Thanks to all of our contributors and readers through four years of publication. Forum is no longer being updated; however, archived content remains available, in conjunction with Covenant Quarterly issues 73:2-76:2. We hope you will continue to enjoy new journal issues at our primary site.
Last week we spotlighted Michelle A. Clifton-Soderstrom’s article, “Covenant Freedom: Freedom for All or Free-for-all?” This week we underscore the invitation, issued in the Comment, for readers to respond formally to Clifton-Soderstrom’s argument.
We welcome substantive responses (1000-2000 words) for publication in the next Covenant Quarterly issue. It is our hope that the publication of Biblical Authority and Christian Freedom will serve to facilitate such thoughtful interaction. If you wish to submit a response, please contact me directly (firstname.lastname@example.org) or submit through our website by October 15, 2018, noting guidelines for authors.
A new issue of the Covenant Quarterly is now live at covquarterly.com. Over the next few weeks, we will feature each article in turn, with opportunities for dialog. In this post we publish the editor’s Comment, which frames the issue as a whole.
At its founding in 1885, the Covenant Church committed itself to a single confession: “This Covenant confesses God’s word, the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, as the only perfect rule for faith, doctrine, and conduct.” This statement was as significant for what it did not confess as for what it did: implicit in its brevity was the decision not to adopt a formal, human-made confessional statement that specified precisely how Scripture must be interpreted. Rather, Scripture itself would be the Covenant’s only confession. The founders were not naïve to the uniqueness of this freedom nor to its vulnerability. Yet they were too wary of the dangers potential to confessional statements they had experienced in Sweden and within prior attempts at organization in the United States.
This freedom—freedom from any human confession in order to enable freedom for submission to Scripture—constituted the Covenant. In its most essential nature, the Covenant was founded as a believers’ church whose only confession was Scripture. This boundary intended to encompass within the Covenant only believers while not excluding any believer, as articulated in 1942 by E.G. Hjerpe (Covenant president 1910–1927): “The Covenant’s principle in this matter, we may say, is very narrow and at the same time very broad. It is so narrow that there is room only for believers in Jesus Christ, and so broad that there is room for all such believers and they on that ground are entitled to membership and all the privileges of the Christian Church.”
Across Covenant history, this precious and precarious freedom has been challenged and maintained. Current debate regarding the nature, extent, and limitations of Christian freedom within the Covenant is not new; rather, it occupies a succession of such debates that span a century and beyond. In this current context, the work of the Covenant Committee on Freedom and Theology (1958–1963) has resurfaced from relative obscurity. The committee’s final report, Biblical Authority and Christian Freedom, sought to “inquire into the nature of Christian freedom, the way in which [the Covenant] has experienced that freedom, and the ways in which that freedom may be maintained” (p. 9). While frequently referenced, the significance and ongoing relevance of this document are interpreted variously. To facilitate this critical discussion, we offer here the entire report along with excerpts from the 1958 and 1963 Annual Meeting minutes relaying the report’s origin and reception.
It was announced at the 2018 Annual Meeting that the Executive Committee of the Evangelical Covenant Church has commissioned a new resource paper regarding the intersection of freedom and responsibility. As this new work unfolds, the questions raised in 1963 face us once again:
Can we continue to look upon ourselves as a fellowship of believers bound together only by our common life in Christ and conformity to Christ as Savior and Lord? Can we maintain the kind of personal relationships required in a Christian fellowship without any limitations other than that we submit to the authority of the Bible as the revelation of God’s will, or must we return to uniform dogmas and carefully defined interpretations of Scripture to help us understand one another? (p. 12)
It is always up to those in the present to determine whether continuity with the past is desirable—and, if so, which course of action in fact offers such continuity. It is our hope that these historical documents will resource this dialogue.
A sustained attempt to interpret and apply the 1963 report and the broader history it represents is offered by Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom, professor of theology and ethics at North Park Theological Seminary. In “Covenant Freedom: Freedom for All or Free-for-all?” Clifton-Soderstrom explores the necessary relationship between freedom and the Covenant Affirmations of Scripture’s authority and the necessity of new birth. Within this framework, she then offers a theological account of, and criteria for, faithful dissent within Christian freedom. Her final argument is that such faithful dissent is essential to the church’s ongoing renewal.
Clifton-Soderstrom’s work warrants careful reading and serious, critical engagement. We hope the inclusion of Biblical Authority and Christian Freedom will facilitate such thoughtful interaction, and we welcome formal responses for publication in a subsequent issue of this journal. Please contact the editor or submit directly to our website by October 15, 2018, noting guidelines for authors.
In 1910 C.V. Bowman (Covenant president 1927–1933) described the Covenant in this way:
But concerning church order, the Mission Friends have a principle that is still more unique and takes a very prominent place in their program. They hold that the local church shall consist of only believing members but at the same time have room for all true believers, no matter what their viewpoints are on controversial doctrines. It is this principle which really distinguishes Mission Friends from other Christian denominations, and which justifies their existence as a particular church.
This question confronts us today: What distinguishes the Covenant from other Christian denominations and justifies its existence as a particular church? As we grapple with this question in the present we would do well to consider how Covenanters have answered it in the past.
Read the Comment in context and access full issue here.
This past January, the United Nations declared escalating state violence against African Americans a human rights crisis:
“Contemporary police killings and the trauma it creates are reminiscent of the racial terror lynching of the past. Impunity for state violence has resulted in the current human rights crisis and must be addressed as a matter of urgency.”
The articles published in Covenant Quarterly 74:2 address this matter of urgency in varying ways. In the coming weeks we will focus on each of the following articles:
- Bo Lim, “Exile and Migration: Toward a Biblical Theology of Immigration and Displacement”
- Ramelia Williams, “The Evangelical Covenant Church’s Response to the Civil Rights Movement, 1963-1968”
- Douglas Cedarleaf, “Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done” (sermon transcription)
- Catherine Gilliard, “Watching, Not Waiting: A Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent”
- “North Park Theological Seminary Faculty Statement on Race and the Justice System”
Cearleaf’s allusion to “black men . . . shot in the back” echoes in Gilliard’s lament that “a response, a look, a walk, or an action taken too quickly could cost a black or brown woman or man their life.” That this echo reverberates over half a century later, should convict and embolden the church. Two questions posed to the Covenant in 1963 remain as relevant and urgent fifty years later. Cedarleaf asks his congregation,
“Is it possible for us simply to sit here and hope somehow that maybe we will still be able, double-tongued as we are, to talk about the will of God while we have nothing to say about…a shot in the back?”
And from a pastoral letter to Covenant congregations, adopted two days later at the 1963 Ministerial meeting:
“In this Gethsemane of the church, shall we simply say, ‘Let this cup pass,’ without also adding ‘nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt’? Or shall we cast all our care on him and take council with our faith instead of our fears?”
And perhaps a third is in order: will these questions remain as relevant and urgent fifty years from now? Join us for dialog on these critical matters. [Access full issue comment here.]
What characterizes a thriving congregation? What fosters vitality, and by what fruit might we assess it? The goal of the congregational vitality emphasis within Start and Strengthen Churches is that every Covenant congregation become a “healthy missional church,” which the ministry area defines as “pursuing Christ” (healthy) and “pursuing Christ’s priorities in the world” (missional). Assessment tools (PULSE), coaching, and workshops (Veritas, EPIC, ONE) guide established congregations on a path of corporate self-reflection toward greater vitality. It is these initiatives our 74:1 Covenant Quarterly issue explores and assesses.
In the opening article, John Wenrich, director of congregational vitality, grounds vitality in the person and work of the Holy Spirit, as both the Spirit of truth, enabling congregations to speak the truth about themselves, and the Spirit of life, breathing new life into old bones. (Read Wenrich’s article here.) Research results follow from two doctor of ministry projects that assessed the perceived success of vitality initiatives within congregations.
Ryan Eikenbary-Barber studied the impact of the vitality pathway as a whole on a single congregation. Through feedback collected in focus groups and surveys, he concluded that the pathway’s greatest impact was facilitating healthy conflict negotiation and commitment to deep cultural change. (Read Eikenbary-Barber’s article here).
Surveying a broad sample of Covenant congregations, Corey Johnsrud sought to establish how the Veritas seminar fosters increased capacity for mission. His research revealed that the principal felt-benefit was gaining language and opportunity to corporately take stock of present realty. It further revealed a common conflation of mission and evangelism. (Read Johnsrud’s article here.) Both studies revealed the importance of truth-telling, reliance on the Holy Spirit, and adaptive leadership in the pursuit of vitality.
Wenrich, Eikenbary-Barber, and Johnsrud converge in their insistence that no transformation precedes an honest account of that which is in need of transformation. All emphasize further that this commitment to seeking, accepting, and telling the truth is a necessary starting point that will lead nowhere if not acted upon in reliance on the Holy Spirit. Taken together, the authors call the Covenant to conscious dependence on the Holy Spirit (Wenrich), productive conflict (Eikenbary-Barber), and a restored tension between mission and friendship (Johnsrud).
Read the 74:1 issue here. Be sure to subscribe to be notified of upcoming Forum posts – and join the conversation in the weeks ahead with these authors and more.
Our Aug/Nov 2015 Covenant Quarterly issue offered articles calling chaplains to incarnational presence (Hubbard) – and for this to be an active presence through the healthy use of self in ministry (Jueckstock & Vlach). Authors considered additionally how the church can minister to families experiencing mental illness (Simpson) as well as how chaplains and congregations can provide spiritual care to those suffering from delusions related to spirituality (Fretheim).
Forum contributors engaged with and supplemented this content, addressing the church’s ministry to those grieving during holidays (Pierre), interaction with Amy Simpson’s article from a mother and Covenant pastor also speaking out about the church’s role in mental health (Thompson), how the Covenant’s Five-fold Test might inform chaplaincy ministry (Brooks & Pate), how art can facilitate visual prayer that challenges “icons” of expectation and brings light to darkness (Lindholm-Johnson).
Special thanks to the Covenant Chaplains Association – and to its chairperson, Jeff Saville – for organizing and providing content for this issue. We hope that the practical theology engaged here will continue to spur conversation and reflection and that resources shared will further equip those serving in related ministry capacities/settings.
Our upcoming Quarterly issue (74:1, Feb 2016) engages congregational vitality in theory and in practice, with contributions from ECC director of Congregational Vitality, John Wenrich, as well as results from doctoral research on the impact of the Veritas workshop and the vitality pathway from Covenant pastors Ryan Eikenbary-Barber and Corey Johnsrud.
Be in touch to recommend Forum contributors on the theme of congregational vitality – or to contribute yourself. And don’t forget to subscribe to Forum to receive notification when corresponding posts begin.
The Covenant has a rich legacy of chaplaincy. Even before the Covenant’s official organization in 1885, Mission Friends supported chaplains who offered practical and spiritual care to Swedish immigrants arriving in a strange land. Currently approximately 10% of the Covenant Ministerium serves in chaplaincy roles in locations as diverse as military, hospitals, correctional facilities, hospice, universities, corporate workplaces, and retirement communities.
In the August/November 2015 issue of the Covenant Quarterly, several of our chaplains reflect theologically on the distinct opportunities and challenges they experience in chaplaincy ministry. In doing so they offer practical insight to all pastoral caregivers.
- Drawing from thirty years as a U.S. Navy chaplain and thirty-six as professor of Old Testament (Denver Seminary and North Park Theological Seminary), Robert L. Hubbard Jr. explores the incarnational nature of chaplaincy. He traces God’s long journey toward humanity, from tabernacle, to temple and prophets, culminating in God’s assuming flesh in the incarnation. Chaplains too have a ministry of incarnation, giving “skin” to God’s presence in the world – going out to people who may never step into a church. (Read article here.)
- Tim Fretheim, chaplain at Vancouver’s Forensic Psychiatric Hospital, considers the particular difficulty of providing spiritual care for those suffering from delusions of grandiosity with religious content. When a pathology manifests in religious forms, how does the chaplain nurture genuine religious experience while not inhibiting the healing of pathological experience? Fretheim offers an accessible introduction to grandiose delusion with religious content – its definition, diagnosis, and origin – and offers practical tools for the chaplain’s unique role in the care of persons suffering from such delusions. (Read article here.)
- Joel Jueckstock and Kyle Vlach, both chaplains and Clinical Pastoral Education supervisors in the Twin Cities, call pastoral caregivers beyond a passive notion of “presence” to an active use of self in providing pastoral care. They affirm the agency of caregivers in “co-creating” healing narratives with the subject of care and the Holy Spirit. Jueckstock and Vlach provide specific resources for pastoral caregivers to assume responsibility for the healthy use of self in ministry and the constant growth in self-knowledge this requires. (Read article here.)
- Finally, Amy Simpson, senior editor of Leadership Journal, addresses how the church body can support families struggling with mental illness, in a paper originating in North Park University & Theological Seminary’s symposium, “Being Present: A Faithful Response to Mental Illness” (November 8, 2014), sponsored by the Good Shepherd Initiative and Covenant Ministries of Benevolence. Drawing from research and her own family’s experience with schizophrenia, Simpson offers practical ways for the whole church to walk alongside families struggling with mental illness. (Read article here.)
We are indebted to our chaplains for ministering to diverse communities beyond the walls of the church – and to the reflections they offer here that invite and equip the whole church to mediate Christ to those suffering physically, emotionally, and mentally in our pews and in our communities.
In the weeks ahead, we’ll feature related content, including original art from Kari Lindholm-Johnson, a response to Amy Simpson’s article by Covenant pastor Stephanie Thompson, additional resources, and more. Be sure to subscribe in order not to miss content and conversation.
THAT’S A WRAP
This concludes our inaugural round of Forum posts. Many thanks to readers, contributors, and commenters for an engaging dialogue on intercultural biblical interpretation. Pointed questions have been raised and good dialogue modeled: a sign of good things to come. We encourage you to continue exploring, considering, questioning, practicing, and learning about intercultural biblical interpretation.
- How does the pastor or chaplain exercise the incarnational ministry of presence? How can pastors and congregations best minister to families experiencing mental illness?
- What is the dividing line between delusions with religious content and authentic religious experiences? The neurology of experiencing Christ and believing oneself to be Christ?
- How and under what circumstances did the ministry of chaplaincy begin in the Covenant?
Our authors tackle these questions and more in the next Covenant Quarterly issue (73:3-4, Aug/Nov 2015), scheduled for November publication. Be in touch to recommend Forum contributors on the themes of chaplaincy & mental health – or to contribute yourself. And don’t forget to subscribe to Forum to receive notification when corresponding posts begin.
See you back here in October.
“Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many….The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’…If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:14, 21, 26-27)
If an underlying contention runs through the May 2015 issue of the Covenant Quarterly, it is this: only at great cost does the church say “I don’t need you” to the particular ethnic communities that comprise its very body. The claim of both Max Lee and Bruce Fields is that the North American church desperately needs to see its need for the scriptural interpretations of minority Christian communities and biblical scholars; the two additional articles provide intercultural readings that further support this claim.
- North Park Theological Seminary professor Max Lee begins the issue – and appropriately so, as it largely emerges from his course, Intercultural Biblical Interpretation. Lee introduces the goal, method, and benefits of reading Scripture interculturally, inviting the church to this practice of listening to one another with open ears and so together reading Scripture with new eyes. (Read Lee’s article here.)
- Nilwona Nowlin advocates the necessity of reconciliation between African Americans and Africans in the United States prior to the possibility of reconciliation with white or other ethnic Americans. She offers a reading of Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers as a resource for this “family reunion” so that God might similarly take what was meant for evil and from it bring good (Genesis 45:5, 7; 50:20). (Read Nowlin’s article here.)
- Erik Borggren explores how reading Scripture from a cultural context that is not one’s own might expand our imagination to open up more fruitful readings. Borggren explores the response of Japanese Americans to internment during World War II as a means of collapsing a false opposition between Paul’s call to “be subject to governing authorities” (Romans 13:1) and his locating the Christian’s citizenship in heaven (Philippians 3:20). Borggren suggests a third way is opened by Japanese American resistance to the dehumanization of internment camps in the form of the art of gaman, “enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity” (quoted, p. 32). (Read Borggren’s article here.)
- The issue closes with an article by Bruce Fields, associate professor of biblical and systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. A guest lecturer in Lee’s course, Fields delivered the 2015 Eaton-Jones Lecture at North Park, from which this article derives. Fields argues that if the contribution of one ethnic part of the church is not receive by the whole church, the church suffers. Fields offers lessons a black hermeneutic extends to the wider church and secondly calls a black hermeneutic to self-evaluation. (Read Fields’ article here.)
The ultimate concern of all four authors in the biblical readings they offer or advocate is love – love of God, love of neighbor, and love of self. Nowlin makes the case that a healthy self-love is prerequisite to obeying Christ’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves – and that this self-love is impeded by deeply rooted racism and tension between Africans and African Americans symptomatic of it. Borggren calls the church to its fundamental identity is as “a community in which the gospel is proclaimed, the idolatries of fear and power are rejected, and worship is expressed through the love of neighbor as oneself” (p. 38). Lee’s conclusion captures well this common aim:
What better way can we love our neighbor than to take steps to learn about the cultural histories that shaped their identities and somehow, in the process, empathize with their struggles and make them our own? What better way can we love ourselves by letting our neighbors help expose our invisible presuppositions and prejudices? And what better way can we love God than when we, as a united community of diverse believers, learn from one another’s readings of Scripture so that we can obey its teaching with greater faithfulness? (p.14)
After reading the proposals that follow these questions await your consideration.
Content posted here over the next two weeks (M, W, F) will supplement these articles, including a response to Bruce Fields’ article by Dominique Gilliard, pastor at New Hope Covenant Church (Oakland, CA), recommended reading on intercultural biblical interpretation, and more.
Be sure to subscribe to our RSS feed in order not to miss content and conversation.
Welcome to the Forum. In conjunction with the Covenant Quarterly, this site exists to foster dialogue around relevant pastoral and theological issues.
That is to say, the purpose of this site extends beyond learning from individual contributors – though we do hope such learning will happen. The preeminent purpose of Forum is to learn from one another. Collaboration through shared insights, counterpoints, experiences, and questions facilitates our collective growth in wisdom and love of God and neighbor.
We invite you to collaborate with us. Here are some ways to begin:
- Join the conversation. Forum posts are intentionally dialogical. Do you have a question for the author? A counterpoint or relevant experience that will move the conversation forward? Share these in the comments section.
- Write for us. Do you want to respond formally to a Quarterly article? Do you have insight to share with fellow clergy regarding how a given topic impacts your ministry? We welcome you to get in touch to discuss contributing to Forum. You’ll find simple guidelines and upcoming themes here.
- Share your feedback. Our mission is to to foster theological reflection on ministerial praxis in service to clergy. Let us know how can we best pursue this mission. Are there topics that call for engagement? Do you have ideas for post types? Let us know.
- Suggest a contributor. Productive dialogue is only possible if participants have a diversity of perspectives. Who does the church need to hear from? Introduce us – and the larger church – to wise voices, on upcoming topics or other relevant topics.
Forum is a conversation; enrich it with your participation.