What kind of church is New Covenant Fellowship?
In the summer of 2016, then Co-Pastor Kye Ewing drafted a blog post with the working title What Kind of Church is NCF? His journey has since led him out of the pastorate, seeking a vocation that better fits this stage of his life while continuing to value the New Covenant community. His reflections, here in conversation with Pastor Renée Antrosio, describe our faith community in ways that continue to be helpful.
Renée: In times of political change, sometimes we feel compelled to articulate just what kind of Christians we are. New Covenant Fellowship has always avoided labels, so how do you address that?
Kye: One label that seems to be getting more press than ever is “Evangelical.” Because NCF is not associated with a major mainline denomination, people might assume that label fits us. But I think it’s important to make some distinctions.
“Evangelicalism” typically implies a particular set of beliefs (such as the four tenets conversionism, Biblicism, crucicentrism, and activism), but NCF is not a doctrinal community. We have been, and continue to strive to be, a community that holds together through mutual commitment—to God and to one another—that transcends individual beliefs and faith practices. No particular set of beliefs will ever quite encompass who we are as a whole.
Additionally, we have tended to emphasize our faith journeys more than a one-time conversion event (while acknowledging important milestone events in our journeys). We take Scripture seriously but also leave lots of room to question, critique, and wrestle with it. We take communion together each week and reflect on the sacrifice of Jesus, but tend more to emphasize the resurrection life that each of us is called to live out every day. We have also been an extremely active community, but our activism has increasingly taken the form of social justice work in the community, rather than proselytizing or traditional forms of “evangelism” or missions. While some in our fellowship may have grown up identifying with the “Evangelical” label, it is not a satisfying label to describe our whole community.
Renée: I see how the current cultural meaning of “Evangelical” can feel foreign to our present identity. What about “non-denominational”? How does that fit NCF?
Kye: While the label “non-denominational” sounds like it means simply that we are not associated with a denomination, it has come to describe a movement that normally gets a little footnote in Church History books. In this broader sense, the descriptor is somewhat accurate for NCF, since many of our founding elders and pastors were reared and educated in the Christian Churches or Churches of Christ. Because of this, many of our practices are familiar to those with similar backgrounds – weekly communion, fairly expository biblical teaching, baptism by immersion, etc.—but again, the lack of a set of doctrines keeps us from fitting comfortably in this category. The “non-denominational” label also fails to acknowledge the many other theological and ecclesial influences that have been important to the life of our fellowship over our forty-year history.
On our website, and in some of our other communication, we’ve tried to acknowledge these other influences by describing ourselves as “multi-denominational.” This label is helpful in that it acknowledges the incredibly wide spectrum of faith (or non-faith) backgrounds from which people have come to NCF. In our fellowship, there are self-described lapsed or “recovering” Roman Catholics, alongside folks who still attend mass regularly, in addition to our weekly services. There are people who come from just about every mainline denomination: Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, Reformed, Baptist, and so on. Many of our original “members” (before we were even a fellowship) came from Jewish backgrounds, both practicing and secular, and many more from that spectrum have found a home with us over the years. More generally, both the Pentecostal/charismatic and Anabaptist/peace-making streams of faith have had a major influence on our fellowship, both through particular individuals and through corporate connections.
One limit of the term multi-denominational, however, is its failure to include those who come from mixed backgrounds, whether through a combination of multiple faiths, faith and non-faith backgrounds, or a variety of non-faiths (a spectrum I’m only beginning to understand). Sometimes these folks end up at NCF to explore the possibility of faith, or to look for a community with similar values in terms of social justice. Some have ended up surprised by a new way to understand and experience faith. In a broader sense, however, the multi-denominational label fails to express the sense that NCF is not simply an amalgam of these various backgrounds, but that, when we come together, something more emerges out of and in the midst of our baggage, our memories, our attempts to find common ground (or our relinquishing of that possibility), our briefly intersecting journeys and our overlapping stories.
Renée: If neither “Evangelical” nor “non-denominational” fits, and even “multi-denominational” falls short, how do you describe NCF?
Kye: Though I’m comfortable leaving a question open when “an answer” feels too restrictive, I will suggest that NCF could be called a “post-denominational” fellowship. For me, this term suggests that, while we have tried to learn from denominational structures and have maintained loose associations and connections to other congregations, we prefer that these connections come from the ground up rather than the top down. In the midst of striving to find common ground with one another, we also respect the particularity and uniqueness of each other’s beliefs and backgrounds, recognizing that no two faith journeys will look quite the same, and that the many factors that influence our connections to God may cause us friction at times. We try to hold on loosely to each other, acknowledging that sometimes God calls us in various directions. At the same time we try to be as vulnerable and honest with each other as we can be. In the midst of constant change, we do our best to pray together, hope and dream together, and love together.
Ultimately, though, while “post-denominational” might be the most appropriate label to use in an elevator speech, the best answer to the question “What kind of church is NCF?” is the answer Jesus extends in the Gospel of John: “Come and see!”