13. Secular Christendoms and diaconal institutions

If Christendom had only shaped the church then its impact might have been less detrimental to the manifestation of the gifts of the kingdom community in the wider world.   But controlling and hierarchical power structures typical of Christendom – of monarchy and empire, feudal lordship and economic wealth – have shaped the institutions of western society for many centuries.

The tenacity of secular ‘Christendoms’ is evident in many contexts.   On the world scene, the emergence of a global community is being exploited by multi-national corporations.   From oil companies to the new technological giants, they impose their unaccountable market driven model of ‘one world’ on relatively impotent nation states, old and new.   Competition of this kind leads to the emergence of all-powerful monopolies (or modern Christendoms) and the inevitable creation of millions of losers as well as winners

On the other hand, in reaction to many threatening features of globalization we are retreating into our own Christendoms of a smaller but just as insular a kind.   We are abandoning attempts to knock down walls, open borders and welcome the stranger.   We are retreating from hard won advances in flattening the pyramid of power and wealth.   There is a massive and widening gap between rich and poor.   From Brexit to Trump, much in the life of nations is now driven by a retrenchment into xenophobia, protectionism and self-preservation.   Giving impetus to this ‘brave new world’ of anachronistic institutions, there remain autocratic hierarchies of control and the manipulation of democratic participation.

None of these developments can lead towards the creation and sustaining of a global community of communities which would enable us to survive the critical challenges of the millennium ahead.

Diaconal institutions
As with the institutional church, so with the secular institutions, the only way to address the communal dilemma (Page 4) is the creation of secular institutions which are servants of the kingdom community and transformed by its gifts – life, liberation, love and learning.  This transformation will express itself in diaconal forms (Page 9) and styles of leadership (Page 10) which pave the way to more open and inclusive institutions.   The hope of such a transformation might seem naive if it were not for the fact that Christian faith offers us a power which is ‘out of this world’ (Page 7) to make its communal vision a reality.

February 2017

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Below are set out 18 theses for the diaconal church – and the same adapted for secular institutions.   My thesis is that all institutions need to take on a diaconal quality and form if our world is become a global community of communities.

     18 theses for the diaconal church

  1. In the millennium ahead, our world faces a choice between chaos and community.
  2. If it is to survive, human civilization has to choose to become a global community of learning communities, ranging from micro communities (the family) to macro communities (major institutions and nation states).
  3. The Christian vision of ‘the kingdom community’ is the supreme exemplification of all learning communities, and thus a model for world and church.
  4. The gifts of the kingdom community are life, liberation, love and learning.   They are gifts manifest within the nature of the Trinity and in Christ’s teaching about the kingdom of God.   They are universal gifts offered to all.
  5. The mission of the church is to model and to build learning communities that are transformed by and manifest the gifts of the kingdom community. The credibility and viability of the church depends on how faithfully it fulfils this mission.
  6. Such a mission can only be fulfilled if the church becomes a ‘diaconal’ (servant) church.   The diaconal church is the servant of the kingdom community and of humankind. As such it models for both church and world what it means to be a learning community.
  7. The diaconal church respects the autonomy of a secular culture but rejects the domination of sacralism or secularism.
  8. The social collectives that make up the diaconal church – hearings, groups, networks, the institution as an entity and partnerships – are all communal collectives.
  9. Dialogue is fundamental to the means by which the diaconal church communicates its message.
  10. The diaconal church liberates its laity to build learning communities that are transformed by the gifts of the kingdom community.
  11. The diaconal church has two main forms:
    – as the Christian community gathered for worship, learning and caring;
    – as the Christian community dispersed to fulfil its mission in the world.
  12. To equip the laity to be the servants of the kingdom community new forms of church leadership are needed These are embodied in the roles of ‘servant leader’ and ‘community educator’.   The latter necessitates leaders being trained to equip lay people to become community builders within church and world.
  13. Leaders of the diaconal church are women and men.
  14. The leadership of the diaconal church is exercised through three particular roles:
    – that of ‘presbyter’- whose task is to equip the gathered church to model the kingdom community in its life and work;
    – that of ‘deacon’ – whose task is to equip the dispersed church to build learning communities that manifest the gifts of the kingdom community in the world;
    – that of ‘bishop’ – whose task is to be an intermediary who supports and resources presbyters and deacons and, through them, the laity.
  15. The diaconal church embraces a collective form of church leadership.
  16. Within the diaconal church all work collaboratively.
  17. The diaconal church is a democratic and self-governing church, based on the principle of subsidiarity.
  18. The diaconal church to fulfil its mission, the mould of Christendom must be broken.

    18 theses for diaconal institutions
    1.  In the millennium ahead, our world faces a choice between chaos and community.
    2.   If it is to survive, human civilization has to choose to become a global community of learning communities, ranging from micro communities (the family) to macro communities (major institutions and nation states).
    3.  The Christian vision of ‘the kingdom community’ is the supreme exemplification of all learning communities, and thus a model for world and church.
    4.   The gifts of the kingdom community are life, liberation, love and learning.   They are gifts manifest within the nature of the Trinity and in Christ’s teaching about the kingdom of God.   They are universal gifts offered to all.
    5.   Alongside the primary task for which it was established, the mission of each institution is to model and build communities that are transformed by and manifest the gifts of the kingdom community. The viability of each institution depends on how faithfully it fulfils its primary task and communal mission.
    6.   Its communal mission can only be fulfilled if the institution becomes a ‘diaconal’ (servant) institution.   A diaconal institution is the servant of the kingdom community and of humankind.   As such it models what it means to be a learning community.
    7.   The diaconal institution respects the autonomy of a secular culture but rejects a culture dominated by sacralism or secularism.
    8.   The social collectives that make up a diaconal institution – hearings, groups, networks, the institution as an entity and partnerships – are all communal collectives.
    9.   Dialogue is fundamental to the means by which a diaconal institution communicates with the wider world.
    10.   A diaconal institution liberates its members to build communities that are transformed by the gifts of the kingdom community.
    11.   A diaconal institution has two main forms
    as a gathered community, fulfilling its primary task and communal mission through its own life and work;
    – as a dispersed community, fulfilling its primary task and communal mission in the world.
    12.  To equip the members of a diaconal institution to be the servants of the kingdom community new forms of institutional leadership are needed These are embodied in the roles of ‘servant leader’ and ‘community educator’.   The latter necessitates leaders being trained to equip the members of their institution to become community builders within that institution and within the world.
    13.   Leaders of a diaconal institution are women and men.
    14.   The leadership of a diaconal institution is exercised through three particular roles:
    – that of equipping the gathered institution to model the kingdom community as it engages in the primary task for which the institution was established;
    – that of equipping the dispersed institution to build communities that manifest the gifts of the kingdom community as it engages in the primary task for which the institution was   established;
    – that of acting as an intermediary who supports and resources the two roles described above and, through them, the members of the institution.
    15.   The diaconal institution embraces a collective form of leadership.
    16.   Within the diaconal institution all work collaboratively.
    17.   A diaconal institution is a democratic and self-governing institution, based on the principle of subsidiarity.
    18.   For diaconal institutions to fulfil their communal mission, the mould of sacred and secular Christendoms must be broken.