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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/

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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 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?

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 

This week I’ve been thinking a great deal about those who struggle during the holidays.  Though it’s a joyous season, for many the season can be rife with pain, loneliness, and feelings of deep heartache.  Usually I need to be reminded of that, but this year the stark reality could not be avoided as I dreaded confronting what I feared would be a difficult Christmas personally.  I know that I am not alone.  I know that this has been a particularly trying time for many families because of all that is going on with the economy and the rise in unemployment.  I know of  several families who have lost jobs and homes, or are on the verge of doing so.  Some have even lost their  families as the financial strain took their toll on already fragile commitments, the weight of the burden proving too overwhelming for love long grown cold.   I just finished reading a letter from a man who is now living in fear of what will come of his marriage as he confronts the reality that his wife’s love for him probably will not outlive the difficulties brought about by the financial ruin they’ve experienced over the last few months in light of our nations economic collapse.  Yet, at the birth of Christ the Angels were heard to say,
“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” – Luke 2:14 
 But where is the peace for these families?  The compassion I feel for them are more real to me this season more than any other because over the last twelve months I’ve also lost most every thing of value to me (except the clothes on my back and some books), and have lost relationships that were at one time close, even dear to me.  So this season was a test for me.  Did I truly believe that Jesus was the reason for the season (yes, a cliche, I know)?  Would that sentiment be very real to me this year (Oh, how I needed it to be!), or would it be exposed as just another Christmas jingle, or cliche. 
I’m reminded of a song by Rob Mathes, William The Angel.  Basically it’s a story about a depressed Angel with a broken wing at Christmas time.  I like the idea that even an Angel to the King can sometimes feel down at Christmas time, but he continues to hope and pray for peace on earth (and the healing of his own broken wing).  Christmas and the New Year can be a lot like that for many people.  They’ve struggled for years, maybe like William The Angel, faithfully serving God and man, with seemingly little to show for it but the gift of a broken wing and a prayer.   Which brings up a seeming paradox (the scriptures are full of them).  Though the angels proclaimed peace on earth and goodwill toward men, Jesus Himself said these words,

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to earth.  I did not come to bring peace, but a sword…Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” -Matt. 10:34-39

How does one reconcile these words of Jesus with the “Christmas” time proclamation of the Angels?  It can really drive you crazy if you let it.  

Then I am reminded  that Jesus, Immanuel, is God with us, our greatest gift, our source of every good thing, our provision itself, and I am encouraged, because as Paul the apostle said,

“He is our peace.” – Eph. 2:14

It is in him that all of our true desires are met and deepest hopes fulfilled no matter the trial or circumstance.  But I am also challenged. There is a lot I’m believing God for in my life right now, but If Jesus’ words about true peace are true, then I must learn to accept that He may not cooperate with my personal program for emotional happiness (at least not on my terms). We may be deprived of many comforts we’ve grown accustomed to.  Maybe we’re haunted by the Ghost of Christmases past, or the spectre of what the New Year may (or may not) hold.  Maybe you too have lost everything dear to you, or like my friend, fear that you might.  Please consider that He wants to give us a greater gift: Himself.  He wants us to learn first hand what it means to have a “friend who sticks closer than a brother”. 

This Christmas season some are receiving a wonderful gift in relearning lessens they had forgotten in their prosperity, and reclaiming an intimacy with God even in the midst of their lack.  Though most wouldn’t choose to “lose” their life in this way, once confronted with the reality of it, they have had to choose whether to give up in despair, or to surrender and continue to trust Him and His goodness even in the middle of their trial.  I still struggle, and often times my flesh rebels, and my soul truly aches, and I’m tempted to sit in an ash heap like Job (or William).  But I am learning (I haven’t arrived) to be at rest in the midst of terrible circumstances, and this is a wonderful gift.  Jesus is teaching us that He really is enough, even if things never work out the way we hope.  What we’ll be left with is an increased awareness that He who had everything became nothing, so that we who had nothing, could have Him who is everything.  And that is more than enough.  And having freely released our hold on everything else we thought we needed, He leaves us with this promise:

“I tell you the truth, no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the Kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, etenal life.” – Luke 18:29-30 

Below I have left a link to Rob Mathes’ William The Angel.  My prayers go out to you, and in this New Year may your wings be repaired and your hearts be filled with joy that surpasses all understanding!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yh3UYHx2FE0

Peace,

Roc

“Men like to become Christians without crossing racial, linguistic, or class barriers.”
-Donald McGavran, missionary to India

I will continue my posts on Groupthink later this week, but today I’m posting a couple of news updates, one (a bit late on my part) regarding the mock lynching of Barack Obama by students at George Fox University (Church, I really don’t make this stuff up)http://www.oregonlive.com/news/index.ssf/2008/09/four_george_fox_students_confe.html.

On a positive note, another Christian institution, Bob Jones University, published a statement apologizing for their history regarding race relations:

“For almost two centuries American Christianity, including BJU in its early stages, was characterized by the segregationist ethos of American culture. Consequently, for far too long, we allowed institutional policies regarding race to be shaped more directly by that ethos than by the principles and precepts of the Scriptures. We conformed to the culture rather than provide a clear Christian counterpoint to it.

In so doing, we failed to accurately represent the Lord and to fulfill the commandment to love others as ourselves. For these failures we are profoundly sorry. Though no known antagonism toward minorities or expressions of racism on a personal level have ever been tolerated on our campus, we allowed institutional policies to remain in place that were racially hurtful.”

God is truly good.  You can read Edward Gilbreath’s post at http://edwardg.wordpress.com/2008/11/20/bob-jones-universitys-statement-on-race/ where you can link onto the entire statement.

Peace,

Roc    

Thanks to Dan over at http://ceruleansanctum.com for the quote below (check out his entire post). 

“Evangelicals are at a junction. They can take the path that will lead them to more futility and ineffective attempts to reform culture through government, or they can embrace the far more powerful methods outlined by the One they claim to follow. By following His example, they will decrease, but He will increase. They will get no credit, but they will see results. If conservative Evangelicals choose obscurity and seek to glorify God, they will get much of what they hope for, but can never achieve, in and through politics.” -Cal Thomas 

Read the Cal Thomas article: Religious Right R.I.P. at  http://www.calthomas.com/index.php?news=2419.

Roc

 

Dan Edelen at Cerulean Sanctum wrote a post today comparing “the worldview differences between Externally Motivated (EM) Christianity and Internally Motivated (IM) Christianity” in relationship to the coming elections.  Will you be disappointed if (when) the “other” guy wins?  How will you respond?  How would “resident aliens” respond, and in whom would they place their hope?  You can check out his post here http://ceruleansanctum.com/2008/10/the-two-christianities-on-display.html.

Roc

Welcome to Roc In Exile!  First, I should explain the name.  “Roc” is not a typo: I didn’t forget the “K”.  Back home as a teen, my nick name was Rocky.  Some of my best friends still call me “Roc” for short and it’s how I identify myself in relationship with them. 

To be in exile is the condition of living away from one’s own home or nation (sometimes forcibly).  In the Old Testament, Israel is said to be in exile during their Babylonian captivity.  However, the Apostle Peter also speaks of New Testament believers as exiles when he writes “Conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile” (1Peter 1:17).  So, “In exile”, refers to all followers of Christ in relationship to the world we live in.  

I was hesitant to use the phrase “In Exile” as a blog title, because of so many unpleasent connotations associated with the word “exile”.  Many see it as a word or condition of victimization.  But I see it as a heroic condition.  A call to mission.  It describes the condition of a people who know that they are royalty, but who also realize that just like The One they follow, their “…kingdom is not of this world,” and they live accordingly.  They’re on a mission, and as ambassadors of reconciliation they extend that kingdom of love and grace to others, inviting them to share abundant life as a child of the King. 

Being in exile one can’t help but wrestle; with God, man, and even the forces of darkness (yeah, I believe in that sorta thing).  We all struggle with the way things are, as opposed to the way things are supposed to be.  We all have desires and aspirations, but also many struggles and even failures that come with living life on this side of eternity.  We live life in the tension of the “already/not yet” Kingdom to come.  But like those who came before us, as exiles we also live in hope: “All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads (exiles) here on earth.”  Hebrews 11:13.  

I won’t pretend to be a perfect guide on this sojourn, but I will make some observations, ask some questions, share my perspective, and hopefully offer some insights on issues pertaining to Faith, [G]Race, and Culture from the vantage point of a Resident Alien.  I hope you’ll join me on the journey by offering your own comments and insights.  The more the merrier! 

Ron “Roc” McClelland

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