We are each part of the church – but we are not the church of ourselves. The church only works as a community. One person does not make a church. Where two or three are gathered. It does not need to be big to be a church, but Jesus set the minimum at two. As a recent United Reformed Church document "What is the Spirit saying to the Churches?" says, “The future of the Church depends on participation in the life of the Trinity.” God, as three in one, one in three, shows us how to be church. The Church is diverse, and yet the Church is one. That is true within the denomination, as well as beyond the denomination.
The apostle Paul explained it in terms of being a body. And so we think, in terms of Paul’s image, as to whether we are to be a nose, an eye, a hand, a foot, whatever.
One of the questions for us must be: how is God shaping the particular piece of the Body of Christ that is the us? What is that we are called to be and to do? As the United Reformed Church, we know that we are united and that we are reformed – as they are both in our name. But what do they mean?
I suspect that most of us talk a lot more about being united than we do about being reformed. We know that Jesus prayed that we should be one – that’s in John 17. Our commitment to unity is expressed in our commitment to ecumenism. I want to say three quick things about that. First, that shows itself in our working together with churches from other denominations in all sorts of ways from the activities of Churches Together groups to united congregations. Second, much of the ecumenical emphasis these days is on shared mission in things like street pastors, foodbanks and credit unions. I welcome these important initiatives. Third, Local Ecumenical Partnerships (LEPs) are a bigger part of our life than they are within other denominations. Approximately a third of the churches in the Eastern Synod are LEPs. There are those, including many church leaders, who are saying that LEPs are no longer the way to do things. I want to say that I profoundly disagree with that view. LEPs are not the only way to do ecumenism, and they are not for everybody, but they are a viable, valid and vital part of the church scene.
If we move to thinking about what it means to be reformed, we might consider what that same document says, that: “Being Reformed means re—formed, being renewed, not by our own endeavours, but in dependence on the Word, and shaped by the Spirit.” As the Statement of Nature, Faith and Order of the United Reformed Church says: “we affirm our right and readiness …. to make new statements of faith in ever new obedience to the Living Christ.” The Latin phrase is ‘semper reformanda’ – always reforming. But the single word that we can use to define ourselves is, of course, the word ‘love’.