Who or What is the United Church of Christ (UCC)?
Many Hands Make Light Work, but Many Personalities Make Complex Relationships!
When people ask me to explain the United Church of Christ I like to refer to an old quote from the famous American comedian Will Rogers. Someone once asked Rogers if he was a part of any political party. Will said, "I am not part of any organized political party... I am a Democrat!" He was trying to explain that there are many opinions in the Democrat party. In the Democratic convention of 1932, it was reported that people turned on their radio to listen in on the Democratic Convention proceedings and thought a riot had broken out. So when it comes to the "Who" or the "What" regarding the United Church of Christ it is hard to put your finger on one solitary thought or idea... other than we find UNITY in our mutual FAITH in Christ. This in the face of a reality that we may disagree on social issues, politics, the 'how-to of Church,' and EVEN theology. To be UCC means you probably don't have all the answers but you have learned to live in the dynamic tension of needing others who can cause us to consider and reconsider our thoughts. I don't know about you, but I like it that way! For example, in the United Church of Christ you will find Churches that believe differently in doctrine and the 'how-to' of Church. We have Churches that are liberal, conservative, Evangelical, Protestant, Catholic, Reformed, Post-Protestant, Emergent, Pentecostal, and everything in-between! Most folks would describe Shabbona United Church of Christ as Evangelical in theology, but moderate regarding social and political issues. At Shabbona United Church of Christ we believe it is our job to proclaim the Gospel and for each person to work out their understanding of the faith. Regardless of those who may be separatists, this happens anyways in our hearts. In our congregation we have Republicans and Democrats. We choose to love each other, even though it is hard. We have those who are Pro-life and those who are Pro-Choice. We choose to love each other even though it is hard at times. Theologically we have mostly moderates. However, no one is moderate about their love for Jesus. We have folks who are moderately left and moderately right on ALL issues, but we seek to find ways to find points we have in common. Why? Because it was the prayer of Jesus to God! That's kind of an important imperative! We are not a 'group-think' denomination.
The "Big Tent"
In 1957, when the Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical Reformed Churches merged to form the United Church of Christ it was with the goal to create a denomination which included EVERYONE professing Christian faith. After all, the requirements for Christian faith are relatively simple. In Romans 10:9-13 we find the Apostle Paul's statement to be very inclusive. It is hard to get around all of the 'ALLs" in these verses...
"Because if you confess with your mouth “Jesus is Lord” and in your heart you have faith that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 Trusting with the heart leads to righteousness, and confessing with the mouth leads to salvation. 11 The Scripture says, "All who have faith in Him [Jesus] won’t be put to shame." 12 There is no distinction between Jew and Greek, because the same Lord is Lord of ALL, who gives richly to ALL who call on Him [Jesus]. 13 ALL who call on the Lord’s name will be saved."
So what do we find in the passage? We see we need to confess that Jesus is Lord [and not ourselves]. This recognizes Jesus' divinity. Jesus is God! We are told we must believe that Jesus' was resurrected. This is the resurrection we celebrate every Easter. We are told we must believe with our hearts. In other words, our faith is more than intellectual. It is a call to the essence of servanthood. We have often heard the saying, "Put your money where your mouth is!" Faith, is the practice of putting our behavior in line with with what we say we believe about the Word of God."
You may note the slogan located at the base of the UCC logo, "That they may all be one." This is a quote from John 17:11 and 21. This passage is Jesus' very own prayer showing the desire of God's heart. It was the desire of Jesus' heart, that those who loved Him, just might be able to love each other enough to get along. Imagine that! This idea is often called the "Big Tent!" The idea of the "Big Tent" comes from Isaiah 54:2-3...
"Enlarge the site of your tent, and stretch out the drapes of your dwellings; don’t hold back. Lengthen your tent ropes and strengthen your stakes. 3 To the right and to the left you will burst out, and your children will possess the nations’ land and settle their desolate cities."
This reference is from the Old Testament. Guess what? It is a promise of God that we will have to have a bigger tent!
Finally, the idea of the "Big Tent" asks the question, "Can Christian believers of all stripes, political persuasions, ideology, theology exist in the same tent?" This was the dream, and this dream remains a struggle. I am comforted by those who may disagree with me. Why? Because the older I get, the more I realize just how big God is and how little I understand. I like my faith called into the 'Great Conversation' of life because it keeps us asking questions. And, if we keep asking questions we have the promise that God will supply more light.
"Speaking To" not "Speaking For"
Now you may say, "Okay, I get the idea about the "Big Tent. However, how can you associate with those whose belief in certain areas is vastly different?" The answer? We get along because we believe that each and every part of the denomination is the Church! This includes every person and every organization! And, as such, every entity does not speak "for the Church," but "to the Church." Every voice is prophetic! in the chaos of this conversation, we hope to grow in faith and find more answers. Like your physical muscles, your Spiritual muscles will never grow if not challenged. I often wonder how Spiritual Growth can take place in other fellowships that do not allow this dynamic exchange. In the UCC context, your faith must be tried in the crucible of discussion.
An Extragant Welcome, Not Rules
Finally, in conjunction with the "UNITY AMIDST TENSION" theme just provided, another way to describe the United Church of Christ is to mention that we do not have a lot of rules. We might be peculiar, but we are foolish enough to believe the Holy Spirit is actually powerful and loving enough to work in the heart of each person. This is not some form of relativism, for it is not! It is a true sense of trust in the One God has sent. A trust that Jesus will complete His Church. We might want to tell people what to believe or what behavior is Christian and what is not... but the effective reality is this belief will not be owned by an individual until they encounter the living God in the form of Jesus Christ.
If you are a control freak then you may not be happy in the United Church of Christ. However, if you want to have your faith challenged under the "Big Tent" of faithful believers, then I cannot think of any other denomination that allows such liberty. My prayer for you is to come home. Come home to the call of Jesus Christ in your life. Come home to the United Church of Christ!
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