A Note on the Vision Statement
Blog # TWO March 2018
A Note on the Vision Statement
The Vision of the Brackenhurst Methodist Church is “to go, in faith, beyond barriers.” Our dream is to be a Christ-following community with no barriers existing between God and people and between people and no barriers stopping an individual to live with integrity or as an integrated person. As a result our witness is reconciliation at various levels as a daily reality. In order to achieve this, our daily work is to manage and exercise our growth as Disciples through our Devotional life, (private and corporate) our sense of Community and our various Ministries so that we remove any or all barriers and achieve a real connectedness between God and people and between people and even within people. Some of the values informing the vision are openness, acceptance, tolerance, risk taking, listening, sharing, love and integrity. In dealing with barriers, we know that there are various ways to tell the Jesus story and these differences are given the space to be shared and explored as we hold our vision before us. Of course, this work remains a gift from God and is only possible by our faith or loyalty to the way of Jesus, all the way to the cross.
This vision came into being many years ago and is considered by the current leadership to be relevant for today and the future. However, what does this vision mean? The vision grew out of Ephesians chapter two and perhaps part of the background to choosing the particular reading was not only the importance this passage has for Methodism worldwide but also the need for reconciliation between people of different races within the South African context. It is a need that still exists today. Whatever the reasons at the time it is considered to be the vision that we will hold before us going forward. In this sense the Spirit is blowing where it wants to and we are following.
Grounded in Ephesians chapter two the vision has a particular meaning. It is possible to give to Ephesians 2 the heading; ‘the unity of the church.’ The background to the chapter is the, at the time, growing separation between the early church and the Jewish faith. The first Christians were from the Jewish faith – as was Jesus. Belonging to the Jewish faith meant that faith was (is), broadly speaking, based on a Covenant relationship informed by what is known as the Law. The Ten Commandments is perhaps the most known part of the Law. The Law regulated the covenant relationship between God and God’s people. If God’s people are obedient to the commandments and ordinances required by the Law God is faithful and will provide for all the needs of God’s people – spiritual and otherwise.
However, the power of grounding one’s faith on the Law is such that it can lead to hostility between God and people and between people for it can lead to legalism which leads to self-righteousness. Salvation, or to be right before God, can become based purely on one’s own goodness or own works. For some it was easier to adhere to the requirements of the law, for instance, the Pharisees, the leading group of leaders in the Jewish faith at the time. They thus thought it then good to call on God to pour out God’s wrath and judgement on anyone who were, basically, not as good as they were. It also led them to openly display their goodness so that others would see how good they were. They were held in high esteem by the Jewish people of the day for their goodness and righteousness before God based on their adherence or obedience to all the requirements of the Law. However, this interpretation and adherence to the Law and its power created hostility between those of the Jewish faith and other people. It also created distance between God and people, even for Jewish people at the time themselves, because this kind of understanding of the relationship between God and people rests on a particular representation of the nature and will of God and thus the Covenant relationship between God and God’s people which made it very difficult for people to actually achieve.
Eventually those outside the Jewish faith also joined the Christian movement or ‘The Way’ (of Jesus) as it was known originally, meaning that faith in Jesus was about following or being loyal to ‘the way of Jesus,’ and, of course, with this to believe certain things about Jesus. The Jewish part of the early church, those Jews who became Christians, had to work out their new identity in Christ. They were no longer Jews, for they now were following Christ the Messiah, yet they were still holding on to the Jewish traditions and what was required by the Law. This meant that when others outside of the Jewish faith were joining the church, they were still excluded because they were not adhering to the Law. These others came from all kinds of backgrounds, pagan and otherwise and they all lived in a world in which many gods were being worshipped.
The basic message of this passage is that in Christ the old distinctions between the various groups have fallen away. In Christ they are all new and thus belong to a new community or people. The nature of this community they now belong to and its relationship with God is different than a faith or loyalty based on adherence to the Law. So, all people, wherever you came from have had to leave behind the old and embrace this new identity in Christ in becoming part of this new Covenant relationship between God and God’s people. They all had to change, not just some.
So, in essence it means that when one follows the way of Jesus one participates in a new reality in which the barriers that existed between God and people and between people because of the power of the Law have fallen away.
To go, in faith, beyond barriers then means that in following Jesus or ‘his way’ we must do everything possible to do away with barriers that may still exists between God and people and between people – especially those barriers grounded in adherence to the Law as a way to regulate our relationship with God. To put it differently: We must do everything we can to do away with the ‘Pharisee’ within us – that part of us that still speaks about our own goodness (or works or our way of life as the only legitimate way) as a way to find favour with God and others or as a way to salvation. And then, because we see ourselves as such, to call upon others who are ‘not like us’ God’s wrath and judgement which easily leads to oppression of one over another. This is the power the Law has over those who adhere to it or who base their religious experiences on something which has the same power as the Law. Braking down or going beyond barriers may thus mean going against the accepted norms of society. We must do away with presenting God and thus God’s will and nature as something else than what we see in Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection.
It is in giving expression to this new reality that we find ourselves in as a result of following Jesus that we are united – a new humanity. This reality is made up, just like the early church, of many different people with many different accounts of what it means to follow Jesus and how to live as Christians in the world. In this space we are then invited to listen to one another and together find ways of expressing our unity as a church in ways that will help all to (re-) connect with God and with each other and even with ourselves in ways that bring about reconciliation.
To summarise: Barriers can come from many different places, for example, race, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, political aspirations and so much more, – but are primarily the barriers put up by the ‘Pharisee’ within ourselves – as individuals and as a faith community: To base our faith and thus our lives on that which keep some people out in oppressive ways and others in. Faith is to go the way of Jesus – a deep loyalty to Jesus and his way which is the way of the kingdom of God. To go is to risk, to take action, to do everything possible to make the kingdom of God (as the way of Christ) visible and happening in our own lives, our own communities and the world at large. And to go beyond is to always go beyond where we currently are, especially when we experience the now or current as a barrier of some sorts, in order to make the new reality or the new humanity or our new unity in Christ possible. Perhaps we can even give Ephesians two the title of: ‘The hospitality that welcomes the ones who are different.’ In this hospitality we find our unity remembering that in Jesus God welcomes those who are different than God – and that is all of us. Without this welcome and thus the welcome into the new humanity in Christ we would all be lost in our own sinfulness and darkness.
Let us go in faith beyond barriers for as we have seen in Ephesians two, it leads to God’s grace and our faith coming together in life-giving ways so that we may do what God has in Christ prepared for us to do!
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