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The Spirit and the Prophetic Church, Part 2, by Antipas L. Harris

Most congregations might agree that part of their role is to provide assistance for people in need. But no single congregation—not even a megachurch—is fully prepared with resources to address and to engage the roots of poverty and oppression in urban communities. The challenges are severe and require the full presence of the Church as a unified voice to bring about true transformation. Otherwise, a little here and a little there does nothing more than empower poverty. Robert Franklin is correct in Crisis in the Village when he comments that when a church simply provides charitable acts in their community, the congregation’s efforts become merely items on the church weekly menu; as a result, the church participates in empowering poverty. Paulo Freire comments:

True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes, which nourish false charity. False charity constrains the fearful and subdued, the “rejects of life”, to extend their trembling hands. True generosity lies in striving so that these hands—whether of individuals or entire peoples—need be extended less and less in supplication, so that more and more they become human hands which work and, working, transform the world.53

A practical example might be soup kitchens. Soup kitchens at churches are acts of kindness that are helpful in relief efforts. However, Reginald King, president of the Kensington Civic League in Norfolk, Virginia, expresses concern that soup kitchens at churches in the area draw unresolved poverty to the cities. Instead of providing needed help and transforming the city, soup kitchens are less likely to provide long-term community transformation because they address an immediate need rather than addressing the root causes of why the meal is needed. They simply look good for the church missions reports.

The God of the Bible cares about ordinary people often overlooked in society.

However, when churches engage in ecumenical ministry to transform communities, the religious life of the faith communities assume their responsibility together in order to make a difference in the community. When churches take seriously their biblical role, continuing the work of Christ in the world and liberating the oppressed, they must seek out ecumenical coalitions for the purpose of a unified front to fight against the root causes of oppression and injustice. Therefore, churches within their cities must work together to the glory of God for maximum impact as pertaining to community transformation.

Ecumenical ministry moves beyond the institutional, doctrinal, and theological structures of a given denomination (or non-denomination) to engage the biblical foundational calling of the entire Body of Christ to bear witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Moreover, an ecumenical urban ministry moves beyond isolated manageable acts of kindness to a more prophetic ministry that addresses and engages systemic oppression and injustice that produces and perpetuates urban blight. Prophetic urban ministry requires grappling with principalities and powers. The Pentecostal heritage renders that principalities and powers must be rebuked, “not by power, not by might but by the Holy Spirit” (Zechariah 4:6). Thus, at the level of ecumenical prophetic ministry, the Church (not churches) takes authority over principalities and powers by the Spirit. An urban prophetic witness addresses the root cause of poverty and pain, violence and despair that seem common in urban areas. Stone and Wolfteich rightly point out that “poverty itself is a political, not a natural phenomenon, the result of violence and violation rather than scarcity.”54 Practically, a unified prophetic voice demands what Nile Harper calls “systemic justice.”55 Harper explains that “systemic justice” by its nature involves political action, mobilizing voting powers, creating common interest alliances and building cooperative coalitions.56 An ecumenical theology, moreover, has practical benefits in building necessary alliances between congregations for the purpose of addressing systemic evil with systemic justice.

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Category: Ministry, Pneuma Review, Summer 2013

About the Author: Antipas L. Harris, D.Min. (Boston University), S.T.M. (Yale University Divinity School), M.Div. (Emory University), was appointed as the founding dean of the Urban Renewal Center in Norfolk, Virginia in the Spring of 2017. He is the Criminal Justice System Director for the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC), president of the Global Institute for Empowerment & Leadership Development, known as GIELD, and he serves as the Director of TheUrbanCircle.Net, a relational network of urban ministries and churches. He has additional experience as an educator, academic lecturer, itinerant preacher, pastor, youth director, motivational speaker, and Christian musician. He is the author of Holy Spirit, Holy Living: A Practical Theology of Holiness for Twenty-first Century Churches (Wipf & Stock, 2013) and Unstoppable Success: 7 Ways to Flourish in Your Boundless Potential (High Bridge Books, 2014). | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

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