The earliest Christians believed that the most important disclosure of God’s mission to humankind was the gift of God’s own self—God with skin on, here with us, Immanuel. This was the gift, the grace, by which humanity is saved.
What became equally clear to those early believers, though, was that the gift of God with skin on was not meant to end in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Rather, that gift was the pivotal step in God’s long-hidden plan to disclose God’s multifaceted wisdom through a whole ecosystem of grace: a gathered, multi-gifted, interdependent community of God’s love and purpose. This is the grace for which those with the Spirit of Jesus are saved.
As the letter to Colossians puts it, “In Christ, the fullness of Deity is presently living in bodily form—and you [Colossians, together among yourselves] have the fullness of Christ” (2:9). This radical vision of a local community incarnating the reign of God now, of God’s future penetrating the present through a Spirit-led extended family, was vital to the dynamic witness and power of the early church.
In their book, Missional. Monastic. Mainline., Elaine Heath and Larry Duggins describe their experience in pursuing such local, incarnational communities of God in the context of mainline Methodism. They claim that missional, monastic traditions offer vital resources for our time, and their book offers guidance for those within mainline Christian denominations to foster such communities.
For those from traditions that have emphasized early Christian thought and practice—groups with strong restorationist instincts—such a proposal raises questions. What values signified by the terms missional and monastic align with past and present expressions of incarnational community in restorationist traditions? To what degree do these values represent a hopeful, helpful vision for the future?
In response to these questions, we have invited two authors representing two traditions to write from their tradition as well as their extensive experience of intentional Christian community. Both are professors, both are practitioners.
Representing the Anabaptist tradition, Charles Moore writes from the context of the Bruderhof, a one-hundred-year old movement with origins in early twentieth-century Germany. Representing the Stone-Campbell Movement with roots in the nineteenth-century American frontier, Alden Bass writes from the context of his background in the Churches of Christ and his work in Lotus House, an intentional Christian community serving near the city core of St. Louis.
Both authors invite us to re-examine our language and assumptions about the nature of church and mission. Both offer insight for fresh incarnations of gathered, multi-gifted, interdependent communities of God’s love, purpose, and power in our time.
Dr. Kent Smith is CHARIS Professor at Abilene Christian University and has taught there in the Graduate School of Theology since 1991. His teaching and research focus has been in the area of spiritual nurture systems, especially as they relate to new expressions of church. He has directed ACU’s graduate internship in missional leadership and has been a trainer for international mission teams over twenty-five years with ACU’s Halbert Institute for Missions. Kent and his wife Karen are founding members of the Eden Community and he is chairman of the Eden Center for Regenerative Culture. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.