A Community-Shaped Theology

nueva-creacion-gym0031 I’ve just spent the past couple of days meeting and learning from some of the best theologians I’ve ever met. Rather than hearing their grand theories and $10 theological phrases, though, I have witnessed their theology in action. As I mentioned in a previous post, while in the Dominican Republic, I’m spending time with several different people that work with la Red Del Camino network. This is a group of churches and other ministries that have been working in Latin America and the Caribbean for a number of years now – some for 15 or more. They practice a dynamic Kingdom theology that expresses the present reality of the Way of God, rather than huddling up in their buildings and homes, waiting around for Jesus to come back.

For example, a church in the colonial area of Santo Domingo – just a short walk from the oldest Catholic Cathedral in the Americas – began to serve the community from its inception, not by strategizing an outreach approach that could draw people in to them, but by deciding that the shape of the church would be based on the needs of the community around them. So ICC (Iglesia Comunitaria Cristiana), which had started in a home, opened a gym for the community. And a soup kitchen ministry. And a preschool to provide high quality education to low income families. And shelter for homeless elderly people. And addiction rehab services. And a microfinance ministry. I haven’t covered all of what they do, or the stories behind them. The point is that none of these efforts were started as attractional programs to draw people into the church – they were started as church members understood their holistic role as Kingdom citizens in their time and place, paid attention to the needs of the community around them, and had the nerve to start doing something about it. The soup kitchen, which I visited yesterday afternoon, serves 80 meals every Monday through Friday, but it started with one young widow noticing a need and deciding she would provide meals for about 12 people – they showed me the “kitchen” that got the ball rolling – a genius little propane stovetop they rigged up using two car wheel rims (They recently received a donation of used commercial stoves and kitchen implements from a U.S. restaurant owner who was upgrading, and heard about what they were doing).

ICC has grown to be a pretty large church. In some ways, it looks and feels like a lot of suburban community churches in the U.S. – comfortable seating, stage lighting, worship band (that throws down a SOLID jazz vibe, I might add), drama, practical teaching. But what I had to be told (because I never would have known on my own) is that half the people in the church came in through the doors of the kinds of ministries I’ve listed above, and found their place in the Kingdom, despite their brokenness. These aren’t the “beautiful” people who are already believers, looking for the next hip church.

There are some Christian denominations that have rich histories of what they refer to as “Community Theology.” But typically, when you hear that term, it is means something like this: “We believe that everyone in the church has something to offer, so we listen to everyone in the way we shape what we believe.” Or, “We value the Church we are a part of, both in the present and in the past.  Therefore, we believe in the creeds formed by our brother and sisters of ages gone by.”  What I’m talking about, though, is an ecclesiology that is shaped more by the people that live and work next door . . . or sleep outside your door. This requires open heart and open eyes and ears to what’s happening – you won’t know the needs until you really pay attention. And then it requires a personal engagement – personal enough for it to shape the way you approach church. Once you get there, you’ve got a real community theology.  And despite the temptation to think of it as a kind of reactionary thing, it’s not – you have to be very intentional to listen deeply enough to the community around you.

Photo credit: ICC website

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  1. Definitely, this is what a church should do: empower its people to do what the Spirit leads them for a new Kingdom.

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