Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Communion of the Saints, Hospitality, Room at the Table & Adoption

Written by: on June 7, 2018

I ran out of room for what has become my customary blog title procedure, where I give part of the title and then add, ‘or . . . .’  The first part of the title was just too long this week.  That doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t have an ‘or’, because I most definitely do….. The ‘or’ for this week would be something like, ‘or things I didn’t expect to be reading and thinking about in a book about ‘Asian theology.’

This subtitle is telling in many ways.  First, it doesn’t mean that I wasn’t looking forward to reading Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up by Simon Chan.  But, if I am being completely honest, I didn’t necessarily expect to connect so closely to as many parts of the book as I did.  And even more than that, I think I expected it to be and/or feel more foreign and exotic.

This is a disheartening and embarrassing revelation for me to admit – it was just as embarrassing for me to realize.  There is, of course, nothing wrong with experiencing something as new or different, in fact encountering new (to me) and different (from my previous experience) cultures and viewpoints is a high value for me and a significant reason I am a part of this program.

But, the frustrating/disappointing/embarrassing element in my engagement with this book his how surprised I was, not by the differences, but by the similarities.   I was thrilled and enthralled by the sections of this book on ancestor worship, communion and the ‘communion of the Saints’ – especially as I see them connecting directly to my doctoral research on hospitality and adoption (and there is even a section with explicit references to adoption – which have made their way into my thinking and possibly will make their way into my thesis –p. 197-98).

But, at the same time, I was genuinely surprised to find these connections and references and to find such engaging, important and pertinent theological thought and engagement.  I was looking at this assignment as  sort of a ‘vacation’ to an exotic locale and a chance to engage with strangers from different cultures.  I had forgotten, that because of Jesus Christ, and his reconciliation of the world to God, this wasn’t a vacation, but rather a family reunion!

Of course the work and thought and ‘working out of salvation’ of our Asian sisters and brothers would be more than just interesting to me, but actually meaningful and possibly transformative – these are my people or, rather, we are all God’s people and as such we are in this together.

That this comes as a revelation, though wonderful, feels particularly embarrassing because I know better.  I know this already.  My preaching and teaching regularly highlights God’s commitment and love for all of humanity.  I am regularly – usually weekly (possibly too often if you ask my congregation) about our bond and commitment to each other – especially those that we don’t or don’t want to claim as part of ‘us’.

This is a powerful reminder to me of just how powerful and insidious that temptation to division and separation is….. we seem to naturally want to mark out clear dividing lines between ‘us’ and ‘them’ when the message of Jesus is that the good news of the Kingdom of God is that in and through Jesus Christ there is only an ‘us’.  God’s love if for all.  Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and grace is for all.  God’s family and the extending of welcome is, truly, for all of us.

Now that I have said all of that, a few thoughts specific to the text itself – rather than my reaction to it:

  • The issue of ancestor veneration was one that touched a nerve with me for some reason.  I think while the specifics are significantly different, it is a conversation that the Western (American) church would benefit from.  How many in our churches talk about their departed loved ones as ‘their guardian angels’ or as ‘looking down on/watching over them’?
    • Beyond those comparisons, I think the discussion as Chan has it in this book also hits on one of the questions I get most as a pastor: what happens to people that die without faith?
  • Chan’s response, below, is as succinct and clear argument for an open understanding of possible redemption as I have seen or read and is something that I will likely be appropriating as a means of pastoral comfort:
    • The only objection that could be raised against the JICM view is that it goes against a commonly held view that the offer of salvation is given only in this life , based on texts such as Hebrews 9 : 23 – 28 and Luke 13 : 23 – 30.173 This direct proof – texting approach , however , fails to consider the larger context of Scripture . The idea of the finality of judgment after death must be rejected for the same reason that we reject an immediate resurrection at death . It goes against the biblical teaching and the overwhelmingly received view of all the major Christian traditions that final resurrection and judgment occur only at the end of history . 174 It is to account for this “ lapse ” between death and final resurrection – judgment that the doctrine of the intermediate state is introduced . But the intermediate state also implies that death does not seal the soul in its final condition until the final judgment . If this is so , then the Hebrews 9 passage cannot be taken to mean that the state of the soul is settled with finality at or after death . The argument from Luke 13 is even more tenuous . There is nothing in the text to suggest that the closing of the door of opportunity ( Lk 13 : 25 ) occurs at death.  (Chan, p. 196)
  • If you spend any time with missionaries that have encountered ‘unreached’ people groups, you are likely familiar with stories of semi-miraculous preparation (for lack of a better term) for the gospel… these stories come in the form of dreams local leaders or shaman have had, etc.  Chan makes a critical point here about why that might make so sense, particularly with the ancestor veneration culture: In fact , venerating dead ancestors reveals more than just some vague belief in life after death ; it anticipates the Christian doctrine of the communion of saints transcending space and time. (Chan, p. 190)
  • Chan also had a powerful critique of Protestant practice vs. belief in his discussion of the communion of saints:
    • Protestantism , however , falls far short in practice what it acknowledges in theory . It acknowledges one holy catholic and apostolic church , but in practice the communion of the church does not extend to its diachronic dimension . Here is where a juxtaposition of the doctrine of the communion of saints with the Asian practice of ancestral veneration could become mutually enriching . For the family in East Asia , family solidarity is experienced not just with those present but with those who are dead . So significant is this concern that failure to address it adequately is a main reason why Christianity has not had strong appeal among the masses in Confucian societies (Chan, p. 190).
  • This can also be considered an issue of hospitality that the Protestant church has missed (that many Asian, African and Middle Eastern cultures ‘get’ at a fundamental level)…… That ‘family’ and ‘us’ extends beyond those present with us right now….In this I am thinking about these cultures fundamental understanding of not just family, but also their commitment to hospitality, etc.  The dead (the Saints) is the focus of Chan’s argument, but I think you can extend that in terms of the Kingdom of God, that the ‘family’ extends to all of those we encounter…. ‘They’ are our responsibility as well….Perhaps especially those that are most in need: the poor, the orphan, the widow, the oppressed. What might it look like if we strove for a better understanding of this ‘Family of God solidarity’ and sought to actually live it out in practice not just theoretically?

About the Author

Chip Stapleton

Follower of Jesus Christ. Husband to Traci. Dad to Charlie, Jack, Ian and Henry. Preacher of Sermons, eater of ice cream, supporter of Arsenal. I love to talk about what God is doing in the world & in and through us & create space and opportunity for others to use their gifts to serve God and God's people.

9 responses to “The Communion of the Saints, Hospitality, Room at the Table & Adoption”

  1. Mary says:

    Chip, I love your connection between communion, hospitality, and adoption. What a crucial time to be speaking to these issues. My daughter Angie (remember her?) goes to a church that has adopted refugee families at least until they get settled. They help them find jobs, cars, apartments or houses to rent, provide furniture, clothes and food. It struck me that the most exciting and even fun times in my life were when people all got together and joined in for a needy purpose. Why doesn’t everybody just do it more often?

  2. Lynda Gittens says:

    Thanks for your post.
    “the message of Jesus is that the good news of the Kingdom of God is that in and through Jesus Christ there is only an ‘us’.”
    We definitely need to be reminded of this during this era. Being a follower of Jesus is challenging even among the community of believers.

  3. Stu Cocanougher says:

    Your point about ancestor worship hit me as well. In Buddhist/Taoist/Confusion cultures… you don’t have to convince them that spiritual things are real nor the existence of an afterlife.

    Their strong sense of honor for their elders carries on past death.

    Some Christians coming from Asian cultures see Western cultures’ lack of respect for the elderly as repugnant as adultery or child abuse. They have trouble believing that you could be a Christian and put your aged relatives in a home for the elderly.

    While we cannot support ancestor worship, Asian Christians much come up with ways to express their love and honor for deceased relatives.

  4. Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    Wow Chip – you managed to tie in all those title topics beautifully! Well done.
    Unlike you, I was not looking forward to reading the recent read, but like you, I was also surprised how much I related to several concepts in the book and humbled too. Secondly, I was reminded how God has the amazing ability to draw us all together despite our differences. Thanks for your post.

  5. Katy Drage Lines says:

    I greatly appreciate your honesty and recognition that the wisdom of our brothers and sisters in other places, times, and streams of faith can be valuable to us as well. I see the revelation of the character of God in our various contexts being multi-directional.

  6. Jim Sabella says:

    Great post, Chip. I appreciate the way you synthesized (my word for the month) so many important concepts. I’m sure you know that the Charismatic movement began in Pittsburgh and the Presbyterian brothers and sisters were a critical part of that beginning! So… maybe there is a connection after all. I always appreciate your candidness and transparency. It is very refreshing Chip. Thank you!

  7. Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

    Chip you raise a great point about the western notion of family. Even in the Unites States we have varying opinions based on our cultural and racial differences. For example, my mother was adopted but in my cultural experience there is no difference. We have a very expanded view of family. It does not stop at my immediate family. We do not care if you are a 1st, 2nd or 3rd cousin. We just say and treat you like a 1st cousin. I love that I have a large family that consists of a host of aunties, uncles, cousins, grandparents and even family friends. I do think that even as we think of Saints and those who God allows our lives to come across we should see them not as strangers or in our past but present in our engagement daily in our faith walk.

  8. Kristin Hamilton says:

    “What might it look like if we strove for a better understanding of this ‘Family of God solidarity’ and sought to actually live it out in practice not just theoretically?”
    I had a pretty cool glimpse of what this could look like this weekend, Chip. When my daughter, Gwen, was in the ER, the first to show up were her family and best friend. We filled a big portion of the room as my daughter-in-law went into mom-mode, bringing us all granola bars, and my older daughter brought us all coffee. Next, my daughter’s best childhood friend got in her car and drove 3 hours just to be with Gwen for a couple of hours and then drive home. Finally, Gwen took courage and posted on social media that she had been in crisis and asked for help. This is when people from her community really showed up. Some called, some invited her to meet up this week, others shared their own stories, and many sent love and prayers. Even friends and family members from around the country reached out to remind her that they are here for her. This is what the community of Christ can and should be. We don’t want to “intrude” on people, so reaching out is a struggle. We don’t want to bother anyone, so we forget that they may need us. Part of being in community is being “up in each others’ business” and also being vulnerable with each other. The question is, can we be trusted to create spaces where this is safe? (Sorry this is such a long and personally focused response!)

    • Kristin,
      I am so sorry that you, Gwen and your family are having to go through this.

      I am thankful that as you go through this mess the grace and blessing of God have been made abundantly clear.

      We are continuing to lift you and Gwen up in our prayers

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