Saturday, March 24, 2012
Friday, March 23, 2012
The Place Of Church
The timing was good—around the anniversary of 9/11—to read R. Kirby Godsey's new book, Is God a Christian? (Mercer Univ. Press, 2011). It's a great question, requiring us all—Christian, Jewish, Muslim—to ask some important questions about identity, otherness, and theology (a subject of interest to me for a number of reasons, including the fact that I'm writing on the subject as well).I must first reflect on the implicit humility in the "wife" illustration. The understanding on the view of another, the willingness to acknowledge it is to step outside of oneself and to understand on some level their view. That is the root of humility - the view of the other.
He's saying that to truly and deeply love Jesus, to be rightly and fully committed to his message and mission, Christians must resist the temptation to let the boundaries of their own religion define the circle of God's embrace. Christians must do this, not as an act of compromise with pluralism, but as an act of faithfulness to Jesus, who proclaimed in word and deed that God's love does not push anyone outside its infinite circumference.
One thinks of a relativist wife who says, "Yes, I married John, but he's just another man, and all men are the same, so it didn't really matter who I chose." In contrast, one thinks of an absolutist husband who says, "I married Jane, which means that I consider all other women to be ugly, stupid, and abhorrent." But Godsey's idea of covenant commitment allows one to say, "I have given my heart to my spouse, and I love my spouse as I love no other person. I assume you have the same kind of devotion to the subject of your love."
Secondly, I am forced to wonder how much our internecine battles hold back Christ from really reaching the world. I know, that is an old liberal canard, but sometimes even liberal have a point - even if they take it too far. Should I let me love of my wife stand in the way of anyone else getting married because the wife they select is not as good as mine? Can't we find a way to promote marriage?
We seek truth but if we are honest, we can never find it wholly and completely. Our congregational and perhaps denominational affiliation is based on reason and community, but reason often only produces part of the truth and true community is flexible.
Thursday, March 22, 2012
Hiding at Church
Even so, the list comes packaged online with advice from experts such as a piece by sociologist Scott Thumma of the Hartford Institute of Religion Research at Hartford Seminary, who offers 10 lessons to learn from megachurches with their high-profile pastors. No. 4 on that list seemed to sum up several points:Think about this, "Most visitors want to slip in anonymously and experience worship in a user-friendly manner." Is that really what church should be about? Anonymity? No personal connection?
Make it appealing, then make it challenging. Most visitors want to slip in anonymously and experience worship in a user-friendly manner. But don't leave newcomers at the "spectator stage." Christianity is about maturing in the faith. The goal of pastors and teachers is to help the body of Christ "become mature." Many megachurches provide intentional paths for new persons to move into deeper levels of the faith.
That may be a "seeker" thing - but a "disciple" thing, I think not. I keep coming back to the fact that the church makes disciples and disciples bring in seekers. If we build the church around drawing in seekers, we never seem to get tot he making disciples part.
I am also forced to reflect on the fact that based on the conversation Jesus had with the Woman at the Well - no one was anonymous in Christ's presence. Part of Christ's winsomeness was the fact that He KNEW you when you were in His presence, in that comfortable, welcoming sense.
That's what I think we ought to be striving for.
Related Tags: Illuminated Hymns
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
How Bad Are We Really?
File this under Evil, or The Dignity of the Human Person, and wince while you read this horrific story brought to you by David Mills, over at First Things:People tend to think that monstrosity among humans is the exception, not the rule. And yet, I know I am guilty of objectifying people every day. Do I experiment on them? No, of course not, but I do often treat them more like objects than living beings. You do too. Think of the clerk in the store that you just want to check your order not "chit-chat" the day away.
Dr. John C. Cutler was a monster. A monster who died after a long and successful life in government and academia, with scholarships and lectures created in his memory. As readers may know, in the mid-1940s he experimented upon poor Guatemalans, including mental patients and orphans as young as nine, trying to find a cure for syphilis. The most horrifying example, already much posted on the web (I quoted it on “First Thoughts” a few days ago), is “that of a mental patient named Berta.”
I cannot hep but reflect on Christ's words in the sermon on the mount about "lust in the heart" The line between mild sinner and monster is much thinner than we might think. But we don't seem to want to talk about that in polite company. For most people our will, combined with social pressure is enough to avoid the monster turn - BUT ONLY CHRIST CAN REMOVE THE MONSTER IMPULSE.
Do we really want to live in a world on the verge on monstrosity? I don't. I want to live in a world where the monster is far, far away. But to get there we have to face the monster impulse and lay it at the foot of the cross and have it destroyed with all our minor sins.
It is hard to see the monster in ourselves, but we just have to.
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
The Place For Authority
Throughout the book, Austin emphasizes that authority is always personal authority. It resides in persons and not in things. Despite a seemingly vigorous corporate ecclesiology, he nevertheless affirms that “authority resides in the individual believer.” The church cannot exist without its individual members and their confession of faith in Jesus Christ. The church quite properly has its offices, creeds, traditions, and, above all, the Scriptures. Yet authority in the full sense is to be found in none of these by itself: “Authority resides in the individual believer who, inspired by the Holy Spirit, proclaims faithfully her allegiance to the suffering Jesus, and thus to her Lord, and thus to the Triune Reality that is the source of all authority in heaven and earth.” Yet the individual’s confession of faith is dependent on the larger community which authorizes her to make this confession.Fascinating Captain! Authority is, of course, one of the great dividing lines between Old and New Testament and between Catholicism and Protestantism. The theological concept of priesthood is very important in all this. The Reformation was born of abuses of ecclesiastical power. And yet, lack of centralized authority threatens to drive the American church in particular into meaningless oblivion. This presents an interesting fusion of the central and decentral authority models.
Authority indeed resides in persons, but it is earned, not granted. he purpose of the institution is not to hold or grant authority, but to insure that those in positions of authority have indeed earned it. Institutions are gate keepers. Two quick thoughts.
One is how democratic such a model is. Is America a Christian nation? It is indeed in the idea that how we hold and transfer political power is modeled on how it would seem God intended the church to do so. (Big hint there as to why I am a Presbyterian.)
Secondly, just as a democratic nation requires a high level of education amongst its citizenry, the same is true for the church. Otherwise, it will be possible for the unsuitable to claim authority. And yet, Christian education is virtually dead in the church today.
Monday, March 19, 2012
The Place of Doctrine
When someone says, "Don't give me doctrine, I just want to follow Jesus", what they are really saying is "give me law, not gospel. Give me more imperatives and less indicatives. I just want something practical." But how is this any different than Mormons or theological liberals? Fact is, we need a Savior, not just a moral example.That is such an oversimplification! To tis I wish to pose two counterpoints.
You could not have believed the gospel of Jesus Christ without knowing its contents. You did not just follow a generic Jesus.
1) Would Samson contend that God's grace is unavailable to those without the cognitive skill to comprehend the contents of the gospel?
Nonsense, if God's grace extends to me, the most profligate of sinners then certainly it extends to those that for whatever reason are limited in their ability to know and understand.
2) Samson is past Armenian here - he is into a fully natural realm. I often say what he says, but what I seek is a supernatural experience. Often my reason and thought stands in the way of a confrontation with the Lord of the universe. I wish to know God, not merely to understand Him.
If doctrine is all, then all is natural. But God is definitionally supernatural.
My wife is a constant reminder to me that living things are not subject to laws in the same sense that the natural world is. As a scientist I can tell you the precise path a rocket shot into space will travel to within a few inches, even when it leaves the solar system - but I cannot tell you what my wife will do in the next ten minutes.
God is orderly, but He is not predictable. I have to interact with Him continually. And that is what one means when one says, "I just want to follow Jesus."