Follower of Jesus or member of the Body of Christ?

I have begun work on a book, at the moment theological and philosophical reflections on ministry at the edges of denominational and institutional Christianity.  I’m not against denominational and institutional Christianity (I’m deliberately avoiding the word “church”, ecclesia).  The marginal path I have followed (in relationship to denomination and institutions) wasn’t calculated.  However, it also isn’t terribly surprising. In seminary I was quite open about my participation and identification with goth subculture.  This and my ecumenical marriage to an Episcopalian was seen by some institutional types in my denomination as two very large obstacles to my placement in congregations they oversaw.

I never had the chance to prove them wrong: a couple, goth and Christian, just after seminary approached my wife and I asking us to help them discern if intentional Christian community was something for them: we began to meet, share meals, offer hospitality and study of Scripture and monasticism.  To our surprise they asked us to found a community with them, The Community of the Holy Trinity.

A year later I was approached by an American Baptist, Tripp Hudgins, about participating in an ecumenical church plant, eventually named Church of Jesus Christ, Reconciler.  Intrigued and interested I took the idea to Herb Freedholm, then Superintendent of the Central Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church (my denomination), and he sent me as the Covenant pastor of the church start, saying that I and the Covenant needed to be involved in this and that the details would be worked out along the way.  7 years later I was ordained to a call and ministry that had radically changed, after years of being a licensed but not ordained minister in the Evangelical Covenant Church.

In participating in starting an intentional Christian community and an ecumenical church plant I was seeking to be more fully part of the church (I really don’t know whether or not to capitalize the word, lower and upper case so fraught with meaning).  My seminary training and personal study had lead me to deeply question the ecclesial nature of all forms of Protestantism.  My internship was half spent researching and writing a paper on apostolicity as a mark of the church, who has and who could claim apostolic continuity (or succession if you prefer).  Engaging monasticism creatively(June 2003 was the founding of the Community of the Holy Trinity, before the term New Monasticism was coined and applied to a form of intentional Christian community), and by starting ecumenical congregation were attempts to find or realize that apostolic continuity as someone already on the edge of Protestantism (I had already begun to write icons according to Eastern Orthodox canons/rules/tradition).  Through out this time the claims of both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy to simply be the Church (capitalization seems appropriate here) have been unshakable and yet also claims which I’ve been unable to embrace.

There’s a hymn of my childhood that still moves me ” I have decided to follow Jesus … no turning back, no turning back.”  It’s a lonely hymn, though.  I have sought to follow Jesus to be a disciple, and that following has lead me to ask questions about the church and being a member of  the Body of Christ.  In this questioning and longing I’ve been lead to admit that simply following Jesus or being a “believer” is the beginning not the destination.  We are to be Christ, not individually but in some corporeal sense, in a form not a formless mass of all individuals who might claim to follow Jesus. This is a persistent conviction.  Doesn’t Jesus say something about this? Some who think they are following him will find that they have never known Jesus Christ.  But I’m also baptized, there is something to this sacramental act, it takes us beyond following and discipleship. isn’t that what the “Great commission” implies? 

Even with all these questions about the Body of Christ and if or how I’m a member of Christ, I still want to say that this ministry at the margins I have been doing for nearly 11 years, has been an ecclesial act.  How this could be so, and why I continue compelled down this path is part of what I think I want to explore in this book.

Keep a watch here, these are the things I’ll be wrestling with more as I attempt to refine a foci for the book, and work out what it will include.  Some of it may end up here first, though mostly what will appear here will be what is tangential to what I writing.