St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church    Raleigh, North Carolina

August 2016: The Beloved Community

Our Challenge: Being The Beloved Community

​Rev. Ronald L. Ivey

All Christians are responsible for carrying out Christ's Great Commission.
Matthew 28:16-20 King James Version (KJV)
16 Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them.
17 And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted.
18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.
19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto
the end of the world. Amen.

The Great Commission is a ministry, and current historical events of violence, discrimination and physical and spiritual poverty require our involvement as Disciples of Christ. I offer up and propose the “Beloved Community”[i] paradigm as a mechanism in carrying out the Great Commission and Re-visioning Ministry. Moreover, I contend that the church’s historical narrative is still being written. Individuals’ involved in ministry will benefit by studying this narrative. It is through the analysis of this narrative that the church can enhance the effectiveness of its’ work by developing a dynamic, transformative framework for the Beloved Community.   This essay will attempt to begin this process.

The reality is that the Triune God had already established the original authentic holy community. Wes Roberts and Glenn Marshall acknowledge and support the idea that “the Trinity is a community – the original community” (Jn. 15:11, 16: 25-26[NRSN]).[ii] I claim that the Trinity is the first and authentic Beloved Community. The Trinity worked in communion, through holiness and with agape love to bring creation into existence, as its’ mission.  Communion, holiness, agape love and mission are the essential components that define the Triune God’s Holy Community.

Jesus called this community the Church (Mt. 16: 8 [NRSV]). In the biblical Greek, the church's (ekklesia) definition is "to call" into assembly.[iii] The Church is Jesus’ Beloved Community. The origins of the term beloved community are attributed to theologian Howard Thurman and Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The term beloved community is descriptive and encompassing of the characteristic markers of mission, holiness, communion and agape love that define Jesus' Church. The terms church/community/beloved community will be used interchangeable.

The Old Testament (OT) interpretation of God’s community is grounded in God’s promise to Abraham, that his son’s offspring would constitute a new community called Israel (Gn. 15 [NRSV]). However, I also contend that the early Christian churches saw itself as God’s new and authentic “community,” the Beloved Community. The premise is confirmed when Jesus said, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it” (Mt.16: 18 [NRSV]). In this New Testament text, Jesus is calling for a new community formation.[iv] Jesus’ new community is more inclusive and not just limited to the Jews. Jesus gave Simon a new name, Peter. Peter in biblical Greek means “the rock” (1 Pt. 2:5 [NRSV]).[v] The interpretation is that each disciple was a spiritual “living stone” for building a new community formation. Peter was the first building living stone. Jesus is the master builder and chief architect for this ongoing new spiritual construction called community.

Furthermore, the outpouring of the “Holy Spirit” at Pentecost was a pivotal turning point for the shaping of the community’s new identity and nature (Acts 2:4 [NRSV]). The Holy Spirit Pentecostal incident only involved the Jewish community. But the Holy Spirit within that community crossed class, gender, language and cultural differences to show the universality and “democratization” of the Holy Spirit.[vi] This episode was the precursor that laid the groundwork for Paul’s ministry. Paul allowed the Holy Spirit to empower him to enlarge God’s community by being more inclusive and making “disciples of all nations” (Gentiles) (Mt. 28: 18[NRSV]).

Also, the disciples' obedience, patience, and faithfulness were powerful attributes characterizing the new community's nature by following Jesus' admonition of staying put in Jerusalem (Acts: 1[NRSV]). Roberts and Marshall articulate that it is through one’s character that an outsider determines if an individual or an organization’s actions match their words[vii].  Cheryl L. Peterson supports this premise when she cites the community’s new name “the Way.”[viii] I concur with her interpretation “to be people of the Way means to be shaped by the spirit to live a certain way, the way of a new life in Jesus’ name.”[ix] It is a powerful testimony that the disciples’ actions inspired others who were standing at the curbside of doubt to decide if this new community was for real.

The Apostolic Period displayed to humankind, “the cost of discipleship,” when one submitted their life to Jesus.[x] Death, persecution and being considered a religious immigrant cult did not silence or deter the community from its’ “misso Dei.[xi] In brief, the church was considered an outsider to all kingdoms and local authorities.

Under the reign of Emperor Constantine's conversion to Christianity, this brought forth a radical departure from the church's understanding of their nature. One must confess that once Constantine proclaimed Christianity as the sanctioned religion for the empire, persecution of Christians ended.[xii] No longer was the church an outcast. It was an insider given legitimacy by the established authorities. But there was a supreme cost of the church's identity. All citizens of the Empire were automatically deemed Christians through an edict issued by Constantine.  Simply put, this was forced recruitment, not authentic conversion by discipleship. The church drastically altered its commission by Jesus (Mt. 28:16 – 20[NRSV]). Other historic paradigmatic shifts  (Age of Enlightenment, Modernity, and Postmodernism) would impact the church's perception as the Beloved Community. 

This narrative regarding my understanding of the church's ecclesiology and its' historical movements at this juncture may appear to be crisis-oriented and that the church is moving toward chaos. However, this is not true. Quite the opposite is true. I see these historic paradigmatic shifts, as opportunities for humankind to continue its’ efforts with the Holy Spirit toward restoring the Triune God’s authentic Beloved Community.

 
Currently, the church's greatest challenge in this postmodern era is its' conversion from being a religious institution to a business organization. Roberts and Marshall concurred with this conclusion and explained it adequately in their book.[xiii] The churches in their opinion have become mere shopping centers for congregations who are now viewed as consumers.   

 Many churches are now social clubs offering entertainment, daycare services, counseling, restaurant hangouts, coffee shops, and merchandise peddlers. The churches’ leadership and laity are no longer disciples, but entrepreneurs marketing their churches as businesses. There is nothing wrong with offering social services. A balance must be achieved. The Beloved Community's true mission (discipleship) must not be abandoned or sacrificed. The premises above regarding my understanding of the church are not viewed in a vacuum. It is integrally connected to the perspective of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (A.M.E.C.). The A.M.E.C.’s viewpoint was influenced and impacted by four major factors, Methodism, oppression, the Exodus motif and the Old Testament prophetic voices.

However, the A.M.E.C.’s understanding of their identity and mission was birthed out of oppression, similar to the early church as written in the Book of Acts. All members worshiped freely within the Old St. George Methodist Episcopal Church, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Eventually, the shifting tides of racism arrived at the church's doorstep and breached the church’s doors. The church changed specific policies that were racist and impeded the freedom of an authentic worship experience for people of African ancestry. Due to these unchristian policies, Richard Allen (founder) and his associates waged the first documented non-violent protest by people of the African Diaspora. Allen adopted and executed the Exodus motif of liberation theology by leading God’s people out of organized religious captivity.  He was clear about his commission from God that an authentic church community needed to be resurrected. They were known as the "Free African Society"(FAS). [xiv]

 The A.M.E.C. was established in 1816. Since its inception the church has continued to wage spiritual warfare to achieve the aspirations, render services and obtain justice for people of African ancestry. On the other hand, certainly, the local A.M.E.C. is not immune to the shifting terrains of human activities. Abuse of power, sexism, classism, financial greed and other social ills are seeping through the spiritual “living stones” (1 Pt. 2:5 [NRSV) and contaminating the church community. These cancerous diseases disturbances have created challenges in maintaining the church’s ecclesial identity and the implementation of its’ mission (discipleship).

Finally, I believe that Dr. King’s question is appropriate to have the A.M.E.C. ask and answer. “Where Do We Go from Here Chaos or Community?”[xv] The answer is obvious. We must strive to become the Beloved Community. I firmly believe that it is in the best interests of all churches, not just the A.M.E.C. to respond to that challenge The Great Commission and authentic ministry cannot take place except in, by and through God’s authentic Beloved Community. I propose that all churches use the four pillars of communion, holiness, agape love and mission as a framework toward that end. The church being the Beloved Community is still a work in progress.  This project that must be explored and developed furthered.

[i] “The King Philosophy,” The King Center, accessed September 4, 2014, www.thekingcenter.org/king-philosophy
[ii] Roberts, Wes and Marshall, Glenn Reclaiming God’s Original Intent for the Church (Colorado: NANPRESS, 2004), 83.
[iii]Doob Sakenfeld, Katherine, General Editor The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of The Bible Me-R Volume 4 (Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 2006), 644.
[iv] Roberts, and Marshall, Reclaiming God’s Original Intent for the Church, 87.
[v] Achtemeir, Paul, J. General Editor Harper’s Bible Dictionary (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1971), 776. [vi] Blount, Brian K., General ed. True to Our Native Land, An African American New Testament Commentary (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), 217
 [vii] Roberts, and Marshall, Reclaiming God’s Original Intent for the Church, 73.
[viii] Peterson, Cheryl M. Who Is The Church? An Ecclesiology for the Twenty-First Century. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013). 111.
[ix] Ibid., 111.
[x] Ibid., 84.
[xi] Roberts, and Marshall, Reclaiming God’s Original Intent for the Church, 25.
[xii] Ibid., 25.
[xiii] Ibid. , 137.
[xiv] Singleton, George A. The Romance of African Methodism A Study of the African Methodist Episcopal (Church Nashville: AME Press, 2001), xviii-x-x.
[xv] Washington, James M., ed. The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., 555.

 Bibliography

Achtemeir, Paul, J. General Editor Harper’s Bible Dictionary San Francisco: HarperCollins,
            1971.
Barbour, Jr. Rev. Johnny, Publisher The Doctrine and Discipline of the African Methodist
Episcopal Church 2012 Nashville: The AMEC Sunday School Union, 2012.
Blount, Brian K., General ed. True to Our Native Land, An African American New Testament
Commentary Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007.
Brueggemann, Walter The Collected Sermons of Walter Brueggemann Kentucky: John Knox
 Press, 2011.
Doob Sakenfeld, Katherine, General EditorThe New Interpreter’s Dictionary of The Bible A-C
Volume 1 Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 2006.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, New Revised Standard Version
With The Apocrypha Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 2003
Peterson, Cheryl M., Who Is The Church? An Ecclesiology for the Twenty-First Century

 Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013.
Payne, Daniel A. History of the African Methodist Episcopal Church Nashville: AMEC Sunday
School Union/Legacy Publishing, 1998.
Singleton, George A.The Romance of African Methodism A Study of the African Methodist
 Episcopal Church Nashville: AME Press, 2001.
Roberts, Wes and Marshall, Glenn Reclaiming God’s Original Intent for the Church Colorado:
NANPRESS, 2004.
 “The King Philosophy,” The King Center, accessed September 4, 2014, www.thekingcenter.org/king-philosophy
Washington, James M., ed. The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., San Francisco: Harper, 1963

[1] “The King Philosophy,” The King Center, accessed September 4, 2014, www.thekingcenter.org/king-philosophy

[2] Roberts, Wes and Marshall, Glenn Reclaiming God’s Original Intent for the Church (Colorado: NANPRESS, 2004), 83.

[3]Doob Sakenfeld, Katherine, General Editor The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of The Bible Me-R Volume 4 (Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 2006), 644.

[4] Roberts, and Marshall, Reclaiming God’s Original Intent for the Church, 87.

[5] Achtemeir, Paul, J. General Editor Harper’s Bible Dictionary (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1971), 776.

[6] Blount, Brian K., General ed. True to Our Native Land, An African American New Testament Commentary (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), 217.


[7] Roberts, and Marshall, Reclaiming God’s Original Intent for the Church, 73.

[8] Peterson, Cheryl M. Who Is The Church? An Ecclesiology for the Twenty-First Century. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013). 111.


[9] Ibid., 111.

[10] Ibid., 84.

[11] Roberts, and Marshall, Reclaiming God’s Original Intent for the Church, 25.

[12] Ibid., 25.

[13] Ibid. , 137.

[14] Singleton, George A. The Romance of African Methodism A Study of the African Methodist Episcopal (Church Nashville: AME Press, 2001), xviii-x-x.

[15] Washington, James M., ed. The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., 555.

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