Theory of Public Ecclesiology Ecumenism

Created by: Chammah Judex Kaunda

The article defines public ecclesiology ecumenism as the manifestation of institutionally-defined churches in public spaces to celebrate a common liturgical life in Christ through prayer, songs, preaching, and promotion of unified prophetic witness in the public. It  is a multi-Christian site of dialogue and meaning-making grounded in dialectical social praxis directed toward emancipation and liberation of humanity and all creation.

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Public ecclesiology ecumenism[1] refers to the church’s unified prophetic contestations, negotiations, and engagements within elite dominated public spheres utilizing counter-ideology and neocolonial negating narratives from and of the margins. It legitimates the narrative from and of the margins as a divine missional instrument for negating, dismantling, and promoting resistance against elitist political vision and version of the public. It seeks to assert the honor and dignity of the margins, keeping alive their hopes and visions of just and equitable forms of socio-relational, economic, and political interactions. In this way, public ecclesiology ecumenism functions as an enabling impetus for the margins to imagine another society, and sometimes sanctions public rupturing of dissent.[2] In its public manifestations, ecclesiology ecumenism seeks to prophetically witness to God’s mission by rearticulating the public spheres from the underside of modernity and enabling various churches to engage as a unified body of Christ beyond local congregations for the sake of the public good. It challenges narrow confessional and denominationally informed prophetic witness by dismantling their commonsense or naturalization that underpin them. As explained further below, the prophetic intention of public ecclesiology ecumenism is to visibly give epistemological preference to the marginalized in matters of public discussions, public policy, and public good by critiquing and guiding political spheres and their different actors in the search for an effective political vision for a just, equitable, and prosperous society.

The concept of “public ecclesiology ecumenism” is embedded in the prophetic witness of various churches as they decisively and intentionally unified body of Christ in the public spheres influenced and motivated by various public issues within the local or and global contexts. The notion of “public” is understood as a site of interaction, dialogue, and reflection among the churches, through worship, preaching, prayer, and social praxis. The public is not to be regarded as a fixed, neutral space, but rather as a space where the ubiquitous existential struggle is a daily reality for the marginalized. The churches engage in the public as a site of struggle against alienation and death dealing forces. The power of the public space for the churches is concealed in its ability to offer a place of equality without institutional, doctrinal or legal privileges, and where ecclesiological identity is suspended, and the focus is placed on common needs, common Savior—Jesus, and common humanity, rather than denominational doctrines and ecclesiological hierarchies. It is a space of ambiguity, openness, and indeterminacy in which normative ecclesiological identities dissolve for a while, resulting in increased permeable ecclesiological boundaries. It offers a dynamic space where doctrinal constraints are broken, and institutional liturgical approaches are suspended or relaxed. This is a context with potential to lead to new ecclesiology ecumenical imaginations.

Public ecclesiology ecumenism is a “prophetic socio-just action” seeking emancipation and liberation of the marginalized including God’s creation. It searches for new ways of being, becoming, and allowing the flow out of socio-relational healing energy, reconciliation, economic development, and life-giving politics. The public space is regarded as a dynamic site of encounter, relational overflow, contestation, and border-crossing destabilizing among worshippers from various churches, politicians, and God. This makes public ecclesiology ecumenism have a radical focus on existential realities by challenging the status quo and seeking rearrangement of the socio-political order, norms, and values of the nation for the sake of the common good. In this way, the public becomes a space of agonizing re-enactment of suffering and unresolved struggle over injustice; a space of subversion against religio-social normativity; and revolt against neocolonial political order as well as institutionalized and individualized church engagement in politics. This is “not a space of homogenized knowledge formation, rather an arena of contestation, challenges, border-crossing resistance and solidarity for the betterment of humanity and the world.”[3] Public ecclesiology ecumenism is missional praxis of the churches’ seeking “to fulfil together their common calling to glorify the One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit”[4]  by putting the action of the state and the clandestine church collaboration with the state under God’s eye. There is no separation between the act of being the church from socio-political commitment to total liberation and social transformation.

However, the public is never neutral; like all social techniques, it is an elusive space that often requires negotiating overt intentions and covert agendas, often left unstated by various actors including the churches. Thus, the public ecclesiology ecumenism does not give certainty concerning social transformation but “opens the door to a world of contingency where events and meanings—indeed “reality” itself—can be molded and carried in different directions.”[5] Hence, for the public space to be authentic contexts of ecclesiology ecumenical expressions, it needs to be protected in its own right against the hegemonic claims of political elites, institutional doctrines, as well as fundamentalist tendencies. Konrad Raiser observes that “This is where the issues of legitimacy and objectives of political authority and exercise of power need to be dealt with in a critical discourse; this is where pluralistic religious traditions may articulate their public role.”[6] This means public ecclesiology ecumenism should situate itself as the custodian of public spaces. Being a custodian, means public ecclesiology ecumenism participates in God’s public mission through resisting the temptation to legitimize the state and draw strength from rejecting any attempt to be reduced into a state apparatus to promote any political, ethnic or nationalist interests and agenda. Thus, it demands the various participating churches to form a radical bond of solidarity that can give new meaning to their interactions with one another, government, and the world in the public arena. In this regard, the public ecclesiology ecumenism as analytical framework is a tool that can help to bring a paradigm shift in re-conceptualizing the public as the locus from which the churches can authentically fulfil together the common calling by authentically participating in the public mission of God. This means, churches in their public ecclesiology ecumenical imaginations should position themselves as a unified institution with a divine public mission distinction to the state which draws its mandate from the voters. In this way the church can retain a more properly and effective prophetic voice.

References

  1. Chammah J. Kaunda; The Day of Prayer and Its Potential for Engendering Public Ecclesiology Ecumenism in Zambia. Religions 2018, 9, 393, 10.3390/rel9120393.
  2. Carter, Warren. Matthew and Empire. In Empire in the New Testament ; Stanley E. Porter and Cynthia Long Westfall, Eds.; Pickwick Publication: Eugene, 2011; pp. 90–119.
  3. Kang, Namsoon. Whose/Which World in World Christianity?: Toward World Christianity as Christianity of Worldly-Responsibility. In A New Day: Essays in Honor of Lamin Sanneh ; Akintunde E. Akinade, Eds.; Peter Lang Publishing: New York , 2010; pp. 39.
  4. Kessler, Diane . Together in the Way: Official Reports of the Eighth Assembly of World Council of Churches.; WCC Publications: Geneva, 1990; pp. 363.
  5. Thomassen, Bjørn. Liminality and the Modern: Living through the in-between. ; Ashgate: Farnham, 2014; pp. 7.
  6. Raiser, Konrad . Religion, Power, Politics. Translated by Stephen Brown. ; WCC Publications: Geneva, 2013; pp. 60.