I just returned to Philly after my first General Conference of the Brethren in Christ. It’s a bi-annual, national gathering designed to bring the church together for face-to-face dialogue. It was good to be together. There is a spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood among us. These people are serious about loving God and others.
Some of our distinctives, however, may be getting lost; I want to talk about them.
1. The Brethren in Christ are led by the Spirit, not bound by the law. Early anabaptists sensed that their life in Christ was bigger than the norms and requirements of their national citizenship. Jesus frees us from fearful allegiance to governments and nationalities. We are as respectful as we can be within our anxious political context and growing police state(?) but thank goodness, we are citizens of the kingdom of God and that citizenship informs the others. We are bound by the law of love first, and love sees outside and inside of the box. Love recognizes the boxes of the world. Racist history and policy is one of the boxes we recognize in U.S. context, and the Brethren in Christ decided to discern beyond background and credit checks in hiring because we do not want to be bound to a weighted system.
2. The Brethren in Christ rely on corporate, not individual, decision-making. Leaders do not make decisions in isolation, even if they try. It always works out better when we talk about it. We rely on God to speak to us through the body. Although it sometimes seems like the economy has co-opted the word corporate, it comes from the Latin root cor which means body, and more specifically, heart. It has a vital, human, bodily function. The Brethren in Christ came together around a commitment to listen to one another, to have thoughts that are inspired by God and to share them and test them and make decisions together. At the conference some of us were wondering how the leadership role of ‘moderator’ had morphed into ‘national director.’ I like the term moderator for practical reasons (as well as philosophical, historical, & theological reasons) and I hope we get back to it. I think we need someone who’s committed to the function of listening to the body year round and culling out and communicating widely what God might be saying to us through the body. I suppose I think highly of the body of Christ and of the power of God to speak through us. I think that’s the kind of directing we’re designed for, and I think we have good leaders who can do this.
3. Instead of consolidating power, the Brethren in Christ disperse it through service and mutuality. It’s not always the most efficient way to operate, but I think that the more voices we have in the mix, the richer our life together and the more good we can do. Circle of Hope operates in teams that have lives of their own but common agreements and vision. The more we focus on our specific areas of service and have a vision for how we’re working together, the more we build up the body of Christ around the world. I hope for various leadership committees within our denomination that work together and communicate regularly. We have an opportunity to be the antidote to isolating individualism and crushing economic powers that make people skeptical of groups in the first place.
4. The Brethren in Christ are committed to peace. We don’t make rules about these matters of course, but I can’t help but recognize our history. Our forefathers and mothers in faith were so awakened by the love of God for all people that they couldn’t stomach violence toward others as a means to any end. They were often the target of violence for this conviction. I hope we keep working for peace. MCC is doing it and I hope we support them generously. We live in the world’s largest war machine and people are suffering by the violence in our own neighborhoods. We bring the peace of Jesus that can reconcile people to one another and to God. We are creating an alternative culture that breeds hope and justice and mercy. I don’t see any reason to be quiet about it.
People are looking for Jesus in Philadelphia and Camden. I hope they can learn the way of Jesus through the Brethren in Christ. I’m grateful to be part of this unique family; let’s keep being distinct.
In my personal story, learning about the Brethren in Christ distinctives – and experiencing them in friends and in church bodies – felt a lot like coming home too.
I’m glad you’re taking the time to remind us of the value of these things.