Church

One Church

This is the sermon that I preached at our community Holy Week services on Monday. This sermon is partly the outgrowth of the work that I have started writing here about Luke 10 Theology. Most important for me in this sermon was the attempt to reclaim some of the greatest and richest elements of my religious tradition the Stone-Campbell Movement (a.k.a. the American Restoration Movement). These are important words that don't often square up with either our speech or practice in many Churches of Christ. This makes this attempt at reclaiming that I think all the more important.

 

PS - 1 Million Restoration Movement nerd points if anyone can tell me how many times I quote directly from the Declaration and Address in this sermon and which propositions each quote comes from. Happy listening!

Love/Fellowship ≠ Endorsement...

I want to take a brief aside to address an objection to what I am advocating (larger cooperation and service alongside people of other Christian traditions). This is an objection that I have heard all of my life and it has been employed in a number of situations. It is a form of "exclusion" that is both very subtle and seemingly innocent. The objection is this: "If you do that people will think that you approve of all of their false teachings."

My contention in this post is that there are a number of difficulties (or problems) with this perspective which are actually damaging  to the life and witness of the church in the world.

  1. This correlation (relationship = endorsement) doesn't function in any other realm of life.
  2. In all honesty there is no one on the planet that we fully endorse without qualification.
  3. This is in direct contradiction with the framework that is laid out for us by Jesus himself.

Let's examine each of these in turn...

This correlation (relationship = endorsement) doesn't function in any other realm of life.
It should give us pause to recognize the selective nature of such a framework. Do parents give unqualified endorsement to all actions of their children? After all, they do live together and love one another. (This is especially true if your kids are toddlers or teenagers right?) When you buy produce at your local grocery store does this mean that you give an unqualified endorsement to the oppressive working conditions that are faced by migrant farm workers? (I am hoping that it is becoming clear what I am getting at here.)

In all honesty there is no one on the planet that we fully endorse without qualification. If unqualified endorsement is signified by relationship or intimacy (or for our discussion "loving our neighbor") then we are in trouble. (The irony is not lost on me that people use these categories to exclude any form or semblance of relationship with people of other Christian traditions. So we can't have a loving and mutually beneficial relationship with other Christians, but we can have the most intimate relationships of our lives like a spouse and our children?!?!) Maybe to make this more poignant we should ask it this way:

  • Which of the 12 Apostles did Jesus give an unqualified endorsement? Peter (when he cut of Malchus' ear), James and John (when they asked Jesus for permission to execute Samaritans by fire from heaven), Judas (this one should be pretty obvious)????
  • When Paul writes to the Corinthians: "To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 1:2-3, NIV) are we supposed to hear this as endorsement of all the things happening in that church (you know really minor stuff like incest, drunkedness, discrimination, etc.)?

We should at least be given pause in our withdrawal of relationship from other people who profess faith in Christ despite our significant theological disagreements in light of the surprising depth of "fellowship" that we see demonstrated between the Apostles (particularly Paul) and the churches to which they address.

This is in direct contradiction with the framework that is laid out for us by Jesus himself.
The perfect example of this situation is recorded for us in the Gospel of Mark:

    “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

   “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward. (Mark 9:38-41, NIV, emphasis mine.)

Here Jesus makes an important distinction between who is with us (in John's mind) and who is with us (in Jesus' mind). Too often we equate the two. "If we're with Jesus--and everyone who identifies themself as a Christian assumes they are with Jesus--then they, if they aren't with us, must not be with Jesus." But Jesus says that we tend to have too small of a view about just who is exactly is "with us".

So what does this mean? What are the implications of what I am trying to say here. A couple of hunches:

  1. This idea that love/fellowship=(unqualified) endorsement is absurd.
  2. The forms of exclusion that are generated from such a position are counter to the very teachings of Scripture about the unity of the church and love of neighbor as we love ourselves.
  3. Jesus calls us to something much bigger than competition ("we're right and you're not of us so you are wrong), or co-existence ("you're ok, I'm ok"). He calls us to self-giving love for one another as we together seek the glory of God and the transformative power of the cross and resurrection of Jesus in our lives by the leading of the Holy Spirit together.

Who is Theologically "Other"??

Yesterday we talked about the various ways that people practice exclusion and began to look at some of the foundational issues regarding the story of the Good Samaritan to serve as a framework for engaging the issue of our relationships to people (not to institutions or traditions as we will see later) who are theologically "other" or different. But an important question that we must answer before we can work ourselves deeper into the theological impications of loving our neighbor as we love ourselves is this: WHO is the person that is theologically "other"? In other words, who is the person that is theologically different enough from myself that we must find a framework in which to understand our relationship with them? But first, some fundamental assumptions that I am taking for granted without much further explanation:

  1. No human being has an unchanging perception of God (if they even believe in one) or the world.
    This is easy to demonstrate. Do you have the same understanding of the world or of God today that you did ten years ago? Do you still believe in the tooth fairy or that babies are made by love and not through sex (because your parents didn't want to tell you about the birds and the bees yet!)? Even if some (or many) of your convictions have not changed in some time (e.g., the divinity of Jesus) the way that you understand them and how they are connected to other elements of your theological framework are always changing. 
  2. No two people who have ever lived have an identical theology.
    This is not to suggest that there has not been over time some major elements of consensus and agreement. However, it is my contention that no two people have ever held the exact same convictions about God and the world, and certainly never at the same time and place.
  3. The way in which human beings understand God is always analogical.
    For example, God is not literally our father because God is not confined by gender. God is not a rock, or a fortress, or a shield (2 Samuel 22:2-3). Ultimately we are limited in our finitude, by the limits of our language and our understanding of that language in the ways that we understand God.

So the implication is this: EVERYONE WHO HAS EVER LIVED IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD IS THEOLOGICALLY "OTHER" THAN MYSELF. 

But why is this important? What does this have to do with the Greatest Commands?

The reason that this is important is because it has been the tendency in the Church to exclude people who are deemed to be "theologically other". But this determination has always been subjective, often violent (whether physically or socially), and has failed to take seriously (in my opinion) the command to love neighbor. There are a million examples of this throughout church history. You could look at the persecution (and execution!) of Anabaptists at the hands of both Catholics and Protestants. Or perhaps less violently (although still an intentional form of exclusion) one could look to a not too distant dust-up in our tradition (Churches of Christ) where Churches who used instruments in worship were excluded from the national directory.

The practice of exclusion to people who are deemed "theologically other" has been a constant element of Christian history. But why? What constitutes the grounds for such an intentional and drastic exclusion (even up to execution!)?

In Churches of Christ this practice has been especially prevalent (I'm sure it is in other religious traditons but I can only speak out of my experience in my tradition.), but only around specific issues. In other words, we demonstrate a selective exclusion of the "theologically other". Some of these issues in our history have been things like:

  • Instrumental Music in Worship
  • Frequency of Participation in the Lord's Supper
  • Church Structure (Elders/Deacons vs. Pastors/Boards)
  • Understanding(s) of Baptism
  • Whether the silence of Scripture is permissive or prohibitive.
  • Cooperation with other congregations (whether more "conservative" or "liberal" Churches of Christ) or other Christian traditions (e.g., Baptist, Catholic, etc.)

The irony of such a criteria for exclusion is that it is inconsistent in its application. In my experience we have never excluded someone who is entirely outside of the Christian faith for their divergent (or nonexistant!) views of any of these issues! However, we have excluded all kinds of other people who truly love Jesus and are obedient in accordance with their understanding of the Scriptures. In other words, somehow we have found a way to justify the exclusion of some people in our understanding of "love your neighbor as yourself" and it has been people within the Christian tradition!!

THIS IS A SIGNIFICANT THEOLOGICAL PROBLEM FOR THE UNITY AND MISSION OF THE CHURCH.

Tomorrow I want to address some of the issues that some will raise in objection to what I am pointing to here. We will try to answer some of the following questions:

  • How can we have fellowship/unity with people that we disagree with? Doesn't the Bible say, "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" (Amos 3:3, KJV)
  • When is the "issue" or "difference" significant enough that we must seperate from them to maintain the purity of the Gospel?
  • Or my personal least favorite: "We can still love them and acknowledge that they are Christians but we must remain seperate because of our differences." (It makes my blood pressure rise just to type it.)

It is my contention that there is a significant difference between LOVE and CO-EXISTENCE. There is functionally no difference between premeditated exclusion and indifferent acceptance of such an arrangement. Therefore, it is a vital task of the church to recover what it means to "love our neighbor" especialy as it pertains to other people within the Christian tradition.

The Declaration and Address (a foundational document of our tradition, the Stone-Campbell Movement also known as the American Restoration Movement) puts it this way:

Christ established one church--just one. This church is made up of everyone who has faith in Christ and is trying to follow him in the ways God's Spirit in scripture has told us, and who others can see are being transformed into his likeness by the way they act. No one else has a right to be called a Christian.

Therefore, nothing should be required to recognize, fellowship, embrace, work, worship, and be fully and visibly united with all Christians that is not specifically made a requirement by God in his word. Nothing should be required in the way local bodies of Christians operate that is not specifically required by Christ and his Apostles for the church. Furthermore, the chief requirements for full fellowship that God has declared are our love for God and for people. This love is formed by our understanding of God's love for us shown through Christ.

God gave us the ability to think and reason--that is a good thing. If, however, in the process of using our reason we come to conclusions that other Christians do not reach, and that causes us to reject them, we have been deceived by the evil one. Our pride has taken over and stopped our continued growth into the mind of Christ--a mind of complete humility and self-sacrifice. Human reason is not the ultimate standard for truth. Christians ought to be growing constantly in their understanding of the profound truths of the gospel--that's part of our spiritual growth as communities. But requiring or even expecting others to be where you are is not conducive to the visible unity Christ so much wants.

Once again, having an understanding of every Christian truth is not a requirement to be a Christian, a part of Christ's church. No one who is trying to follow Christ ought to be forced to confess any belief beyond what they understand and know. All a person needs to know to be part of Christ's church is that they are lost and that salvation is through Christ. When they confess that they believe in Christ and that they want to obey him fully according to his word--nothing else can be required.

Everyone who confesses belief in Christ and commits to obey him, and who shows the reality of their commitment by the way they live, should consider each other as the precious saints of God, should love each other as sisters and brothers, children of the same family and Father, temples of the same Spirit, members of the same body, subjects of the same grace, objects of the same divine love bought with the same price, and joint heirs of the same inheritance. Whoever God has joined together this way, no one should dare divide.

Division among Christians is a sickening evil, filled with many evils. It is anti-Christian because it destroys the visible unity of the body of Christ. It is as if Christ were cutting off parts of himself and throwing them away from the rest of his body! What a ludicrous picture! Division is anti-scriptural, since Christ himself specifically prohibited it, making it a direct violation of Christ's will. It is anti-natural, because it makes Christians condemn, hate and oppose one another--people who are actually obligated in the strongest way to love each other as sisters and brothers, just like Christ loved them. In other words, division repudiates everything Christianity is supposed to stand for.

Two things are responsible for all the divisions and corruptions in Christ's church through the centuries. One is a neglect or even and fundmental misunderstanding of God's will for us in scripture--that we have the mind of Christ and be transformed into his likeness. The other comes from the first. Some Christians, assuming they are "right," that they have gotten the "facts" perfectly, have assumed the authority to impose their conclusions on others as terms of recognition and fellowship.

In reality, everything needed for the church to reach the highest state of perfection and purity on earth is first to receive as members only those who have understood their lostness and confessed their faith in Christ and commitment to follow him according to scripture; second, to keep as members only those who show those commitments in their everyday lives; and third, to see that ministers who reflect these ideals, preach only what is clearly taught in scripture. Finally, they must stick close to what scripture makes primary, seen in the example of the early church in the New Testament, without being distracted or corrupted by human tendencies toward pride and control.

(Declaration and Address, Propositions 1, 3, 6, 8-12)

Does God Have Any Work for Us to Do Here?

The following is a real story about real people who had real faith and a reliance on God that is contagious. It is about people who are willing to admit the Bible means what it says and that God keeps his promises. It is about the ways in which God moves in the world to accomplish his will in ways that are beyond our comprehension. It's the story of ten kids and three adults from the distant land of Texas. But ultimately it is a story about the power and goodness of God.

This last Wednesday seemed at first to be just another Wednesday. It was a little busier than usual and so I had made plans to adjust my normal Wednesday schedule. Typically on Wednesday at noon I meet with a number of other pastors in town to pray for our churches and for our community. It has been a great experience and the ways in which we are already seeing God work has been inspiring. But there was no way I could go this week. I was behind in my school work, had a number of big assignments bearing down on me, and just couldn't make the time. God in his wisdom had other plans, great plans.

About half an hour before our weekly prayer meeting I logged into my school email to respond to another email that I had needed to address only to find an extremely gracious extension from our professor concerning the papers that were overshadowing everything else. After a moment of silence, a verbal shout of celebration, and a brief prayer thanking God for allowing this to happen I decided to go to the weekly prayer meeting. My week (and my life) would never be the same.

As I pulled into the parking lot of the 1st Christian Church in Chandler I saw a church bus with a trailer behind it. "Belton Church of Christ". Odd I thought. I had been at the building that morning (which is not common since my office is at home) and no one had come by. I went in and what happened from that moment on Wednesday at noon through even this present moment has been a series of events in which God has been the obvious orchestrator.

That afternoon I met thirteen people from the Belton Church of Christ who were on a spring break mission trip. "To Chandler???" was my first question. The answer surprised me, "We are on a mission trip to wherever God sends us to do whatever God has for us."

Later I heard the story of their journey from Belton, Texas to Chandler, Oklahoma. (I won't tell you that here. Go read it for yourself.) They immediately asked the pastors and church leaders who had gathered if God had any work for them to do in Chandler, OK. Wednesday they scraped a house that was being restored and helped move bricks for a church project at First Christian. The events of Thursday were the most transformative for me.

Thursday morning began with a mighty breakfast at our house with the whole group. The joy and love for one another was obvious. Their desire to be soaked in prayer and worship were apparent. Their confidence in that God was leading them to do exactly what he had for them to do was inspiring. After breakfast they embarked on what they deemed "the reason we went on this trip and why we came to Chandler" which was to do some work at the new medical clinic that is being created south of town at Forest Baptist Church. (To keep up with the progress of the clinic follow then on Facebook here.) This little church has had its share of struggles and challenges and they have this big, bold vision for the ways in which God can be glorified and people served in the name of Jesus through this medical clinic. I was thrilled to join them Thursday for their work there. Pastor Jeff and I have begun to develop a relationship that transcends our differences in a beautiful way. And that God would send a group of kids from our religious tradition to serve and encourage another church (not that Forest Baptist was the only one affected or impacted by these kids at all!!) in another tradition is exactly what we should expect from people who are led by the Holy Spirit. This clinic will be of immense value and importance in our community.

Thursday evening the group joined us for a meal and our Dwelling in the Word time. The text that we spent some time in together was from 2 Corinthians 2:14-17:

14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task? 17 Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God. (NIV)

Together we talked about the ways in which this text spoke to our lives. We talked about the nature of being an "aroma", of the implications that we are people who are "being saved" and that "we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God." So many powerful things about the ways in which God is at work in our lives. We concluded the night with a time of singing and prayer. It was powerful to say the least.

Friday morning after some more time of serving another church in our community this group headed back home to share the stories of the ways in which God worked to provide and to guide this group of thirteen who went only knowing and believing that God would send them exactly when and where he wanted.

And you know what, that is exactly what God did.

There is so much more that could (and probably should) be told about this story. But what is important for me to share are some of the things that I have learned about God and his work in the world as a result of God making space for us to serve his Kingdom with these brothers and sisters.

These friends have caused me to think more clearly about some texts in Scripture. I "understand" them, they were living them out.

WHAT I LEARNED FROM THESE SPIRIT-LED BROTHERS AND SISTERS...

(1) God is serious about his people working together across lines of tradition in order to accomplish things that give glory to God and invite others into the Kingdom.

   38 “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

   39 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us. 41 Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward. (Mark 9:38-41, NIV)

(2) When people understand that they are sent by God to express his love and concern for the world they will find places that were already prepared for them to serve.

    1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. 2 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. 3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. 4 Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.

   5 “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ 6 If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. 7 Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.

   8 “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. 9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’ 12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.

   13 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14 But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. 15 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades.

   16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.” (Luke 10:1-16, NIV)

-----------------

8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10, NIV)

(3) That when God's people pray, God responds.

5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

 
 9 “This, then, is how you should pray:

   “‘Our Father in heaven,
     hallowed be your name,
10  your kingdom come,
     your will be done,
          on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
          as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
          but deliver us from the evil one.
(Matthew 6:5-13, NIV)

There is infinitely more that could (and should) be said about what this visit from our brothers and sisters, directed by God from Texas means for our community. Part of the reason I stop here though is because this story is still unfolding. Their impact has just begun in churches throughout our community, in their story that will run in this week's county newspaper, in the house they worked on, the clinic they invested in, and the community garden they kickstarted. Only time will tell the depth and breadth of the fruit that will come from a group of thirteen who followed the Spirit of God wherever and to whomever he led them.

QUESTION: DOES GOD HAVE ANY WORK FOR US (YOU AND I AND ALL WHO WEAR THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST) TO HERE (WHEREVER THAT MAY BE)?

LINK: BELTON CHURCH OF CHRIST SEEK AND FOLLOW 2012 BLOG

Spiritual (Re)Formation Reboot...

Is anyone out there?

Have I really been gone from here since August? Wow. A lot has happened since my last post, and it is clear that it is time for a fresh start. So here we go.

I hope you will join me as I "start fresh" here at Spiritual (Re)Formation. A new look, hopefully some new topics, and a much greater consistency in writing will mark this new season here.

Let me give you a preview of some of the things that will be appearing here in the near future...

I have recently resurrected a series at the Central Church of Christ where I teach/preach where I am answering questions that are submitted to me from the members of my congregation.

Many of those questions I will soon be sharing here on Spiritual (Re)Formation. Some of those questions include the following:

  • Is instrumental music a salvation issue?
  • Why did Jesus cry out from the cross, "My God, my God why have you forsaken me?"
  • When does seeking to be obedient become legalism?
  • How should we use church history to shape our theology and practice?
  • Who served as deacons in the first century church?
  • What should be the relationship of the church and the state?
  • How should we interact with (or pull away from) people with whom we disagree about theological matters?

These and other questions will arise as time goes on. Also, feel free to submit any questions you might have by sending me an email.

We will also be talking about issues of church and culture. What does it mean to be a Christian in the 21st century? How are we to react to and engage with the culure(s) in which we live?

Maybe more specifically, how does a movement that has been preoccupied with the "first century church" maintain a faithful and culturally appropriate posture in the places in which we find ourselves?

This obviously brings in larger issues about definitions of culture, what we mean by "church" and some of the ways that we read, interpret, and use Scripture to define both belief and practice. In time, we will lay some of this groundwork and see where it takes us from there.

I also hope to begin some sporadic posts about our history, traditions, and some of the major shifts that have taken place in our heritage (both good and bad). The goal here is to better understand our roots and the places that we have "gone off into the weeds" as some like to say.

My hunch is that many of us don't know the richness and depth of our heritage. While it can be easy to be negative and cynical about our tradition (this is from the voice of experience!), I believe that there are powerful things from our own history that can and should be reclaimed in the present.

Finally, I hope to raise some questions (and propose some options) in the realm of hermeneutics or biblical interpretation. The way in which we read Scripture dictates much of what we understand (or miss). Understanding the ways we have been influenced by forces and ideas that we have never formally been taught is important. Here we will be listening to voices both old and new, both local and around the world. Reading Scripture is both a wonderful privilege (that many in history have not had!) and a deep responsibility and challenge.

We will look at some of the ways that the people in Scripture have interpreted and used Scripture, we will explore some passages that seem to reveal some tension both in perspective and understanding, and we will also talk about ways that are dangerous to our engagement with Scripture.

Overall, I think that the future is bright here at Spiritual (Re)Formation. I believe that the Spirit of God is moving in powerful and sometimes shocking ways in the church today to make us more into the image of His Son in the world. The most important part of this journey here however will be your participation. So stop back often, comment when you can, and most of all pray that each of us will be continually (re)formed into the image of Jesus.

How Not-to-Read the Bible...

As a minister, graduate student, and learner of Restoration Movement history I have become increasingly aggrivated by and sensitive to a couple of very important dangers:

(1) The Power/Danger of Assumptions

When someone has already figured out the "right answer" to an issue or subject to the exclusion of a careful reading of the biblical text.

When people don't realize (or don't care) that their assumptions on other texts almost "demand" a particular interpretation of other texts and issues.

When people assume that they have already "studied that" (which can range from in-depth study, to what they learned from someone else, to "what makes sense" to them) and therefore it doesn't need to be discussed again.

(2) The Power/Danger of Language

Here are just a few of the phrases, questions, and statements that set my blood immediately to boil:

"The Bible clearly teaches..." (Somehow, this is only employed when the text under discussion has a significant amount of disagreement surrounding it.)

"Why can't we just believe what the Bible says?"

"Any reasonable person..."

"I thought we solved that (insert time period here)..."

"Well, that's just your interpretation..." (This one only shows up when your interpretation goes against my interpretation.)

"Why are we even talking about this?" (This one I find to be dangerous because it is dismissive and reflects an unwillingness to engage in conversation at all.)

(3) The Power/Danger of Not Reading the Biblical Text Closely

I am not suggesting that everyone break out their critical Greek and Hebrew texts with the full apparatus and we start discussing textual variants and the history of interpretation starting with Augustine and John Chrysostom. (Although admittedly, for some of us, this would be enjoyable.) But what I am suggesting is that we have to read the biblical text that is in our laps with care and seriousness.

A number of textual, hermeneutical, and theological issues can be resolved by applying this one principal. Read closely, be honest.

I am thankful to be from a religious tradition that takes Scripture seriously. I am thankful that in our past we have a strong legacy of ministry and scholarship in conversation with one another. I am thankful that we are returning to this part of our legacy that for a time we left behind.

We owe it to our children to be honest in the way that we read and approach Scripture. We owe it to each other to be open and honest with Scripture. More importantly, it is God and his mission that deserve our careful and honest reading of Scripture. Otherwise we find ourselves in danger of distorting the image of God both in our own lives and in our participation in his mission.

SERMON: Resurrection and Mission

Resurrection and Mission from Spiritual (Re)Formation on Vimeo.

Part 3 in our Series "What Difference does the Resurrection Make?"

Here we examine how the reality of the resurrection of Jesus shapes the mission of the church. We will see that ultimately the resurrection shows us that God wants to redeem and reconcile us to Himself in every area of our lives.

Missional Synchroblog: The Challenges that the Missional Conversation Presents to Churches of Christ...

What kinds of challenges does the missional conversation present to Churches of Christ?

There are three major challenges that I feel pressed by in my engagement with the missional conversation within the context of Churches of Christ.

There are three major challenges that I feel pressed by in my engagement with the missional conversation in the context of Churches of Christ. The challenges are (1) hermeneutical, (2) generational, and (3) relational.

The Hermeneutical Challenge...
One of the great strengths of a missional orientation is the need to be mindful of the biblical narrative. This enables theology to be more than proof-texting, traditionalism, and sometimes just downright weird. (We can't have a kitchen because we can't find it in Scripture, but a church building at all is not a problem.) We are people who have a rich heritage of serious committment to and engagement with Scripture. The missional conversation gives us bearings to re-examine our stances on a number of theological issues with discernment and greater context. This is not to suggest that we have missed the boat on everything. But it is to say that space needs to be created to re-examine, re-articulate, and if necessary to re-orient ourselves more closely with Scripture.

The Generational Challenge...
Churches of Christ, like much of Christendom has been guilty of drinking the generational kool-aid. Nursery, Children's, Youth, College, Young Professionals, Young Marrieds, Young Families, Not Quite so Young Families, Grandparents of not quite so young families...do you get the idea yet?

Worse than that, we have too often functionally removed some of the most important segments of our congregation (the very young and the very old) and have not expected or enabled them to participate in the Mission of God, much less with each other!

The missional conversation here is helpful because it reorients our focus toward the Mission of God and not the "mission of the church" (althought it seems most of Protestantism can't agree exactly on what that is). This means that ALL ages, all demographics, all people have a place in God's mission in which the church has been caught up. This is huge and MUST be recovered by Churches of Christ for our continued growth and health in God's kingdom!

The Relational Challenge...
Our religious heritage, the American Restoration Movement is rich and deep. But it appears to me that we have wandered far from the giants of our past into tribalism, exclusivism, and sometimes downright arrogance at the expense of not only others who are striving to follow Christ but also at the expense of the unbelieving world. I think what we will find is that some of the richest contributions that we have to make as a fellowship to the missional conversation will come from the giants of our past and their vision being renewed among us in the present. We need to reclaim the Kingdom vision of Lipscomb, Harding, and others, and God help us, we will do so.

 

Are there any other challenges that are out there? If so, what are they and how might we move forward?

Karl Barth on the Sent Church

As His community [the church] points beyond itself. At bottom it can never consider its own security, let alone its appearance. As His community it is always free from itself . . . . Its mission is not additional to its being. It is, as it is sent and active in its mission. It builds up itself for the sake of its mission and in relation to it. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV/1 Thanks to Brad Brisco for the great quote and photo. The more I hear and read from Barth the more I think that his Church Dogmatics will hold some serious gems for the missional conversation.

Missional Synchroblog: Why the Missional Conversation in Churches of Christ is Important...

I have invited some friends to begin a dialogue this week on their blogs (hopefully the first of many such opportunities for interaction) about Churches of Christ and the missional conversation.

The synchroblog is structured as follows:

Monday -Why the missional conversation in Churches of Christ is important.

Wednesday - The challenges that the missional conversation presents to Churches of Christ.

Friday - The strengths of our theological heritage that enable us to both enter and contribute to the larger missional conversation.

The days in between (Tuesday, Thursday, and the weekend) are meant to give time for interaction and engagement with the conversation. I will be posting links as soon as I become aware of them.

Here is my take on Why the missional conversation in Churches of Christ is important.

  1. Scripture is central for Churches of Christ and a missional theology helps us to read "with the grain" of the Biblical narrative in deeper ways than we might have before. 
  2. As a movement we have made much of the Church and a missional theology helps us to refocus the Church into its proper place in the larger Mission of God.
  3. We have a rich heritage with some theological giants who gave great gifts to the wider church. A missional theology enables us to return to our roots in the Restoration Movement and regift these treasures to the contemporary church.


I want to take some time tomorrow to try and explain why I think these are so important. But for now, is there anything you would add?

Churches of Christ and the Missional Conversation...

In an earlier post I asked the question, "What do Churches of Christ have to give to the missional conversation?" Here is my initial response:

(1)    Congregational Autonomy While this doesn’t necessarily appear to be the case sometimes (especially when a congregation sees its role in the Kingdom to bash critique a congregation on an issue upon which they disagree), the reality of congregational autonomy allows us to do a couple of things that are significant and either extremely difficult or impossible to do in a denominational structure:

a.       Selective Partnership and Collaboration. We are able to learn from, work with, and be aided by any congregation or group that we determine necessary.

b.      The Ability to Discern the Contextual Calling of our Context. While our fellowship may be well known for planting “carbon copies” of Southern rural churches throughout the world, our autonomy allows us to become a congregation that is truly “at home” in the culture without giving in to its distortions and reductions of the Gospel.

c.       Permission to Transition. As autonomous congregations we have to authority to determine when and how to embark on this journey. I have been reading a series of posts (I will try to find the link this week) of a pastor in a denomination (PCUSA if I’m not mistaken) who is struggling with how to become missional in his denomination. His struggle comes from the fact that official documents and structures prohibit transitions and actions that would in fact be very missional. In our fellowship we don’t need permission to transition. The truth is what we need is the courage and the resolve.

(2)    A Healthy View of Scripture

a.       Balance of Scripture vs. Tradition. Some of you are pulling your hair out when I say that we might have this even heading in the right direction. Here’s what I’m saying: In our history we have had the ability to do some things that really targeted and successfully reached our communities (e.g. bus ministry, World Bible School, Jewel Miller, etc.). Granted, in some of our churches (I won’t say many) we have gone from contextual and relevant to stagnant and stuck in a time warp. But that doesn’t deny the fact that at one time they were (for their context) fulfilling their place missionally. To me, this means that it might still be in our memory or our DNA. This is not something that will have to be taught for the first time but simply recovered our reactivated (which it already has been in a number of our congregations).

b.      A Strong Ecclesiology. On the major issues I would suggest that the Churches of Christ as a whole have a great foundation upon which to build. This is a topic that needs to be explored much more thoroughly (perhaps even at the scholarly level), but I believe that it is safe to say that there are some gifts that we would have for those who are re-examining what it means to be the people of God. Our desire to be “New Testament Christians” (as if there is another option??) and our willingness to really examine Scripture are attributes that will help us as we continue to make this journey.

How would you answer any of the following questions?

What gifts or blessings do we have to offer up as an example to other churches (especially those in denominations) as they also seek to find ways to make their identity increasingly missional?

Does our past as a movement have anything to offer to this journey today whether theologically or otherwise?

What particular challenges will we incur as a fellowship that may not be an issue inside a denominational structure?

What is the way forward into the missional frontier for Churches of Christ?

The Declaration and Address and Missional Churches of Christ...

The following is a chapter from the book One Church: A Bicentennial Celebration of Thomas Campbell's Declaration and Address. The chapter is by Douglas A. Foster and is titled, "A Contemporary Restating of the 13 Propositions." I believe that this document holds not only some key thinking in our religious heritage, but also some important perspective that may be helpful in our discussion of creating missional life in Churches of Christ.
Proposition 1 Christ established one church--just one. This church is made up of everyone who has faith in Christ and is trying to follow him in the ways God's Spirit in scripture has told us, and who others can see are being transformed into his likeness by the way they act. No one else has a right to be called a Christian. Proposition 2 It is physically impossible for all Christians to be together in one place to worship and work, so there have to be local groups of Christians that reflect the culture, language, and context of each place. These groups will not all look, think, or act alike, yet they are all part of Christ's church and ought to recognize it. They must accept and embrace each other just as Christ has accepted each of us. This will happen when Christians have the mind of Christ--that is, when they are willing to give themselves for those Christ died to redeem. This is the rule of Christ. This and this alone will join them perfectly. Proposition 3 Therefore, nothing should be required to recognize, fellowship, embrace, work, worship, and be fully and visibly united with all Christians that is not specifically made a requirement by God in his word. Nothing should be required in the way local bodies of Christians operate that is not specifically required by Christ and his Apostles for the church. Furthermore, the chief requirements for full fellowship that God has declared are our love for God and for people. This love is formed by our understanding of God's love for us shown through Christ. Proposition 4 Both the Old and New Testaments are essential parts of the revelation of God's nature and work. They cannot be seperated. While it is true that the practices required in the Old Testament (sacrifices, temple worship, priesthood, etc.) are not in force for Christians and that the good news of God's saving work is found fully in the New Testament, both testaments teach us about God's nature and work. The Bible is not primarily a constitution that functions as a legal document to consult in legal disputes. It is, instead, the sword of the Spirit; it is a place where we encounter God's Spirit and are transformed increasingly into the likeness of Christ. Attending to scripture is essential to the visible unity of Christ's church.   Proposition 5 The Bible does not spell out in detail everything Christians are supposed to think, do or be--that is just not the nature of scripture. When there are specific actions Christians are told to take, there is almost never a set of detailed requirements for how to do it. Humans often want more detail and try to expand on the specifics, often making them requirements for accepting other Christians or groups of Christians. That is wrong. Again, Christians are those who say they are Christians and who show that they are by the way they live. No one should be allowed to require anything for recognition and fellowship that is outside of scripture and its work of transformation. Proposition 6 God gave us the ability to think and reason--that is a good thing. If, however, in the process of using our reason we come to conclusions that other Christians do not reach, and that causes us to reject them, we have been deceived by the evil one. Our pride has taken over and stopped our continued growth into the mind of Christ--a mind of complete humility and self-sacrifice. Human reason is not the ultimate standard for truth. Christians ought to be growing constantly in their understanding of the profound truths of the gospel--that's part of our spiritual growth as communities. But requiring or even expecting others to be where you are is not conducive to the visible unity Christ so much wants. Proposition 7 Again, it is a good thing to use the intellectual abilities God has given us to plumb the depths of the marvelous truths of God. It is a good thing to think, and struggle and write about these matters. Individual Christians and Christian communities can and should draw great benefit in their spiritual growth from such efforts. Statements of belief can be very helpful in drawing our minds to the unspeakable riches and blessings we have been given and of which we can and should tell others. However, we must realize that such statements are the product of our human reasoning which, like everything else human, is not perfect. Even when we reach a mature level of doctrinal understanding, we need to remind ourselves constantly that there will always be Christians at all maturity levels--but they are still Christians! Proposition 8 Once again, having an understanding of every Christian truth is not a requirement to be a Christian, a part of Christ's church. No one who is trying to follow Christ ought to be forced to confess any belief beyond what they understand and know. All a person needs to know to be part of Christ's church is that they are lost and that salvation is through Christ. When they confess that they believe in Christ and that they want to obey him fully according to his word--nothing else can be required. Proposition 9 Everyone who confesses belief in Christ and commits to obey him, and who shows the reality of their commitment by the way they live, should consider each other as the precious saints of God, should love each other as sisters and brothers, children of the same family and Father, temples of the same Spirit, members of the same body, subjects of the same grace, objects of the same divine love bought with the same price, and joint heirs of the same inheritance. Whoever God has joined together this way, no one should dare divide. Proposition 10 Division among Christians is a sickening evil, filled with many evils. It is anti-Christian because it destroys the visible unity of the body of Christ. It is as if Christ were cutting off parts of himself and throwing them away from the rest of his body! What a ludicrous picture! Division is anti-scriptural, since Christ himself specifically prohibited it, making it a direct violation of Christ's will. It is anti-natural, because it makes Christians condemn, hate and oppose one another--people who are actually obligated in the strongest way to love each other as sisters and brothers, just like Christ loved them. In other words, division repudiates everything Christianity is supposed to stand for. Proposition 11 Two things are responsible for all the divisions and corruptions in Christ's church through the centuries. One is a neglect or even and fundmental misunderstanding of God's will for us in scripture--that we have the mind of Christ and be transformed into his likeness. The other comes from the first. Some Christians, assuming they are "right," that they have gotten the "facts" perfectly, have assumed the authority to impose their conclusions on others as terms of recognition and fellowship. Proposition 12 In reality, everything needed for the church to reach the highest state of perfection and purity on earth is first to receive as members only those who have understood their lostness and confessed their faith in Christ and commitment to follow him according to scripture; second, to keep as members only those who show those commitments in their everyday lives; and third, to see that ministers who reflect these ideals, preach only what is clearly taught in scripture. Finally, they must stick close to what scripture makes primary, seen in the example of the early church in the New Testament, without being distracted or corrupted by human tendencies toward pride and control.
Proposition 13 Finally, in every body of Christians decisions must be made about precisely how to conduct its work and worship. Scripture does not dictate such details. Whatever the best way of doing things for the local context should be adopted. These procedures, however, should always be understood as expedients or conveniences for that time and place. Others who do things differently should never be denigrated or condemned for such things, and when decisions are made to do things differently in the future, such changes should never be an issue of fighting or division.
In the coming weeks I hope to look more closely at some of these propositions and how they might serve to help us creating missional life in our congregations. What did you see that jumped out at you? Is there anything else in the missional conversation that correlates to what Campbell was saying here? Our history, our heritage, contrary to the opinion of some, I believe is not a liability but an enormous asset to being people who are called out, formed, and sent for the sake of the world and the glory of God.

Lesslie Newbigin on Western Economics and Mission...

Newbigin being prophetic as usual writes:

The ideology of the free market has proved itself more powerful than Marxism. It is, of course, not just a way of arranging economic affairs. It has deep roots in the human soul. It can be met and mastered only at the level of religious faith, for it is a form of idolatry. The churches have hardly begun to recognize that this is probably their most urgent missionary task during the coming century. (The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission, pg. 95)

Characteristics of Missional Leadership...

I have been working on an essay for my Master's in Missional Leadership about the nature and shape of missional leadership. I spent some time this week writing down some characteristics of missional leadership that I thought were important. I also forced myself to share them on Twitter so that they would be succinct and straightforward. Many of these are not included in my essay that I am finishing up because the essay is more reflective of the course materials, but if asked to describe missional leadership these are some of the things that I would point to. What else would you add that is important to the nature and shape of missional leadership?

 

Quality #1 - Missional leaders bring the narratives of individuals, communities of faith, and the biblical narrative into conversation.

Quality #2 - Missional leaders operate out of a Trinitarian framework. The nature of God shapes the nature and mission of their context.

Quality #3 - Missional leaders help people to shape their communal identity around a healthy eschatological posture in their context.

Quality #4 - Missional leaders are reliant upon the leading and empowering of the Holy Spirit and help others to become the same way.

Quality #5 - Missional leaders are concerned about the Kingdom of God and the formation of people over programs and facilities.

Quality #6 - Missional leaders don't lead over others. They lead and live alongside a community that is discerning the work of God in them.

Alan Roxburgh on Change versus Transition

...change is what happens to us from forces outside ourselves over which we have no control. Most of us deal fairly well with continuous change, which is ongoing, gradual, and expected. ... But discontinuous change is much more disturbing and difficult. Unlike the continuous form, it creates a situation that requires something different from and more potent than the normal habits and skills that were so useful during a stable period of continuous change. ... Besides continuous and discontinuous change, there is also transition, which is our inner response to change coming from outside ourselves. This inner response can be powerful. ... In a congregation stuggling with discontinuous change, it isn't the changes that will defeat the leader but the transitions. As the congregation enters the crisis and confusion of discontinuous change, the reflexive response of leaders is to come up with a change plan to fix the crisis and return the organization to its normal experience of effectiveness and success. The problem with this response is that the plans focus on change; they ignore transition. Unless an organization learns to address its transition issues, it will never create an effective change process.(pgs. 57-58)

ReThink Church

There are those in Christendom who would suggest that absolutely everything about the church in North America is broken far beyond repair and the only way to move forward is to "rethink", "reimagine", and/or "redefine" church. My first question to those who would make such a suggestion is "What do you mean by church?" Some of those who are "pioneering" new communities are really just rehashing of the old ways. It's what Alan Roxburgh calls "doing the same old things in sexy new ways". For example, some suggest that pews create an audience and performer mentality in our churches. So those communities purchase couches and chairs and sit them in a circle. The problem...one person is still speaking and everyone is only listening. Sounds to me like the same problem with a "new sexy way" of dressing it up.

But are there really things in the church that are irreversibly broken and need to be rethought, reimagined, and/or redefined? I would imagine that there are some things that would fall into that category. But I don't think they belong there simply because someone deems them to be irrelevant or culturally conditioned. Sometimes both of those judgments are contextual (a.k.a. in the eye of the beholder). However, there are a few things that I find in our churches that are needing to be rethought or reimagined because as they stand right now are in conflict with the explicit teaching of Scripture and are counterproductive or detrimental to the health of the church both locally and globally. The following are some of those areas...

Voluntary Discipleship
When we read the Gospels it becomes very clear very quickly that Jesus is not interested in people who are willing to meet him half way. In fact, he appears to show more animosity toward their "offer" than those who reject him entirely. Why? Perhaps one of the reasons that Christ is so opposed to voluntary discipleship or nominal commitment is because they can appear to be genuine. I am convinced that there is little else more damaging than someone whom Christ may or may not consider his child (in the sense of having a place in the community of believers) somehow being a representative to someone of what it means to be a Christian. So how do we move away from a voluntary discipleship model? I don't have much of an answer but it is an issue that needs to be addressed in many of our churches.

Rugged (and Respected) Individualism
The more that I read the New Testament the more that I become aware of the overwhelming tendency to focus on corporate or communal aspects of faith than the rugged individualism that has become the Baal of our nation and really of Western culture. Being able to take care of, provide for, and make a name for self is seen as the barometer of one's status or success in life. This concept has been murderous on our understanding of the church, of witness (a.k.a. evangelism), discipleship, and even our understanding of God. Trinity is anything but individualistic. God himself embodies characteristics of a community. To relegate this concept to nothing more than an understood notion is to remove an immense amount of power and strength from the community of believers.

Evangelism as the Goal/Task of Paid Professionals and Religious Extroverts
This problem is tied to the first two. But this also runs deeper than it may appear. Somehow we have forgotten that every part of our life is to be a living testimony to the God of the Universe who sent his Son to this earth in humility to live, die, and raise again victorious so that all could have an opportunity to be eternally reconciled to the Father Himself. We need to take some time to rethink what evangelism is, why we do it (hint: it has to do with the Mission of God), and how it is to be done. Forget tracts, 5 steps, 4 spiritual laws, and other gimmicks. I'm talking about living a life of humility, sacrifice, service, simplicity, and holiness that is always a testimony to the power of God in our lives as individuals and as a corporate body of believers.

What needs to be rethought where you are? Have you sought to answer any of these questions already? What answers did you come to?

It's time to rethink some things. I think I'm going to start with my heart.