Thursday Theology with Dr Jehan Loza
Dr. Jehan Loza – Director Research
Jehan is the Research Director of Social Compass and its original Founder. She holds a PhD in Sociology (Deakin University), a Masters of Vocational Practice – Church Practice at Tabor and has nearly 25 years experience undertaking qualitative evaluation and research with a range of stakeholders both in Australia and internationally.
Jehan has worked across diverse cultural and geographical contexts including with Indigenous communities. She has intimate knowledge of community and organisational capacity building processes and has applied this knowledge both practically and theoretically in her work.
What is a reconciling mission and how can the Australian Church engage in a reconciling mission?
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore, Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:17-20, NIV).
- Why is it that when I read this Scripture it means little?
- Why is it that this Scripture even makes me question the existence of God?
- Yet why, even at my most cynical, does reading this Scripture momentarily cripple me with the pain of grief, before being over-swamped with the fire of anger?
It was not always like this. I once soaked in these words, allowed them to fill me with a warmth and a passion for what God was doing through me and in the world. It is quite sweet really, for these were the days of my ignorance and of a child-like naivety; the days when I thought the entire significance of such Scripture rested with the local church; which was, of course, the perfect vehicle designed by God himself to equip me and others for ministry and participation in His Kingdom.
The Church was after all, as Bill Hybels (2004) had so pertinently put it (at least to me) ‘the hope of the world’, the sanctuary where the hurting found healing, where the poor came for feeding, the lost for shelter and protection; it was the place where the forgotten were celebrated and those in turmoil found peace; where they could be reconciled with both the Father and their brothers and sisters; who awaited them with open arms. I have come to know now that based on my experience this is not the case.
Once, a long time ago now, someone said to me, ‘people write about what is important to them and what is important to them is based on their experience’. I was not surprised, therefore, that when I reflected on this statement, I found myself in the depth of a PhD thesis that was mostly about me and my experiences.
Reading through my major essays, I see clearly my areas of major concern. They are the same concerns that I have carried with me through life, concerns primarily about social inclusion and participation and the key determinants that hang off this – a social justice agenda and a liberation theology that liberates the oppressed and marginalised and in a context that embraces difference and diversity, where difference is valued and embraced in a co-creative partnership.
In each essay I positioned the church as the primary vehicle that should/could lead the way, pushing and prodding its people, in what I see so clearly now, towards a reconciling mission of self with God and self with other.
Yet in each essay, I noted the Church’s shortfall in doing this and highlighted the negative health and spiritual impacts of this on congregation members where, in some instances, as in my own, such impacts can lead to church exit.
Bosch (2014:387) claims that, “if the church attempts to sever itself from the involvement in the world and if its structures are such that they thwart any possibility of rendering a relevant service to the world, such structures have to be recognised as heretical”. To this I agree and claim that, since this has been my experience of the modern Western (‘Pentecostal’) church, I would be a heretic to participate in those structures.
In a postmodern context marked by individualism, alienation and a growing gap between the poor and rich;
the rich are chained to their consumerism and the poor are chained to the rich, meaning is dead, and Truth no more, where all experience is relative and identities are porous.
The Church offers an alternative and much needed space for community and belonging; it offers a counter-cultural space where meaning, hope and purpose take centre stage; a space where all identities are permissible and all experiences are bound by the great Truth of Jesus Christ.
- Indeed no-one would disagree that this type of Church sounds amazing.
- This type of Church would pull masses of people into its sanctuary.
- Why then is attendance at Australian Church’s declining?
What is a Reconciling Mission?
Reconciliation refers to the restoration or the reunification of friendly relations. It can also refer to the action of making one view or belief compatible with another. In a postmodern, global context, the boundaries of mission have been stretched to encapsulate not only the human world, but all of God’s creation can be said to be the object and subject of God’s mission. We are coming to realise that the interrelatedness of justice, peace, and the preservation of creation provide the glue for a holistic mission. Such an articulation beings to light unjust and oppressive structures and practices that sever relationships, disrupt creation and need to be replaced by healing and wholeness.
In a postmodern context marked by porous national borders and enhanced communication methods, fragmentation and collision of nations and identities at once bring humans into closer contact and yet render others – those unable to compete for voice and resources – the most vulnerable, the most silenced, the most excluded – invisible.
While mission takes many forms it essentially focuses on the sharing of life together in an interdependent relationship with one another and for the creation of a just, sustainable and peaceful world; facilitating the participation in that world order of those who are the most excluded.
Therefore, reconciliation as mission emphasises the engagement of hurting/broken people and situations/relationships of oppression for the purpose of restoring peace with justice. As a focus, reconciliation encourages concrete steps toward the communion of all of humanity and creation with God and one another (Blaufuss 2007).
Reconciliation can only be achieved when community division and injustice to those who are excluded, marginalised, or silenced is addressed (Kaggwa 2003). Essentially, therefore, at the heart of reconciliation lies the juxtaposition between conflict and redemption (a healing of relationships).
The church is the place for studying and seeking theology, mission, ministry and diaconal service. It is also the place of mission that reflects the engagement between context, theology and practice, while proclaiming, serving and teaching the good news to the whole world. The church is comprised of a sent people, a missional church with a missional praxis, being what God is doing in humanity to bring about healing, reconciliation, wholeness, liberation and salvation. The being-ness (missional) and sent-ness (missionary praxis) of the church are, therefore, inextricably linked (Isaak 2011).
According to Isaak (2011), Christians are currently witnessing an emerging paradigm of ‘reconciling mission and mission as reconciliation’ and this is one of the most compelling ways of expressing the gospel. In the midst of violence, suffering and pain, Isaak claims, it is the church that proclaims and acts to reconcile and heal. Or as Reconciliation Network express it, “The church is called to be a living sign of the one body of Christ, an agent of hope and holistic reconciliation in our broken and fragmented world” (Reconciliation Network 2005:5).
The work of reconciliation is first and foremost God’s work, his ongoing mission in the world, taking place through the Spirit (Schreiter 1998, Kaggwa 2003, Kim 2004, Reconciliation Network 2005). That is:
Reconciliation is at God’s initiative, restoring a broken world to God’s intentions by reconciling ‘to himself all things’, through Christ (Col 1:20): the relationship between people and God, between people, and with God’s created earth. Christians participate with God by being transformed into ambassadors of reconciliation (Reconciliation Network 2005:5).
A missional church understands that its participation in the Missio Dei is contextual.
It understands this in comprehensive and holistic ways (Isaak 2011) According to Isaak, this understanding means that such a church understands that God invites us to participate in His liberating love, and in His mission as praxis for healing.
Such a church is active in seeking victories against sin by forming healing communities as signs of God’s reign on earth. And such a church is active in breaking down the false barriers that exist between groups of people, bringing all into participation in God’s Kingdom and honouring the covenant relationship between God and his people. In this way, the Christian community demonstrates itself as an expression of God’s intention to bring reconciliation and healing to the earth.
Essentially, reconciliation is a spiritual affair that includes theological, cultural, moral or ethical, social, political and economic matters, a transformation of the entire human situation (Schreiter 1998, Kim 2004).
Where there is reconciliation the hungry are fed, the sick and broken hearted are healed, and justice is given to the poor. In the midst of violence, pain, and scars of trauma in people’s memory, the Church can be God’s minister of reconciliation by proclaiming that in Jesus Christ and in his community, healing is possible (Isaak 2011).
- Who would disagree that a reconciling mission at the heart of the Church does not sound amazing.
- Who would disagree that this type of Church would not pull-in the masses into its sanctuary.
- Why then is attendance at Australian Church’s declining?
- And why is the Australian Church increasingly seen as anachronistic
Next Week Dr Jehan Loza will talk about the Barriers to Reconciliation: Pastoral Concerns Merging
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