Unity Within Diversity

Unity Within Diversity 1

by Amos Smith

Some authors, such as our very own John Dorhauer, have written about the colossal brush strokes of Church 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0.2 These are the Pre-reformation Church, The Post-reformation Church, and today’s Emergent Church.

Church 1.0 is the pre-reformation church with its primary authority vested in the hierarchy of the priesthood. Church 2.0 is the post-reformation church, with its rallying cry: “Solo Scriptura.” This was a radical shift of authority from clerical to scriptural! Church 2.0 believed that with the help of the Holy Spirit any baptized Christian had the authority to read and interpret scripture, not just institutional church authorities (1.0 and 2.0 Churches are alive and well today). Church 3.0 is what author Cameron Trimble and others say is emerging now. In this emerging Church scripture is not the end all, be all, as it is for Church 2.0. So, what will define Church 3.0?

I think the most authentic strains of Church 3.0 will rally around two words: Jesus and Justice. If I were persuaded to summarize the Hebrew Scriptures with one word I would say “Justice.” If I were swayed to summarize the New Testament with one word I would say “Jesus.” The words of the Hebrew Scriptures, above all else, point to Justice. The words of the New Testament, above all else, point to Jesus. These are the root words of Judeo-Christian Tradition. If the church loses these two words it has ceased to be the church and should call itself something else, perhaps Unitarian, perhaps Bahai.3

Some progressive churches know how to spell justice! They are missional churches through and through. And this is wonderful. This is the dream of church realized! Yet, many of these churches have sidelined Jesus or dispensed with Jesus all together. A prime example is a church I visited in Berkeley where I was told, “We don’t use the J word here. Too many people have been burned by it.” “Christ” is the root of the word “Christian.” So, this statement baffles me.

The other extreme are churches who know how to spell Jesus with precision and vigor. Yet, they have not caught on to justice. These churches are about a mere belief system. Yet, Christianity is not primarily a belief system! It is a life to be lived, an idea to be worked out, a task to be done! In other words, Christianity is about following Jesus onto the path of justice! These churches also tend to be insular and dying. A vital church cannot be about an exclusive theology of Jesus. For one thing, this is not true to the Gospel witness. For another, this prevents full-on engagement in justice missions outside church walls, which is the point of church from the beginning.

My book, Healing the Divide, addresses churches who emphasize Jesus to the exclusion of justice and vice versa. It outlines a theology of Jesus that is broad enough for Church 3.0 and for our postmodern world!

Just as the full faced portrait photo doesn’t contradict the profile photo, so to Jesus and Justice don’t contradict! Far from it! They complement one another!

People ask me, “What’s the essence to which the scriptures point?” People ask me, “What do you think the emergent church is all about?” When they do, I don’t hesitate. It’s about Jesus and Justice! Jesus is synonymous with spiritual healing, wholeness, and inclusive love! And justice is synonymous with communal fire in the belly, aliveness, and mission!

The prophetic legacy leading up to Jesus is the finger pointing to the moon and justice is the moon. We need both!

Jesus is the Church’s inclusive compassionate heart, which jumps off the pages of the Gospels. And justice is the church’s business. Both are essential for historical integrity and vitality!

Justice and Jesus are the two wings of the butterfly of emergent Christianity!

In Church 3.0 there will be numerous forms of justice work: social justice, economic justice, death penalty abolishment, racial justice, nonviolence witness, gender justice, LGBT justice, mental illness awareness, ecological justice, nuclear disarmament, immigrant justice, homeless justice, microloan justice, Palestinian justice, food justice, prison reform, et cetera.

Depending on the community, Church 3.0 will also emphasize numerous Jesuses. There will be the Roman Catholic Jesus (culled from Thomas Aquinas and Thomas Merton), the Eastern Orthodox Jesus (filtered for the West through Tolstoy and Dostoevsky), the Nonviolent Jesus (gleaned from The historic Peace Churches,4 Jesus’ Third Way, and French Philosopher, Renee Girard), the Jesus of the oppressed (from liberation theologians like James Cone and Gustavo Gutierrez) the liberal Protestant Jesus (from historical Jesus scholars like Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan), the neo-feminist Jesus (culled from Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza and the multitude of feminist theologians since), and the Jesus of the mystics (The Jesus Paradox/Miaphysite in Greek) as interpreted by the Alexandrian Elders and the Oriental Orthodox Church. And the list goes on…

My particular calling is to Jesus as interpreted by the Alexandrian Mystics and to the healing arts of Contemplative Christianity. Yet, I celebrate that Christianity is a vast body with many members (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). I celebrate all the different angles on Jesus and Justice! May the members of the body, in all their diversity, invest in the essential vision: Jesus and Justice!

The seventeenth century theologian Rupertus Meldenius once wrote in a tract: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials diversity, in all things charity.”

The essential rallying cry of Church 3.0: “Solo Christos et Jus!”

1 This essay is inspired by a sermon that United Church of Christ Pastor, Evette Flunder, gave at the General Synod of the United Church of Christ when it convened in Minneapolis in 2005.

2 See Dorhauer, John. Beyond Resistance: The Institutional Church Meets the Postmodern World, pg.38-43.

3 I have been influenced by the work of Family Systems theorists, Murray Bowen, Edwin Friedman, Roberta Gilbert, and Peter Steinke, who consistently affirm healthy boundaries. A healthy cell has a membrane that differentiates it from other cells. So too, healthy relationships, communities, and religious traditions have healthy boundaries (flexible and at times porous, not rigid), which differentiate them from one another. The Dali Lama has often said that the differences between religions are as important as the similarities. Healthy interfaith dialogue respects both.

4 The historic Peace Churches are the Mennonite, Brethren, and Quaker (FGC).

Amos Smith is the pastor at Church of the Painted Hills in Tucson, and author of  Healing The Divide: Recovering Christianity’s Mystic Roots.