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Christians in International Congregations*

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Millions of people are living in lands other than their own, struggling to understand another language, culture, way of life. They seek community, support, a grasp of hope and reality. Persons in such situations can be lost, uncertain, confused.

For these and all who might be touched by the Good News in Jesus Christ, there are oases where Living Water is to be found. Christians abroad find fellowship in International Congregations, gatherings of like-minded and like-experienced people who seek God's presence and seek to follow God's leading.

These assemblies of believers focus their lives and activities together under six significant common characteristics.

EVANGELICAL is the chief and theological characteristic for an International Congregation. It sees the "Gospel," the Evangel, as the principle sign, idea for a Christian. It points to Jesus Christ, the center and key for God's church. "Evangelical" says that a church focuses on Jesus, who He is and what He does and means for us. Being evangelical means that Jesus is first, that He is Lord and Savior of all.

ECUMENICAL is the sociological characteristic. In these churches each person [left and right, liturgical and non-liturgical, fundamentalist and liberal, traditional and experimental] finds the welcome mat out. The affirmation "one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church" takes on a new depth as openness, and inclusiveness, gives a truly "Pentecostal" flavor to International Churches.

INTERNATIONAL is the political characteristic. If there is content to the current phrase, "New World Order," then International Congregations have been an advance party of awareness. Vast changes are erasing old boundaries and diluting old ideologies. International Congregations witness to a reality transcending "the American way of life;" they testify to a willing embrace of all persons into one community in Christ.

ENGLISH is the linguistic characteristic. The English language now ties people within and among nations together. International airline communication is in English. Scientific and professional organizations use English as the prime language. Libraries want literature and reference works in English. Some nationals affiliate with an English-speaking congregation because they married an English-speaking spouse, or studied in English, or are more at home in English than any other language. As language was a key for a diverse company of people on the first Pentecost, so it continues to weld men and women into community.

CONTEXT is the cultural characteristic. The Christian faith is always wrapped in a cultural robe. There is no way to receive the faith outside of a cultural context. Congregations seek to connect individuals to a faith that acknowledges an inter-cultural reality by being part of a trans-cultural experience. The joy and amazement derived from association with these congregations stem from the fact it is possible to transcend human differences that often divide people.

MISSIONAL is the functional characteristic. It is for mission that the church exists: "As the Father has sent me, so I send you." Mission is expressed in word and deed, in telling and doing, in acting and being. Churches do not live only to perpetuate themselves, but to be servants of their Servant Lord. A mission-minded International Congregation reaches out to English-speaking persons even when they are not within the normal social or economic circle of the congregation.

International Congregations visualize the united, world-wide church of Jesus Christ without regard to separations of confession, race, culture, or nation. Diversity and unity are seen as complimentary qualities.

Some International Congregations are related through the agency of the Network for International Congregations (NIC). It is a network of congregations in more than 65 countries. They are instruments of God for demonstrating that barriers can be overcome, that faith binds believers into one company.

Congregations related to NIC fall into two styles of accountability: independent and confessional. "Independent" churches are frequently called "Union" or "Community" or "International," reflecting an inter-/multi-denominational posture; they have no ecclesiastical base, or responsibility toward or benefit from a churchly source. "Confessional" churches are tied to a single Protestant denomination, but intentionally direct their ministry in an ecumenical or non-denominational manner; such congregations have a responsibility toward and receive benefits from their sponsoring church body.

The office of the Network for INTERNATIONAL CONGREGATIONS offers counsel for clergy recruitment, development of congregational life, awareness of a global association of International Congregations, a support-base, and pastoral nurture. The Office was formerly a part of the overseas unit of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., but, due to cutbacks in that organization, is currently an independent ecumenical agency.

The NIC theological base or statement is the same as the WCC and the NCCCUSA: "Jesus is Lord and Savior." This position seeks to identify with New Testament faith and centuries of Christian history. It is biblical and Trinitarian. It is non-judgmental, yet strongly faithful to Christian experience.

The scope and requirements of this ministry are beyond the ability of separate denominations to undertake. They join together in the common task of serving persons and congregations around the world. Church bodies in the USA, Canada, United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia support the NIC. The office coordinates its work with similar networks, maximizing accessibility for international and inter-church English ministry.