This column has often had the theme of decolonization and the process of becoming a post-colonial church, though only rarely naming it that directly. It is a theme that, I have found, gets mixed reactions. At times, there is confusion, as it is hard for many of us to imagine a church that is different from what we have come to know and love.
Most often, the focus is on what needs to be dismantled from our colonial past. This is not surprising; there are many painful legacies that persist in our church. But that is not all there is, and for this space, this month, it would be good to discuss what needs to be embraced instead of what needs to be excluded. There is a gospel future for a post-colonial church, and it is quite positive.
The heart of this gospel future will positively focus on two things: discipleship and Jesus. Under the colonial church, there was an excessive reliance upon a cozy relationship between the Church and the broader culture. Our spiritual formation, as individuals and as a community, was dictated by the demands of citizenship to the state. Our allegiance to Jesus has often been blunted by our membership in a society described as Christian but often articulating values and ideals that were in conflict with the core values of our Ruler and Teacher.
In a post-colonial church, we will rediscover the power of discipleship. Our disciplines, values and allegiance will be directed to Jesus rather than to an ideal manufactured by an alliance with the broader society. The Conference on World Mission and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches focused its gathering last year on this aspect of Christian renewal. The Conference’s “Arusha Call to Discipleship” is a call for the churches to return to the faithfulness of the early church’s discipleship. (The “Call” is available online; you will find it worthwhile to read it.) We can no longer define and describe Christian faith by reference to our membership in the broader society. Christian faith calls us to something quite a bit more.
The rediscovery of Jesus and discipleship will come to many of us as a joyful surprise. Wearied by the struggles of the churches in recent times, we will, as Pope Francis insists, re-enter the “joy of the gospel.” As Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry never tires to tell us, we are a part of the “Jesus Movement” and need to find the dynamic, hopeful, and loving way of life that is the fruit of a life in Jesus.