Jun  2011 27

Last week I taught a concentrated course entitled "Ecclesiologies: Models and Practices of Church." As part of our class time, we visited six different Tulsa-area houses of worship: One synagogue and five Christian churches. Among the churches, there was sampling (by no means an exhaustive one) of ecclesiological models and practices.   

Following our field trips, we discussed our growing shared understanding of all that is at stake in ecclesiology.   

There were questions of definition. Is the church the divine institution to whom Christ and the Holy Spirit directly bequeathed an unchanging deposit of faith? Or is the church a shelter from an unjust world that seeks to dehumanize those on the margins? Or is the church, very often, the one doing the dehumanizing? Is the church an agitator for social change, even if such agitation comes at the expense of being seen as attractive and relevant? Is the church a hospital for sinners, or a society of saints? Or a school for prophets?  Is "the church" - as opposed to "church" or "churches" or "First Congregational Church of Anytown, USA" - even the proper term?   

And there were questions of justice and practice. Is it really even the place of a church or denomination to proclaim that "all are welcome" -- without taking steps and being held accountable to see that that's actually the case? Should "we" (i.e. churchly power-brokers) even be welcoming anyone to "our" table as a first step to justice? Or, rather, does true justice involve the traditional power-brokers no longer exercising primary responsibility for this table, let alone be in a position to issue the invitations? Does "hospitality" actually conceal a covert reinforcement of the status quo? (Or, if you prefer a more theologically-evocative term, the powers and principalities)?  

Of course, definitions cannot be separated from justice or from practice. And it wouldn't be a PTS class if we didn't end with more questions than answers. But I'd like to extend my gratitude - and, I expect, the gratitude of the entire class - to the following Tulsa communities of faith for opening their doors and their schedules to us: B'nai Emunah Synagogue, Saint Antony Orthodox Church, Holy Family Cathedral, Metropolitan Baptist Church, Vernon Chapel AME Church, and Community of Hope.


Browse more posts by: Sarah Morice Brubaker, Phillips Faculty
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