All of us live, one way or other, remembering our history. Remembering the good people in our lives, remembering “the things my mother taught me,” remembering friends of old. And, we relish the thoughts. We love to recall the people, and what they stood for, and how they helped.
There are those great influences in our lives – a teacher, a professor, a comrade. For me, it was James Stuart Stewart, my friend and professor at New College, Edinburgh, who preached a Good Friday sermon in the Union Seminary Chapel on “The Rending of the Veil,” which opened the way for heaven for me, and out of my grief over the death, under my care, of my 7th grade Sunday School student in New York, who drowned in the church swimming pool on a class outing, when I was myself a 20s-something theological student. James Stewart was a model for me in preaching, in praying, in living. I love to think of him and remember his ringing, lyrical Scottish voice and how, in his preaching he gave me Jesus in all the wonder of His personality.
As our own city went up in flames on Pentecost Sunday at the end of May this year, after the death of George Floyd on a street corner in south Minneapolis, rage rose, people marched, “systemic racism” became the cry, and we, as a city seemed to go “off the rails.” No one waited to take time to cool down, to know exactly what really had happened, and to respond in a way that could build on some very good things in our city, good people who had done good – in the police department, in city government, in our colleges and schools, in our churches and homes. We were overtaken – in some ways literally, by people whose intentions were destructive, who believed chaos was in their best interest, no matter who got hurt.
It’s important to remember our roots, especially our spiritual roots, both personally, and as a church. We came from heroes who dared a forbidding ocean to find in a wilderness land the freedom to live their radical faith and the vision it stirred for a life of freedom for all people. A vision they wrote into their Mayflower Compact, that echoed again 150 years later in their new country’s Declaration of Independence and the founding Constitution of their new nation’s life.
Their church and community life was founded in Jesus and His promise to be their leader whenever they “gathered as two or three together in His Name,” He would be there. He would lead their thinking and planning, through prayer until they came to conclusions that led them to say, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” Jesus led them together, by unanimous agreement toward decisions in which they were of “one mind and heart.”
It was not independent democracy, but an achievement of unity in the whole gathered group. Their being “together,” was a sign that the Spirit was leading them. They called it “the Church Meeting.” And the buildings they built in which to hold their weekly Sabbath gathering, they called “The Meeting House.” Making the careful distinction that they as a body gathered was “the Church.” But the “Meeting” became the means, the process, for their governance as a church. Indeed, the Congregational Church meeting gave them the exact form, later, of their “town” meeting.
The distinctions were subtle, but the results were profound. Yet today we call our meetings “town” meetings, and we look downtown to law offices and commercial businesses for the principles and models of “how to run a business.” But of course, that’s not what a church is. It’s a “church,” not a “business.” And, its interest is not in efficiency, but in God’s people undertaking and doing God’s work TOGETHER – in unity. It is a genius way of church life. More relevant today than ever before.
Especially in honest people’s sorting out any spirit or practice of “racism” that has crept into their life. Something Jesus our Lord is trying again to teach us, begging us to follow Him in ways that will unify and purify our hearts, and our intentions toward each other.
It is our way now, to look back, in order to go forward. Praise the Lord!
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES