from liturgical practices of a different denomination.” 18.56% disagree or strongly disagree. 20.27% neither agree nor disagree.
64.51% agree or strongly agree with the statement, “Theological differences between denominations are important.” 13.65% disagree or strongly disagree, and 21.84% neither agree nor disagree.
62.88% agree or strongly agree with the statement, “I am part of the denomination that I think is best.” 9.28% disagree or strongly disagree. 27.84% neither agree nor disagree.
The survey also sought to answer the question, “what practices can Christians engage in to foster unity? Which practices are the least helpful?”
A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.
It’s easy to overlook or diminish the Christian practice of hospitality. After all, it’s not flashy, not usually very public, and not likely to appear on a meme that’s shared thousands of times on social media. But if done faithfully, it can be one of the most effective ways to orient our homes and hearts toward the kingdom of God.
In this week’s lectionary, Paul introduces us to Lydia, who he and his friends stumble upon when seeking a place of prayer on the Sabbath. She hears the Good News, is immediately captivated, is baptized (along with her entire household), and then insists that the traveling party stay with her family while in Thyatira.
Lydia’s first response to hearing the gospel is baptism. Her second is openness to these strangers. The two go together: we know Lydia received God’s hospitality because she now extends it to others.
How often do we link our baptismal identity with hospitality? When presented with a need, are we quick to open our homes and hearts? Or are we more likely to stay behind the comfortable walls and protective screens of our homes and phones?
God calls us to something deeper and richer. He invites us to respond with vulnerability and receptivity to the needs of others so that we might participate more deeply in the very life of God.
What would it mean for us to put this into action? What stranger do you need to invite into your life? How might we become the kinds of people who respond to situations like the refuge crisis with, “Yes! Come stay with me” instead of “Someone else will take care of it”?
While I’m still far from becoming such a person, I have been privileged to participate in God’s hospitality through the work of The Colossian Forum. We’ve seen over and over how receiving “strangers” in kindness and love often germinates into friendship and communion with one another and with God. This story in Acts reminds us that living as a disciple means responding to God’s hospitality by participating in it in all aspects of our lives.
My prayer this month is that our initial response as Christians when we encounter people who think and act differently from us would be to offer the hospitality that God first and still shows us.
This post is excerpted from our May prayer letter. To receive the prayer letter in your inbox, click on the button below.
My time at The Colossian Forum is coming to an end, and I invite you to pause with me, grieve what no longer is, celebrate what God has done over the past few years, and look expectantly to the future.
For me, working at The Colossian Forum has been an incubation space where I have been graced with a freedom to try new things, learn, and experience vulnerable community. Catching our vision for a transformed and renewed Church has provided me a new perspective that I will continue to carry with me: where conflict is opportunity, disciples are made in community, and the importance of spiritual disciplines in the path toward reconciliation.
The practice of praying with my co-workers each morning is one way I have experienced grace and gratitude–gifts that have formed me into the kind of co-worker and wife that is more patient and less fearful.
TCF, thank you for all the ways you’ve poured into me and given me new ways to use my gifts to serve others. Leaving this family is like being in a space between stories, as most seasons of change are. Despite the discomfort of this current space in my life, I’m hopeful that the Lord’s plans for myself and The Colossian Forum’s future will unfold with a sense of joy and awe at His incomprehensible love.
I leave you with these two quotes:
“So please, if you are in the sacred space between stories, allow yourself to be there. It is frightening to lose the old structures of security, but you will find that even as you might lose things that were unthinkable to lose, you will be okay. There is a kind of grace that protects us in the space between stories.”
“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”
Jeanna Boase served as our administrative assistant here at The Colossian Forum for over three years. She is finishing her MA counseling degree from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary and will be taking a full-time course load this summer. We look forward to seeing what doors open this fall as she wraps up her final class. God’s blessing to you in this new adventure, Jeanna; you will be missed!
Rebecca Kates, former intern at The Colossian Forum, wrote a series of blog posts for us about millennials and how they see and pursue unity. Here’s part one of the series and part two. She recently graduated with a masters degree in Theological Studies at Calvin Theological Seminary, and we’re thrilled to share her insights with you.
The forum model that The Colossian Forum teaches is another form of ecumenism. The task of The Colossian Forum is to testify to the truth that in Christ all things hold together. That all things hold together in Christ is something with which Christians agree. Through being united in this truth we can seize conflicts as opportunities to learn and experience how it is true that God is in control, is merciful and wise. Therefore we need not segregate ourselves from anyone who is different or disagrees with us the way the church so often has done. The freedom that we find in the truth that Christ holds all things together enables us to use our interactions as training grounds for growing in the fruit of the Spirit. Though we don’t all agree or like each other at all times, we can still achieve a form of unity under the guidance of the Spirit.
Why is this relevant right now? It is particularly relevant to me as a young adult living in a postmodern society. I often hear that young people are leaving the church in droves. I have been to so many churches that are on campaigns to bring my generation back by trying to be more appealing, oftentimes by attempting to incorporate more elements of popular culture into the services and church life. But what I think this generation is so tired of is the division and break-down of church community. Many churches do recognize the breakdown of community and try to rectify it, but oftentimes they fail to realize how deep the problems are and do not go to the extent of seeking reconciliation of churches and church members along political, economic, racial and theological lines.
Witnessing and experiencing deep reconciliation is something that could draw disillusioned young adults back to the church. In the Fall of 2013 I conducted a survey of over 300 members and graduates through age 30 of the ecumenical college ministry that lead the prayer meeting where I had my Revelation 7 moment. My goal was to learn about these students’ ecumenical experiences of getting to know Christians from different denominations. (The term “ecumenism” as it is used here means simply people from different Christian traditions practicing unity in various capacities.) The overarching consensus was that while there were challenges to practicing faith together with Christians from different traditions, it actually strengthened participants’ faith rather than weakening it. In response to the statement, “Knowing Christians from different denominations has drawn me closer to Christ,” 86.6% of respondents either agree or strongly agree. Similarly, 85.42% of respondents either agree or strongly agree with the statement, “praying and worshipping with Christians from different denominations increases my faith.”
In a time of anxiety on the part of the church over the engagement of the Millennial generation, it seems that there is an important counter-narrative to be told. Is it possible that it is disillusionment over division rather than apathy or boredom that drives young people from the Church? Is it possible that this hole in our witness is an opportunity to revitalize and build a more just Church that more fully shows the unity of the Body of Christ? The results discussed above show the passion that young people can have when Christians of different stripes seek to worship in unity. Could this passion translate to a revival in the Church? My next blog will further explore the experiences of these young people, revealing both the blessings as well as the challenges of seeking to live together despite our differences.
Rebecca Kates, former intern at The Colossian Forum, wrote a series of blog posts for us about millennials and how they see and pursue unity. Read part one of the series here. She recently graduated with a masters degree in Theological Studies at Calvin Theological Seminary, and we’re thrilled to share her insights with you. Look for more in the coming weeks!
Despite the disagreements, it seems that the church has made progress. After centuries of deep division, the 20th century saw great advances in ecumenism. The Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches issued a common declaration in 1965 to erase the mutual sentences of excommunication from 1054. The Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church signed the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification in 1999 expressing agreement on many points of doctrine regarding justification, which largely initiated the Reformation. The World Council of Churches was created in 1948 and has initiated many bilateral and multilateral dialogues among many denominations.
Advances in unity have occurred not only among church theologians but also among lay members. The church has come a long way, as Jacques Callot’s picture, “The Hanging,” reminds us. For much of history, Europe was divided in gruesome conflicts in which differences in Christian theology played a part. The church for the most part has laid down her physical weapons against each other.
At the Second Vatican Council Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Ut Unum Sint took ecumenism a step further and declared that it is the duty of every Christian to seek unity,
The Council calls for personal conversion as well as for communal conversion. The desire of every Christian Community for unity goes hand in hand with its fidelity to the Gospel. In the case of individuals who live their Christian vocation, the Council speaks of interior conversion, of a renewal of mind. – Pope John Paul II, Ut Unum Sum, 15.
With this call, for many Christians ecumenism (seeking Christian unity in some form) is now not only for church leaders, but for every Christian. There are many ways Christians can do this. Many charities and groups have been formed among members of different denominations. For some, the model may include coming together around the ‘least common denominator,’ as in members of different denominations will not bring any of their differences into the community and only what people share can be expressed. On the flip side, another model might be that people can bring into the community whatever difference they want and people who disagree with those practices or differences simply ignore them or practice a relativistic attitude towards it.
A model that fits more in the middle ground might be what John Paul II in Ut Unum Sum calls an “exchange of gifts.” An exchange of gifts is more than simply exchanging ideas in a theological dialogue, but rather finding ways for each member to complement one another. Avery Cardinal Dulles points to a conference in 2006 at Durham University as an example of this,
Conducting an experiment in what the conference called “receptive ecumenism,” the speakers were asked to discuss what they could find in their traditions that might be acceptable to the Catholic Church without detriment to its identity…Unlike some recent models of dialogue, ecumenism of this style leaves the participants free to draw on their own normative resources and does not constrain them to bracket or minimize what is specific to themselves. Far from being ashamed of their own distinctive doctrines and practices, each partner should feel privileged to be able to contribute something positive that the others lack. – Avery Cardinal Dulles, “Saving Ecumenism from Itself” in First Things, no. 178 (December 2007): 23-27.
In this model of “receptive ecumenism” or the “exchange of gifts,” groups do not need to find the least common denominator between them, but rather different members of denominations can bring things unique to their tradition, so long as it does not contradict another denomination’s beliefs. An example of this might be in an ecumenical setting, an Orthodox participant may not bring into the setting the practice of using icons in prayer, but could bring some of her practices of fasting.
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
John 20: 19-21
Easter has come and gone. The Risen Christ stands victorious over sin and death, yet the disciples are still trying to make sense of things—much as we are, all these centuries later. Can it really be true? If so, what does it mean?
In the midst of the political and social unrest after the events of Holy Week, the disciples holed up together, afraid, unsure of their future. When Jesus mysteriously appears to the disciples in that locked upper room, the first words he says to his closest followers are “Peace be with you.” In our churches today, we often reduce the opportunity to “pass the peace of Christ” into a quick handshake and “g’morning” (wondering if there’s hand sanitizer close by).
But the peace of Christ offered to us is so much more. In the chaos following the first Easter, Jesus appears to his disciples and gives them a precious gift: peace.
Anxiety and worry are ever-present today. On the news. In our churches. In our homes. It can be crippling. But the Lord calls us to be present with him and take the holy peace that he gives freely to us.
After offering that costly peace, Jesus shows the disciples his wounds, wounds of death that he has overcome, and they rejoice in the fact that Jesus has risen indeed. Then Jesus offers peace yet again, but this time follows it with a call to action. As the Father sent him, so also he sends us.
It makes sense if you think about it: when we are crippled by fear, worry, and anxiety, we cannot actively embody Christ in our world. But once we accept and receive the freely-given peace that Christ offers, from that place of being present and fully trusting the Lord, only then are we sent to do Christ’s work in our world, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
In our work at The Colossian Forum, we intentionally carve out moments of peace and worship throughout each forum. These moments of peace remind us that the core of this world, despite all appearances, is peace: a peace that has overcome all of our fears and conflicts and divisions. Because of the peace that Christ offered us, we are made—the deepest and truest sense—at peace with God and with one another, even if we happen to disagree about a particular divisive topic.
In those moments when we utter, “peace be with you,” we participate in the deepest truth of the world, the truth of God’s own inner life now extended to us through Christ’s body. Full of God’s own life and the reconciling power of the Spirit, we are now sent into a fragmented world with something to say: Peace be with you.
This post is excerpted from our April prayer letter. To receive the prayer letter in your inbox, click on the button below.
We have three small but noteworthy items to share in the life of The Colossian Forum:
2015 Annual Report
The Colossian Forum had a busy and fruitful 2015, and you can read about it in our annual report. We’re entering a season of growth and are so grateful to God and to all of you, our partners, to carry forward the message that all things hold together in Christ (Colossians 1:17).
Chris Brewer named Calvin Institute of Christian Worship Visiting Scholar
Chris, our manager of church partner development at TCF, was named a visiting scholar for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship in Grand Rapids. While a visiting scholar, he plans to explore how divisive issues in Christian communities might be addressed in and through the worship practices of the church. Congrats, Chris!
The Gathering Place webinar
Earlier this week, Michael Gulker presented a webinar on “Conflict as Opportunity” for The Gathering Place, a ministry of the Mennonite church for youth leaders. You can watch the webinar here as Michael unpacks learning to fight like Jesus in the age of Donald Trump.