At the center of who we are as members of the United Church of Christ stands two important principles. The Preamble to the Constitution of the United Church of Christ, says it this way: Paragraph # 2 The United Church of Christ acknowledges as its sole Head, Jesus Christ, Son of God and Savior. It acknowledges as kindred in Christ all who share in this confession. It looks to the Word of God in the Scriptures, and to the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, to prosper its creative and redemptive work in the world. It claims as its own the faith of the historic Church expressed in the ancient creeds and reclaimed in the basic insights of the Protestant Reformers. It affirms the responsibility of the Church in each generation to make this faith its own in reality of worship, in honesty of thought and expression, and in purity of heart before God. In accordance with the teaching of our Lord and the practice prevailing among evangelical Christians, it recognizes two sacraments: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion.
The headship of Christ over the church means that Jesus Christ defines the church and defines the way each of us as members of the Church understand our lives as Christians and the way we understand ourselves in relationship to each other as members of the Body of Christ. The paragraph above also notes that we must make the faith our own. We are not held bound to the past, but must bring alive the faith in our own generation. And it is also important to note that the two sacraments of Baptism, which joins us to Christ and to each other, and the Lord’s Supper, where our relationships are nourished and strengthened, form the foundation of our community.
Another important, and perhaps the most important way we understand ourselves as church is found in the theological and biblical concept of COVENANT. Here is how the Constitution of the church describes it:
ARTICLE III. COVENANTAL RELATIONSHIPS
Paragraph 6 Within the United Church of Christ, the various expressions of the church relate to each other in a covenantal manner. Each expression of the church has responsibilities and rights in relation to the others, to the end that the whole church will seek God’s will and be faithful to God’s mission. Decisions are made in consultation and collaboration among the various parts of the structure. As members of the Body of Christ, each expression of the church is called to honor and respect the work and ministry of each other part. Each expression of the church listens, hears, and carefully considers the advice, counsel, and requests of others. In this covenant, the various expressions of the United Church of Christ seek to walk together in all God’s ways.
The Biblical Idea of Covenant finds its first expression in the story of Noah (Genesis 8:20-9:17), then with Abraham (Genesis 17:1-27), and the peak of the covenanted relationship between God and humanity is found in the story of Moses (Exodus 19 -20). Biblically then, covenant speaks first to the relationship we have with God and God has with us. It also points to the fact, that this relationship carries with it mutual responsibilities and obligations. Relationships do not just happen, and unless the relationship is fostered, challenged to grow, and continually moves to a deeper level of intimacy, it remains a superficial relationship.
What are the obligations of the Biblical Covenant? From the story of Moses, the obligations revolve around two points: Obligations towards God and obligations towards each other (or towards the community). These obligations are often summarized in the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20), or in the New Testament, summarized in 2 commandments (Love God and Love Neighbor). These are not just duties that we have to perform, but rather they a re understood as “a way of life” lived in relationship with God and each other. So it is not about rules or laws to follow, but about the choices we make, because we are in relationship with each other, to define or shape our lives according to God.
What are the responsibilities we have because we are in this covenanted community? We are responsible to and for each other! This works against some of our American sensitivity to personal or individual freedom. Our freedom is tempered by the responsibilities we have to respect the dignity of others (since everyone is created in the image and likeness of God), and to care for each other (we are our brother’s and sister’s keeper), We have mutual responsibility to nourish the relationship and create an environment within which the relationship can grow and be continually strengthened. Because of our responsibility towards each other, we are not free to do whatever we want. In fact the biblical notion of freedom involves our being free to do the will of God and live in accord with the intent of God.
So how does this apply to the church or to our membership in church? Stay tuned for more.