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“In some parts of the church, every hint of patriotism makes you a jingoistic idolater. You are allowed to love every country except your own. But in other parts of the church, true religion blends too comfortably into civil religion. You are allowed to worship in our services as long as you love America as much as we do. I don’t claim to have arrived at the golden mean, but I imagine many churches could stand to think more carefully about their theology of God and country.”  – Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung has written a short, and important post about Patriotism, the Church, and Thinking Theologically About Memorial Day.  Check it out, and have a safe and happy Memorial Day: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2011/05/26/thinking-theologically-about-memorial-day/

Today, Jonathan Dodson continues with part 2 of his post on Simple Church:

“God is translatable, just as the Bible is translatable. God was touchable in Jesus: he ate, he slept, he walked, he talked. In many respects, he communicated the complexity of divinity in simplicity, so that even common fishermen could catch on.”

Continue reading at http://theresurgence.com/Dodson_TwoKindsofSimpleChurch_Part2.

Roc

Over at The Resurgence blog, Jonathan Dodson has written a new post, Two Kinds of Simple Church Part 1.  In it he makes a  distinction between “Black & White Simple” and “Gray Simple.”

“The first kind of simple church ignores complexity. This kind of church calls it as they see it. There is one way to do things. They call the outs. This type of “simple church” refuses to frame the gospel in our context, insisting upon using old forms for new times…. There is another kind of simple church that understands complexity. To use baseball terms, these churches understand that what appears as an “out” to some may appear as “safe” to others. They realize there are two ways to spell gray.”

You can read it at: http://theresurgence.com/Dodson_TwoKindsofSimpleChurch_Part1.

Roc

Litmus Test: 1. A crucial and revealing test in which there is one decisive factor.   2. A test that uses a single indicator to prompt a decision.

I wasn’t planning on posting again until next week but, in light of some of the personal responses I received this week because of my last two posts (I Visited A Church Today, and 15 Theses), I decided it best not to put it off.  Something I learned last week is that though it’s sometimes good to play the provocateur, it only works if its clear that that is in fact what you’re doing, and then you better clarify quickly where you stand on an issue.  Since all of the discussions that revealed my full position on the Theseshappened off the blog rather than in the comments, I’ll give a response now.

Wolfgang Simson made some provocative statements about church reforms (some I agree with in spirit), but some I do not (as I stated in the post).  I was asked to give a clearer position on where I stand on some issues (what I perceived to be a “litmus test”), as to where I stand in the faith, and regarding clergy and church life.  I’ve never been fond of such “tests”, but I’m willing to do so for the sake of clarity (and salvage my reputation amongst the head hunters).  I’ll be plain and direct.  

I am not anti-institutional church.  But I am anti-“Tradition of The Elders” (what Jesus referred to as religious rules taught by men but passed off as the commandments of God).  I’m against it because Jesus was against it.  Jesus was against it because they presented stumbling blocks to true worship and often misrepresented the heart of the Father toward his people and those who were searching.  Tradition is good however, when it aids us in worship, and also when it protects from ungodly cultural influences and false doctrines that threaten the church.  Some of the traditions passed down from the “Church Fathers” were pragmatic responses to legitimate threats to the orthodoxy of the Faith.  But when our traditions interfere with our worship, or no longer serve their intended purpose, then we should be open to innovations.  However, it can be difficult for some to distinguish between the Commands of God, and modern day versions of the Traditions of The Elders.  That isn’t a negative criticism, just an observation.  

I am not anti-Pastor, but I am anti-rigid clericalism where church leaders take on the role of “priests” creating a huge clergy/laity divide where they are content to minister to a passive congregation (and the people content to have it so), when they are called to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry”.  This equipping does not mean training for ushers, filling communion trays, and raising up volunteers for church programs (though the church may indeed need servers who do these things), but equipping for the ministry as fellow priests, ministering to “One Another” according to their gifts and abilities by the grace God has given to each.  I am decidedly for Church Elders (overseers) such as these .  There is no Calling I respect more (except maybe good parents;-) than church elders who preach the Gospel and lead in this manner, and they should be honored.  

I do not believe that “house churches” are the biblical mandated way of “doing” church, though some do prefer it.  In fact, some of the views within the the house church movement (though not all), and Emergent churches, regarding preaching and authority, concern me.  Nevertheless, the small group advantage some of these expressions provide, is important.  They provide the forum through which a church can grow more connected the way a body actually “assembles”, providing nourishment to each part of the body, and thereby becoming more Christlike as they learn to build up “One Another” in love.   The reformer, Martin Luther, expressed a desire that an alternative service be formed for those who wanted to meet in this fashion, but never made such reforms because in his words he did not think the people wanted it, nor did he have the men capable of leading them: 

“The right kind of evangelical order cannot be exhibited among all sorts of people, but those who are seriously determined to be Christians and confess the gospel with hand and mouth, must enroll themselves by name and meet apart in one house, for prayer, for reading, to baptize, to take the Sacrament, and exercise other Christian works. With such order it would be possible for those who did not behave in a Christian manner to be known, reproved, restored, or excluded, according to the rule of Christ (Matt. 18:15). Here also they could, in common, subscribe alms, which would be willingly given and distributed among the poor, according to the example of Paul (2 Cor. 9:1-12). Here it would not be necessary to have much or fine singing. Here a short and simple way of baptism and the Sacrament could be practiced, and all would be according to the Word and in love. But I cannot yet order and establish such an assembly…In the meantime I will call, excite, preach, help forward it, until Christians take the Word so in earnest, that they will themselves find how to do it and continue in it.” – Reformer Martin Luther-1526 

The obvious solution: Train leaders who are capable and then allow them to lead those who do wish to meet in this fashion.  Do not forbid Innovative or Simple Churches, but rather raise them up as a means of strengthening the body, and when appropriate, recognize them as legitimate expressions of “Church”.  And nor should we tear down the institutional church but rather draw from their resources and continue to add to the spiritual health of the body.

An old friend of mine, who is an elder in his church back east, suggested that a good place to start is to define what is a local church.  I like the description of a local church community that Mark Driscoll gives in his book Vintage Faith

“The local church is a community of regenerated believers who confess Jesus Christ as Lord.  In obedience to Scripture they organize under qualified leadership, gather regularly for preaching and worship, observe the biblical sacraments of baptism and Communion, are unified by the Spirit, are disciplined for holiness, and scatter to fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission as missionaries to the world for God’s glory and their joy.”

Regarding a “litmus Test” for defining a “Church”, For me, this is the “One decisive factor”:  A community of regenerated believers who confess Jesus Christ as Lord.

Mark, a reformed pastor in Seattle (who also believes that all of the gifts of the spirit are for today’s church) leads a large “institutional” church, with small groups (led by many who have, and could be pastoring their own churches).  His ministry has planted  numerous missional churches around the world, and he goes on to say that there is “confusion because nowhere in the New Testament does church in any of its forms refer to a building”.  (Hmmm, he can’t be anti-institutional).  He quotes Wayne Grudem, a leading respected Bible scholar:  

A “house church” is called a “church” in Romans 16:5 (greet also the church in their house“), 1Corinthians 16:19 (“Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord”).  The church in an entire city is also called “a church” (1Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1; and Thess. 1:1).  The church in a region is referred to as a “church” in Acts 9:31: “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was built up.”  Finally, the church throughout the entire world can be referred to as “the church.”  Paul says, “Christ so loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25) and says, “God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers…” (1 Cor. 12:28)….We may conclude that the group of God’s people considered at any level from local to universal may rightly be called “a church.” – Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine

This is introductory stuff; nothing “deep”, or radical, or anti-anything.  Just  basic Bible doctrine.  

Hopefully this gives you a clearer picture of where I’m coming from.  I’m not seeking to play the iconoclast and tear down our institutions, but the Kingdom of God really is at hand, and although I am Theologically Conservative, I am also Culturally Innovative, and I believe in being missionally creative.  I want to be a part of what Jay Tolson in his article, A Return to Tradition described as “…innovative returns to tradition….a means of moving beyond fundamentalist literalism, troubling authority figures, and highly politicized religious positions…while retaining a hold on spiritual truths”.  Is this easy?  No.  Sometimes messy?  You bet.  Mistakes are made, but its worth pushing the boundaries for the sake of others and their stake in the Kingdom of God.  Especially when those boundaries are mostly in our hearts and in our heads.  

Well, I took the litmus test (and maybe presented one as well?).  Ultimately, God is our judge and he knows our hearts; and what matters most is “faith working in love”.  And as the second definition says, a litmus test also “prompts a decision”.  Have you been “prompted”? 

Peace,

Roc

In 1517 Martin Luther wrote his Ninety-Five Theses and posted them on the Wittenburg Door, and the Protestant Reformation was launched.  His ninety five theses were the driving force behind the Reformation.  It brought attention to the abuses of the Church and the un-scriptural practices of the clergy.  It encouraged the people to reconsider what they had been taught by the priests, regarding doctrine and practice, in light of the new testament scriptures.  And though the Reformation brought about needed corrections regarding doctrine, by Luther’s own estimation there were some things left undone regarding practice and the priesthood of believers.

As I said in my last post I am not prescribing the “right ” way to do church.  I  am not advocating “house” churches per se (nor the harsh stance on institutional churches), although I do believe we are still in need of continued reforms, and a simpler more organic approach to church-life would be healthy.  On that note, today I’m posting 15 Theses by Wolfgang Simson.  I may not totally agree with everything (and neither must you), but it does accurately articulate many of my own sentiments at the present.  Please read prayerfully, and be gracious when considering how each point may play out in your own situation, because we are still the Body of Christ no matter how or where we meet, and that bond transcends place, because we are a “priesthood of believers” who serve a “God who does not live in temples made by the hands of men.”

Semper Reformandum                                                                                                (Always Reforming), 

Roc                                                                 

 15 Theses By Wolfgang Simson

God is changing the Church, and that, in turn, will change the world. Millions of Christians around the world are aware of an imminent reformation of global proportions. They say, in effect: “Church as we know it is preventing Church as God wants it.” A growing number of them are surprisingly hearing God say the very same things. There is a collective new awareness of age-old revelations, a corporate spiritual echo. In the following “15 Theses” I will summarize a part of this, and I am convinced that it reflects a part of what the Spirit of God is saying to the Church today. For some, it might be the proverbial fist-sized cloud on Elijah’s sky. Others already feel the pouring rain.

1. Church is a Way of Life, not a series of religious meetings

Before they where called Christians, followers of Christ have been called “The Way”. One of the reasons was, that they have literally found “the way to live.” The nature of Church is not reflected in a constant series of religious meetings lead by professional clergy in holy rooms specially reserved to experience Jesus, but in the prophetic way followers of Christ live their everyday life in spiritually extended families as a vivid answer to the questions society faces, at the place where it counts most: in their homes.

2. Time to change the system

In aligning itself to the religious patterns of the day, the historic Orthodox Church after Constantine in the 4th century AD adopted a religious system which was in essence Old Testament, complete with priests, altar, a Christian temple (cathedral), frankincense and a Jewish, synagogue-style worship pattern. The Roman Catholic Church went on to canonize the system. Luther did reform the content of the gospel, but left the outer forms of “church” remarkably untouched; the Free-Churches freed the system from the State, the Baptists then baptized it, the Quakers dry-cleaned it, the Salvation Army put it into a uniform, the Pentecostals anointed it and the Charismatics renewed it, but until today nobody has really changed the superstructure. It is about time to do just that.

3. The Third Reformation.

In rediscovering the gospel of salvation by faith and grace alone, Luther started to reform the Church through a reformation of theology. In the 18th century through movements like the Moraviansthere was a recovery of a new intimacy with God, which led to a reformation of spirituality, the Second Reformation. Now God is touching the wineskins themselves, initiating a Third Reformation, a reformation of structure.

4. From Church-Houses to house-churches

Since New Testament times, there is no such thing as “a house of God”. At the cost of his life, Stephen reminded unequivocally: God does not live in temples made by human hands. The Church is the people of God. The Church, therefore, was and is at home where people are at home: in ordinary houses. There, the people of God: -Share their lives in the power of the Holy Spirit, -Have “meatings,” that is, they eat when they meet, -They often do not even hesitate to sell private property and share material and spiritual blessings, -Teach each other in real-life situations how to obey God’s word, dialogue – and not professor-style, -Pray and prophesy with each other, baptize, ‘lose their face’ and their ego by confessing their sins, -Regaining a new corporate identity by experiencing love, acceptance and forgiveness.

5. The church has to become small in order to grow big

Most churches of today are simply too big to provide real fellowship. They have too often become “fellowships without fellowship.” The New Testament Church was a mass of small groups, typically between 10 and 15 people. It grew not upward into big congregations between 20 and 300 people filling a cathedral and making real, mutual communication improbable. Instead, it multiplied “sidewards”, like organic cells, once thesegroups reached around 15-20 people. Then, if possible, it drew all the Christians together into citywide celebrations, as withSolomon’s Temple court in Jerusalem. The traditional congregational church as we know it is, statistically speaking, neither big nor beautiful, but rather a sad compromise, an overgrown house-church and an under-grown celebration, often missing the dynamics of both.

6. No church is led by a Pastor alone

The local church is not led by a Pastor, but fathered by an Elder, a local person of wisdom and reality. The local house-churches are then networked into a movement by the combination of elders and members of the so-called five-fold ministries (Apostles, Prophets, Pastors, Evangelists and Teachers) circulating “from houseto house,” whereby there is a special foundational role to play for the apostolic and prophetic ministries (Eph. 2:20, and 4:11.12). A Pastor (shepherd) is a very necessary part of the whole team, but he cannot fulfil more than a part of the whole task of “equipping the saints for the ministry,” and has to be complemented synergistically by the other four ministries in order to function properly.

7. The right pieces – fitted together in the wrong way

In doing a puzzle, we need to have the right original for the pieces, otherwise the final product, the whole picture, turns out wrong, and the individual pieces do not make much sense. This has happened to large parts of the Christian world: we have all the right pieces, but have fitted them together wrong, because of fear, tradition, religious jealousy and a power-and-control mentality. As water is found in three forms, ice, water and steam, the five ministries mentioned in Eph. 4:11-12, the Apostles, Prophets, Pastors, Teachers and Evangelists are also found today, but not always in the right forms and in the right places: they are often frozen to ice in the rigid system of institutionalised Christianity; they sometimes exist as clear water; or they have vanished like steam into the thin air of free-flying ministries and “independent” churches, accountable to no-one. As it is best to water flowers with the fluid version of water, these five equipping ministries will have to be transformed back into new, and at the same time age-old, forms, so that the whole spiritual organism can flourish and the individual “ministers” can find their proper role and place in the whole. That is one more reason why we need to return back to the Maker’s original and blueprint for the Church.

8. God does not leave the Church in the hands of bureaucratic clergy

No expression of a New Testament church is ever led by just one professional “holy man” doing the business of communicating with God and then feeding some relatively passive religious consumers Moses-style. Christianity has adopted this method from pagan religions, or at best from the Old Testament. The heavy professionalisation of the church since Constantine has now been a pervasive influence long enough, dividing the people of God artificially into laity and clergy. According to the New Testament (1 Tim. 2:5), “there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” God simply does not bless religious professionals to force themselves in-between people and God forever. The veil is torn, and God is allowing people to access Himself directly through Jesus Christ, the only Way. To enable the priesthood of all believers, the present system will have to change completely. Bureaucracy is the most dubious of all administrative systems, because it basically asks only two questions: yes or no. There is no room for spontaneity and humanity, no room for real life. This may be OK for politics and companies, but not the Church. God seems to be in the business of delivering His Church from a Babylonian captivity of religious bureaucrats and controlling spirits into the public domain, the hands of ordinary people made extraordinary by God, who, like in the old days, may still smell of fish, perfume and revolution.

9. Return from organized to organic forms of Christianity

The “Body of Christ” is a vivid description of an organic, not an organized, being. Church consists on its local level of a multitude of spiritual families, which are organically related to each other as a network, where the way the pieces are functioning together is an integral part of the message of the whole. What has become a maximum of organization with a minimum of organism, has to be changed into a minimum of organization to allow a maximum of organism. Too much organization has, like a straightjacket, often choked the organism for fear that something might go wrong. Fear is the opposite of faith, and not exactly a Christian virtue. Fear wants to control, faithcan trust. Control, therefore, may be good, but trust is better. The Body of Christ is entrusted by God into the hands of steward-minded people with a supernatural charismatic gift to believe God that He is still in control, even if they are not. A development of trust-related regional and national networks, not a new arrangement of political ecumenism is necessary for organic forms of Christianity to re-emerge.

10. From worshipping our worship to worshipping God

The image of much of contemporary Christianity can be summarized, a bit euphemistically, as holy people coming regularly to a holy place at a holy day at a holy hour to participate in a holy ritual lead by a holy man dressed in holy clothes against a holy fee. Since this regular performance-oriented enterprise called “worship service” requires a lot of organizational talent and administrative bureaucracy to keep going, formalized and institutionalised patterns developed quickly into rigid traditions. Statistically, a traditional 1-2 hour “worship service” is very resource-hungry but actually produces very little fruit in terms of discipling people, that is, in changed lives. Economically speaking, it might be a “high input and low output” structure. Traditionally, the desire to “worship in the right way” has led to much denominationalism, confessionalism and nominalism. This not only ignores that Christians are called to “worship in truth and in spirit,” not in cathedrals holding songbooks, but also ignores that most of life is informal, and so is Christianity as “the Way of Life.” Do we need to change from being powerful actors to start “acting powerfully?”

11. Stop bringing people to church, and start bringing the church to the people

The church is changing back from being a Come-structure to being again a Go-structure. As one result, the Church needs to stop trying to bring people “into the church,” and start bringing the Church to the people. The mission of the Church will never be accomplished just by adding to the existing structure; it will take nothing less than a mushrooming of the church through spontaneous multiplication of itself into areas of the population of the world, where Christ is not yet known.

12. Rediscovering the “Lord’s Supper” to be a real supper with real food

Church tradition has managed to “celebrate the Lord’s Supper” in a homeopathic and deeply religious form, characteristically with a few drops of wine, a tasteless cookie and a sad face. However, the “Lord’s Supper” was actually more a substantial supper with a symbolic meaning, than a symbolic supper with a substantial meaning. God is restoring eating back into our meeting.

13. From Denominations to city-wide celebrations

Jesus called a universal movement, and what came was a series of religious companies withglobal chains marketing their special brands of Christianity and competing witheach other. Through this branding of Christianity most of Protestantism has, therefore, become politically insignificant and often more concerned withtraditional specialties and religious infighting than with developing a collective testimony before the world. Jesus simply never asked people to organize themselves into denominations. In the early days of the Church, Christians had a dual identity: they were truly His church and vertically converted to God, and then organized themselves according to geography, that is, converting also horizontally to each other on earth. This means not only Christian neighbors organizing themselves into neighborhood- or house-churches, where they share their lives locally, but Christians coming together as a collective identity as much as they can for citywide or regional celebrations expressing the corporatenessof the Church of the city or region. Authenticity in the neighborhoods connected with a regional or citywide corporate identity will make the Church not only politically significant and spiritually convincing, but will allow a return to the biblical model of the City-Church.

14. Developing a persecution-proof spirit

They crucified Jesus, the Boss of all the Christians. Today, his followers are often more into titles, medals and social respectability, or, worst of all, they remain silent and are not worthbeing noticed at all. “Blessed are you when you are persecuted”, says Jesus. Biblical Christianity is a healthy threat to pagan godlessness and sinfulness, a world overcome by greed, materialism, jealousy and any amount of demonic standards of ethics, sex, money and power. Contemporary Christianity in many countries is simply too harmless and polite to be worthpersecuting. But as Christians again live out New Testament standards of life and, for example, call sin as sin, conversion or persecution has been, is and will be the natural reaction of the world. Instead of nesting comfortably in temporary zones of religious liberty, Christians will have to prepare to be again discovered as the main culprits against global humanism, the modern slavery of having to have fun and the outright worship of Self, the wrong centre of the universe. That is why Christians will and must feel the “repressive tolerance” of a world which has lost any absolutes and therefore refuses to recognize and obey its creator God withhis absolute standards. Coupled with the growing ideologisation, privatization and spiritualisation of politics and economics, Christians will, sooner than most think, have their chance to stand happily accused in the company of Jesus. They need to prepare now for the future by developing a persecution-proof spirit and an even more persecution-proof structure.

15. The Church comes home

Where is the easiest place, say, for a man to be spiritual? Maybe again, is it hiding behind a big pulpit, dressed up in holy robes, preaching holy words to a faceless crowd and then disappearing into an office? And what is the most difficult, and therefore most meaningful, place for a man to be spiritual? At home, in the presence of his wife and children, where everything he does and says is automatically put through a spiritual litmus test against reality, where hypocrisy can be effectively weeded out and authenticity can grow. Much of Christianity has fled the family, often as a place of its own spiritual defeat, and then has organized artificial performances in sacred buildings far from the atmosphere of real life. As God is in the business of recapturing the homes, the church turns back to its roots, back to where it came from. It literally comes home, completing the circle of Church history at the end of world history. As Christians of all walks of life, from all denominations and backgrounds, feel a clear echo in their spirit to what God’s Spirit is saying to the Church, and start to hear globally in order to act locally, they begin to function again as one body. They organize themselves into neighbourhood house-churches and meet in regional or city-celebrations. You are invited to become part of this movement and make your own contribution. Maybe your home, too, will become a house that changes the world. 

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 I visited a church today…. Forgive the pause.  I’m doing my best to communicate in writing, the “question mark” I’m feeling, trying to make sense of it as I consider the experience.  Forgive me in advance if I wander. 

There has been much written and discussed about why so many people are choosing to leave their “churches”.  Some obviously do so because of anger, or abuse.  Or sheer rebellion.  Some are mad at the leadership, or the leadership leaves because they are mad and burned out by the inordinate demands placed on them and their families as they try to meet the expectations of their congregation.  I’ve experienced all of the above.  But what is also true for me, and what I’m hearing from others is that, some are leaving in order to salvage their faith.  Does that sound radical to you?

The idea that some people would actually choose to leave a church because of an abusive situation isn’t a radical idea.  Simply choose another congregation, right?  A healthier one.  But if you leave what is traditionally called “church” because it actually hinders your faith, and choose instead to opt for a Faith Community that breaks the traditional mold, in their thinking something is obviously wrong with “you”.  Either you’ve been wounded and need healing, or you are bitter and need to forgive, or you’ve failed and need to be restored.  All of which may be true, and often is.  Thank God for churches that minister to these well.  But what of those for whom “leaving” is just another developmental faith stage through which they are growing.  Does your church have mature leaders and spiritual directors who can help such individuals navigate through those seasons of growth.  Truth is, few churches know how, and are not comfortable with it because their leaders have never crossed over into such terrain, or successfully navigated  through those “Dark Nights” themselves.  Nor is that what their church programs are designed to do.  So Jesus himself, the lead shepherd, intervenes (he still pastors his flock).

“Jesus is building his Church”.  He is preparing his Bride, and he loves her in all of her various expressions.  He is shepherding his sheep, and leading each of them (who will listen) to spacious pastures, where they can find nourishment and space to flourish.  I  do not believe it matters whether it be a house church or the church that meets in your house, or the church that meets in a big building with a steeple on top or a glowing neon sign that blinks the word Pub”.  Yes, I know of a faith community that even reserves space at a bar, and another who meets there every other week during business hours for bible study.  There is nothing wrong with the Church Jesus is building, whether we’re scandalized by it or not, and I’m excited about what I see happening (more on that in upcoming posts). 

I visited a church today.  And I am reminded that, yes, there are many people who leave churches for the wrong reasons, and those who have been wounded need someone to leave the ninety nine in order to seek and find the one.  

Many others, however, haven’t truly “left”; they’ve simply obeyed the voice of their Father to move on, to new works, creative works, and kingdom expanding ventures that defy being contained in old “wine-skins”.  Jesus is shepherding his sheep, and some will return to the “fold”.  But some will move on out of spiritual necessity.  Those who are “listening” know this to be true.

“Because they cannot play the religious game anymore….The social benefits of going to church could no longer compensate for the lack of spiritual life.”- Chip Brogden

Yes, I visited a church today.   

Roc 

“If a Jew wrongs a Christian, what is his natural response?  Revenge.  If a Christian wrongs a Jew, what should his penalty be by Christian Example?  Why Revenge!  The villainy you teach me, I will carry out.” – Shylock (The Merchant of Venice)

“In a divided society, only the Church can model unity.” – John Perkins

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” – Luke 23:34  

 

Earlier this month, something very simple and yet significant took place in Washington regarding racial reconciliation.  A former KKK member repented of violence he committed against civil rights protesters forty eight years ago, and senator John Lewis was one of the men subjected to this violence.  In the video below we see the two men officially meet for the first time forty eight later.  

Though this is great news, I do at times find myself wondering about gestures like these.  Though it is significant (obviously for the persons involved), many of us are “removed” from the crimes of the Civil Rights era.  We did not experience these horrors personally, and gestures like these now feel more symbolic.  It’s easier for me to forgive sins of the past that I was not personally subjected to.  But what about present, more immediate offenses where the pain still cuts deep, where revenge, and all of it’s subtle forms of retaliation, seem justifiable?  Nevertheless, I was glad to see this.

As I watched this video where forgiveness is asked for, given, and received, I asked myself:  How can I more authentically live out the “ministry of reconciliation”?  What would it look like for me personally to walk this out in my own life?  What would it look like for the Body of Christ, in our churches, to go beyond “symbolic” gestures of corporate repentance, and practically live this out in our communities and relationships?  And most importantly, who are those I must now forgive, as well as go to and ask for forgiveness?  I have much to consider.  What steps toward forgiving, and loving your “enemies” will you consider taking? 

“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” – Luke 6:27-31, 35-36

Roc

In answer to my last post on failure, today I’m posting a response by John Stanko of Purpose Quest http://www.purposequest.com/.  Feel free to check out some of his past articles on the subject of failure. 

Roc

Well, I haven’t quite declared my annual Celebrate a Failure Week, but I may soon. In the meantime, I have a whole body of failure articles that can be found at http://tinyurl.com/c8xkyr. I often tell people the following trilogy of statements that help explain the purpose of failure:

Q: Isn’t failure often a learning experience?

A: “Yes!”

Q: Don’t we often learn more from failure than success?

A; “Yes!”

Q: Aren’t we always to be learning?

A: “Yes!”

Q: Then should we, should you, be failing as often as possible?

A: Silence

So what say you to the last question?

I had intended on doing a series of posts this month on the topic of failure.  Several weeks ago I came across numerous blogs discussing the topic, and the need for a well articulated Theology of Failure/Suffering.  Many churches  avoid adequately addressing the issue from the pulpit, and the void is experienced  in the pews.  After discussing the issue with several people, including a couple of church leaders (and former church leaders), it’s obvious that many leaders struggle with how to speak honestly of our own failures, let alone how to walk with and restore others who have failed, or who are suffering due to the failure of others or as a result of  some tragedy or crisis.    

Each year a friend of mine, John Stanko dedicates the first week of February as “Celebrate a Failure Week”  http://www.stankomondaymemo.com/, and last month I thought I’d start writing on the subject in preparation, but since I was struggling with feeling like a failure, and thought I’d fail to do justice to topic, I put it off.  I wasn’t even going to bring it up.  Then something interesting happened today at work.  I came across a box of what appeared to be new calling cards, bound stacks of hundreds of them, separated into smaller piles.  Instead they were cards with bullet points from various workshops:  “Dealing with an Accusation”, “Dealing with Someone Else’s Anger”, etc.  A grouping of ten workshops, but there were only nine placements of cards.  One had been totally depleted while the others remained.  What was the set of cards everyone had taken?  “Responding to Failure”.  It’s a topic everyone struggles with. 

We all fail, or are touched by the failure of others.  Yesterday I had a heart to heart with my eldest son over an issue of real and perceived failure (false regarding him, but my own failure being all too real).  The conversation was difficult and  emotional, but it also strengthened our relationship and trust as we wrestled with what it means to accurately identify when and if we’ve truly failed, and how to respond.  More importantly, it gave us a chance to discuss what God thinks of us and what is His response to failure.  I learned much about God’s grace listening to my fifteen year old, and I was reminded of how devastating it is to feel that we’ve “let down”  our heavenly Father, and to fear losing His love because of a real or perceived failure, and others’ response to it.  

I don’t know if I’m going to write on failure or not; I’m still processing.  However, I am interested in hearing any of your thoughts, references, or articles on the subject.  Maybe you’ve written something yourself.  If so, send it along, maybe I’ll post it.  Meanwhile, remember:  “Nothing can separate us from the love of God”.  Not even Failure.

Roc

In previous posts on groupthink (this is the last) I’ve tried to show it’s potential dangers, but that isn’t to say that I think that groups or teams are bad.  Just the opposite!  As one of my graduate school professors said to me (who was very much into groups),  “Yes, Ron, community is necessary for spiritual growth, but only if the group is healthy.”  Healthy or not, people do gather, and because of the relational baggage we carry, or the emotional wounds from our past, our stories often collide as we experience one another.  Nevertheless, good things can come out of these collisions if there are those within the group who are committed to Christ-like solutions.  Groupthink methods can certainly help control these collisions but there is a better way.  Teamthink.  Neck and Manz (1994), coined the term, but it’s characteristics can be seen in scripture.  They defined it as, “effective synergistic thinking within the group.”  Unlike groupthink, teamthink is characterized by these traits:  

  • Encouragement of divergent views 
  • Open expression of concerns/ideas
  • Awareness of limitations/threats
  • Recognition of member’s uniqueness
  • Discussion of collective doubts  

Acts 15 offers us an example of these characteristics at work.  A conflict arose in the church of Antioch because the more traditional Jewish believers wanted the Gentile followers to obey the law of circumcision.  I won’t get into the theological implications of law and grace, but instead consider the way the group resolved the conflict by cooperating with the Holy Spirit and each other to reach a decision on the matter. 

  “Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: ‘Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.’  This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.”- Acts 15:1-3 

First notice the phrase “sharp dispute and debate”.  Though it is rare that you’ll ever “convert” anyone by arguing with them (though it does happen), there are times when such debates are necessary.  Labeling as divisive those who are contending for core issues of faith is misguided.  Paul and Barnabas were not being divisive.  Those promoting wrong doctrine and encroaching on the liberty of the non-traditional Antioch church were the cause of the division.  Elsewhere, Paul actually speaks of “Those who cause division because of their wrong doctrine”, but encourages Timothy to rebuke them sharply and to correct them. 

  “Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, ‘The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses.’  The apostles and elders met to consider this question.  After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: ‘Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe.  God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us.  He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.  Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?  No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.’  The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them.  When they finished, James spoke up: ‘Brothers, listen to me.  Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself.'” -vv. 5-14 

Notice that the concerns of all parties were heard.  There was “much discussion”, and there was no attempt by the apostles to pull rank or distance themselves from the less powerful, least represented Gentile members of their group.  “God who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us.  He made no distinctions between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.”  What is amazing to me is how we today, who do not have the credibility or authority of the early apostles, lack their humility when we try to wield more authority over people in our faith communities than they were willing to force upon their own in their day.  

  “It is my judgment therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.  Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.  For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”  Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, two men who were leaders among the brothers.” – vv. 19-22  

Here we see the “us” in consensus.  They did not dismiss the concerns of the more established or powerful group.  They acknowledge the legitimate threat to the faith and their standing within the religious traditional Jewish community, but addressed them biblically, appealing to cultural sensitivity.  Love, even under the pretense of liberty, does not needlessly cause others to stumble.    

  “Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing.  It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements:  You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell.” -vv. 27-29 

 Once again we see an appeal to be sensitive to the legitimate concerns of the other group, concerns that were rooted in both scripture and culture.  It was with this in mind that they set reasonable limitations on the Gentile community that did not place on them unnecessary religious burdens or violate their liberty in Christ. 
 
In making these decisions, the group and their approach was no less “spiritual” because they did not have a “Word” from God, though they would have responded to one if the Spirit had chosen to direct them in that manner (which, ironically, was common in the Antioch church).  Nor did the leader come down from the mountaintop, having heard from God for all the others, while they all compliantly obeyed (though God does speak through others, the “word” is still judged for authenticity).  Nor was it less relational because they disagreed sharply.  Peter and Paul were not subversively undermining the church because they broke with the status quo of the more influential majority group.  They took a stand on biblical grounds regarding what they understood to be essential.  Though their experiences among the Gentiles were unique, they were recognized as credible, and rather than being dismissed as “just another opinion”, it added to the realization of a new harmony and, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us”.  Wait a minute!  The Holy Spirit?  How did He get in there?  When did He show up?  You mean with all these leaders fighting for their view of what is right, all these people with all their stories and experiences, their opinions, their traditions, their liberty, their you name it; with all this religious testosterone in the room, the Holy Spirit was there the whole time helping, leading, and trusting them to work it out according to His heart and mind?  Yep. 
 
So, here in scripture we see a positive example of decision-making in a group context.  Not just another technique or opinion of man, but a lived out, New Testament example from those who came before us.  
 
When it comes to team work and decision-making, a thinking team is better than groupthink, and… “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit”.  Let me know what you think.
 
Roc 

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