2000: Inaugural Gathering of Friends and Co-Conspirators

Details on the first gathering are not available. However, the information below comes from the earliest version of the web page and gives an understanding of the context.

About the Project

Introduction

The central questions of ecclesiology, in our time as in all others, remain stark and straightforward: to whom or what do we belong? To what body do we pledge our allegiance? What commitments do we recognize as those to which all others must bend or bow?

For too long, such questions of ultimate loyalty and allegiance were kept at bay by most Christian churches. The Church as the Body of Christ – the material, living community that crosses all borders and human divisions – has been too easily and often compromised and fragmented by unwise accommodations with states, ethnic and racial imperatives, and the naturalized imperatives of class, gender and ideology. By minimizing or denying the distinctiveness of the life of discipleship – a set of affections, dispositions and practices learned within churches faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ – too many churches have turned the clear and unambiguous call of Jesus and the Holy Spirit into a confused and contradictory mix of caution and self-interest.

The intent of The Ekklesia Project is to remind the church of its true calling as the real-world community whose primary loyalty is to the Body of Christ, the priorities and practices of Jesus, and the inbreaking Kingdom of God. In doing so, The Ekklesia Project will work with, within, across and beneath existing churches and structures.

The founders of The Ekklesia Project are drawn from a wide range of Christian traditions and legacies. Included in our number are mainline and evangelical Protestants, Catholics and persons schooled in the Anabaptist tradition. We are scholars, pastors, church leaders and writers. After much prayer, study and reflection, we have come to see that the time is right for initiatives aimed at church-centered renewal within the Christian family, and that increasing numbers of people are becoming aware of the limits of the so-called Constantinian bargain that compromises the Gospel in order to cultivate good relations with secular institutions of political, economic and social power.

We envision The Ekklesia Project as a means to provide coherence, leadership and vision to some of the still developing, occasionally inchoate, stirrings of discontent and reappraisal within the Christian community. We hope to remind all Christians of the spiritual ties we share, and the real-world solidarity and allegiance God intends of his Church in a world of lesser loyalties and commitments. By calling attention to the Body of Christ as our “first family” in the world, we aim to put discipleship and a picture of the church as an alternative community of practices, worship and integration at the center of contemporary debates on Christianity and society. This is the vision we share and the reality we seek.

The antecedents to The Ekklesia Project lay in a loose network on “Ecclesiology and Society” established by Michael L. Budde, Associate Professor of Political Science at DePaul University. That network brought together scholars, pastors and interested lay people who shared ideas and resources on matters of discipleship, social analysis and theology; by design it remained numerically limited and committed to supporting, assisting and deepening the existing work and vocations of its members.

After several months the members of this network agreed to explore new collaborative efforts aimed at educating and encouraging congregations and individual Christians regarding the countercultural nature of Christianity in contemporary society. To that end, a group of academics, clergy and pastoral workers – Catholic and Protestant, from various parts of the United States – met in July, 1999 in Chicago and established The Ekklesia Project. The first fruit of this collaboration, “The Ekklesia Project Invitation,” presents the group’s core convictions on matters of ecclesiology, allegiances and the social situation of the churches. Founders of The Ekklesia Project also adopted an ambitious agenda of popular and scholarly education and writing, pastoral partnerships and outreach, and initiatives in Christian formation.

The Ekklesia Project now comprises a core membership of approximately three dozen people; we decided to limit our numbers until we had established a solid foundation for our projects and outreach efforts. A seven-member Steering Committee makes policy decisions between annual meetings of the Project, and Professor Budde continues to serve as the coordinator.
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Activities of The Ekklesia Project

At its July, 1999 meeting, members of The Ekklesia Project constructed three project teams charged with developing, launching and overseeing a variety of initiatives and activities. These three project areas may be described as follows:
Studies in Faith and Culture: A Popular Education Initiative

The Ekklesia Project is committing to bringing its perspectives on radical discipleship and social engagement to audiences larger than those reached by efforts targeting only church ministers and leaders. Therefore, we are launching Studies in Faith and Culture, a series of short booklets that explores The Ekklesia Project vision and how it generates new insights on matters of contemporary social concern.
These booklets will be short (4000-6000 words), aimed primarily at lay people and clergy, and will be written in an accessible style (e.g., no jargon or footnotes). The series will likely be published by Brazos Press, a new publishing company founded by Rodney Clapp and dedicated to innovative, border-crossing efforts in theology and theologically-grounded cultural criticism. Each booklet will be saddle-stitched, have a uniform cover design marking them as part of The Ekklesia Project, and will be priced at or below two dollars each. We expect to produce 10-12 separate booklets annually, and we plan to gather each year’s booklets into an annual volume, also published by Brazos.

Broad thematic topics in the Studies in Faith and Culture series include:

“On Divided Loyalties,” a general programmatic essay on church-centered discipleship and its implications for issues of war and peace, economics, rightly ordered desires, and pluralism.

“Worship and Discipleship,” an essay exploring the Christian worship as an “ordo” that provides an alternative to the “ordo” of the state and market.

“Reading Scripture in the Church,” on how one reads Scripture in a community governed by a vision of radical discipleship and solidarity.

“Idolatry and Family Values,” an exploration of the church as the “first family” of Christians, and how best to think of marriage, the single life, and the nature of vocation.

In addition, more focused topics include “Spirituality as Commodity,” “The Media as a Formation System,” “Baptism, Discipleship and Martyrdom,” and “Holy Mother Market: The Church and Economics”.
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Congregational Formation and Outreach

Members of The Ekklesia Project consider the creation of imaginative and challenging efforts in congregational formation and outreach as among their most important responsibilities. We intend to expand the already existing partnerships that exist between scholars and pastors in The Ekklesia Project to include more clergy, congregations and lay people committed to exploring and embodying the ongoing call to conversion that is constitutive of the Christian tradition. To this end, we are designing a series of experimental, two-day retreats/conferences for select pastors and church leaders in the years 2000 and 2001. These gatherings will bring scholars, pastors and lay leaders into intensive dialogue, prayer and exploration on what it means to be Christian in a world of multiple, competitive allegiances and imperatives. We anticipate staging these invitation-only meetings in two different cities, involving 30-40 church people from each city, during the next 18 months. We expect the participation of pastors and congregations to improve our efforts, extend our reach, and inspire larger numbers of people to explore the countercultural nature of Christianity in our time. Planning for, and participation in, these conferences will involve pastors, scholars and church leaders in cooperative working relationships at several levels.

In addition, we plan to develop lectionary guides, educational and catechetical materials, and various retreat models that might be useful in working for and with pastors and congregations. We will invite pastors, congregations and individual Christians to read, endorse and disseminate The Ekklesia Project Invitation, and to work with us on the deepening of their own church-centered practices, discernment and social witness.
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Book Publishing

The Ekklesia Project intends to establish itself as a visible, wide-ranging and high-quality perspective in dialogue with scholarly and general audiences alike. Given the degree of “border instability” and uncertainty attached to questions of Christian theology, social analysis and church-centered reflection, we may be unusually well positioned to influence the agenda, questions and parameters of debate across a broad intellectual, popular and ecclesial landscape.

To these ends, The Ekklesia Project is launching two book series on Christianity and society, one aimed at a general, non-specialist readership, the other intended for various scholarly audiences. The series aimed at serious, non-academic audiences will be published by Brazos Press. We plan to seek out an established scholarly publisher for the series aimed at more traditional academic audiences, and hope to have an arrangement in place within the next few months. Members of The Ekklesia Project are among the most prolific and interesting writers on theology, culture and society, and we are confident that these book-length efforts will be interesting, thought-provoking, and theologically substantive.
Other Ekklesia Project Activities

In addition to these three project areas, The Ekklesia Project is developing several new outreach vehicles, including a newsletter and web site. We are constructing means for individuals and congregations to affiliate with The Ekklesia Project, perhaps even organizing new local organizations for persons wishing to support and participate in the Ekklesia Project mission.

[the following was a separate page on the earliest version of the web page]
A DECLARATION AND AN INVITATION TO ALL CHRISTIANS

Declaration
Through the church, the Wisdom of God is being made known to the world (Cf. Eph. 3:10). This may come as a surprise to many, both inside and outside the church. The economic, political, and social structures of the contemporary era are so powerful that they frequently seem to eclipse God’s Wisdom, substituting for it the “wisdom” of the world. Instead of living as the body of Christ, Christians too often conform their lives to partisan ideologies and identities, or to the routines of a consumer culture. We are often asked to put other allegiances before what we owe to God and the community of faith; and all too often, our churches seem willing to subordinate the Gospel to the imperatives of economic and political power holders and institutions.

And yet, we are called not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed, by the renewing of our minds, so that we might discern the will of God — what is good, and acceptable, and perfect (Cf. Rom. 12:2). We speak of the Church as “the body of Christ” because we believe that Christians are called to make present the reality of Jesus Christ in the world. Hence, to “be the Church” is to declare that our allegiance to the God of Jesus Christ always takes priority over the other structures that compete for our attention during every hour of every day of our lives.

Christians from many walks of life feel the tensions among these competing allegiances, and recognize that accommodation and compromise are woefully inadequate responses. Some find themselves frustrated by the modern university and its various guilds, within which the Christian intellectual life is no longer recognized as a viable subject of conversation. Others are concerned that many people who describe themselves as Christians do not know the central stories of the Christian faith, let alone allow their lives to be shaped by these stories. Still others are anxious about the challenges of raising children in the Christian life, in the midst of a culture increasingly driven by consumerism and violence. What holds all these concerns together is the common conviction that the Christian faith should play the decisive formative role in our day-to-day lives. And it is also clear that many Christian universities, local churches and believers are unwilling or unable to play this role if it means resisting certain powerful aspects of the existing order.

To offer but one example: at one time, universities provided at least some “free and ordered space” within which the claims of the Christian life could be imagined, criticized, and supported — even in the midst of the competing, often dominant, claims of state, empire and economy. But the increasing secularization of the modern university has made it, in most cases, a hostile environment for conversations about the Christian life. And yet, such conversations desperately need to take place if we hope to work toward a greater integration of Christian convictions and Christian practices, and if scholars are to explore what Christianity might mean to their fields of study and their various intellectual vocations. Without space for Christian scholarship and reflection, and without conversations among Christians in the universities, in the workplaces, and in local congregations, the entire church is enfeebled.

From the time of the earliest gatherings of the disciples of Jesus, Christians have recognized that God fashions the Body of Christ to bea visible presence in the world. We are “called out” from the world, as suggested by the original Greek word for church: ekklesia. We understand this “calling out” to be the work of Holy Spirit, who redeems the lives of believers not as isolated individuals, but as members of analternative community — a resource of resistance to the social and political structures of the age.

Carrying out this communal work requires a common vision and a good deal of mutual support. This is part of the mission of the local church, to which all Christians must remain committed. But congregations and other Christian organizations find it difficult to live a life of discipleship in the midst of competition from the thousands of objects, images, and ideals that vie for our allegiance and attention on a daily basis. Living the Christian life in the midst of such competition requires nourishment and strengthening from the Holy Spirit, carried out through koinonia (communion, fellowship) with other persons who find themselves similarly called.

Therefore, we have formed a network of mutual support for the life of Christian discipleship – support that, sadly, is lacking in many local congregations. We believe that we can help one another to narrow the gaps between what we Christians profess and how we live. We call this The Ekklesia Project, in recognition of the fact that we are “called out” of the world into a different mode of life.

The Ekklesia Project is not a church, nor is it an alternative to existing local churches. It intends to celebrate and make known the work of those congregations and groups whose allegiances to God and the Body of Christ make discipleship a lived reality in the world. The Project also intends, in the spirit of “fraternal correction” (cf. Mt. 18: 15-16; 1Thess. 5:14), to challenge communities and practices that have minimized or diluted the church’s obligation to be a “light to the nations” (cf. Isa. 49:6) and a foretaste of the promised Kingdom of God. Those of us who have created The Ekklesia Project hope and expect to be held to the same level of accountability by our brothers and sisters in Christ.
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Principles

Our principles are simple and straightforward:

1. We believe that the triune God is the origin and the ultimate goal of all things; and that, through Jesus Christ, we are called to give our allegiance to God and to make the Church our true dwelling place. We believe that the claims of Christ have priority over those of the state, the market, race, class, gender, and other functional idolatries. “You shall have no other Gods before me” (Ex. 20:3).
2. We believe that communal worship is the heart of the Christian life. We seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit to bring our everyday practices into greater conformity with our worship, such that our entire lives may be lived to glorify God. Similarly, we pledge to give and receive counsel about how we might better embody the Gospel in its individual and communal expressions. “Praise the Lord; praise the name of the Lord; give praise, O servants of the Lord” (Psalm 135: 1).

3. We believe that the church undercuts its own vocation when it compromises with the institutions, allegiances and assumptions that undergird the “culture of death” in our world. We remind all Christians that, in rejecting the sword and other lethal means to advance His goals, Jesus set an example for all of us who seek to follow Him. While accepting rather than imposing death may still be foolish and scandalous in the eyes of non-Christians (cf. 1 Cor. 1:23), it remains central to what it means to follow a crucified and risen Messiah. We believe that the process of renewing the church in our day requires Christians to rethink all those values and practices that presume a smooth fit between killing and discipleship – no matter how disturbing or divisive this reappraisal may be (cf. Matt. 10:34-8). Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

4. We do not accept the ultimacy of divisions imposed on the Body of Christ — whether they be national borders, denominational divides, cultural and social stereotypes, or class divisions. We seek to restore the bonds of ecclesial unity and solidarity that are always under threat from the powers and principalities of the present age. “For I am sure that neither death, nor life, . . . nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39).

We seek to embody these principles through an ongoing critical conversation about the Christian life. We expect this to include regular gatherings and retreats at the local, regional, and national levels; a wide variety of publications, in both paper and electronic form, for a variety of audiences (academic, ecclesial, and popular); and through an ongoing network of communication (including a regular newsletter). Additionally, the members of The Ekklesia Project pledge that they will maintain vital prayer lives, participate in the worship life of their local churches, perform the traditional works of mercy (e.g., feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, welcoming the stranger, instructing the uneducated), and observe a daytime fast every Friday as a form of prayerful resistance to the idolatrous practices of our culture. We will hold one another responsible for these covenantal practices and those that the Spirit may lead us to accept at a later time.

Invitation
We invite Christians from all walks of life to join us. We ask for your prayers and participation; we ask for your commitment of time and money; and we ask you to add your name to the membership list of the Ekklesia Project.