One of the key elements of the spiritual movement that is growing among indigenous peoples across North America is the practice of gospel-based discipleship. On a practical level, it involves reading a gospel appointed for the day three times at the beginning of a gathering. After the first reading, the question is asked, “What stands out for you in the gospel?” After the second reading, those gathered are asked, “What do you hear God saying to you in the gospel?” And following the third and final reading, they are asked, “What is God calling us to do?” This practice of placing the gospel in the centre of our deliberations and action has enlivened our fellowship and ministry.
Some outside our circles have complained, saying the practice is insufficient as Bible study. They are right. What their observation overlooks, however, are the principles that animate the practice. The act of making the gospel central is essential, though the form it takes is less important to us.
For centuries, indigenous peoples were told what the gospel meant (the meaning proposed often put them at a disadvantage). Today, the practice of placing the gospel in the centre, as a critical moment of gathering, empowers, authenticates and authorizes the gathering as the people of God. The authority shifts from the authenticated interpreter (usually, the missionary), as it was in the past, to the presence of Christ, speaking by the Spirit through the voices of those who have gathered.
There is much that is restored in this practice: a return to the centrality of the spiritual in indigenous life; an affirmation of the miraculous presence of God in every particle of creation; a manner of authority that is more compatible with indigenous understanding of governance and community; and, finally, the absolute necessity of being radically open to the teaching, example, and leading of our creator, speaking through scripture in the life of the community-the very basis of discipleship.
We hope that these practices will never be just a part of program or a pious gimmick. They help us embody a commitment to a way of life that, we are told by the elders, is very compatible with indigenous traditions. In this way of life, the words of Jesus are found to be true: he came not to destroy but to fulfil.
Mark MacDonald is national indigenous bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada.