Missional

"Unclean" and the Unity of the Church...

This summer I, along with other church leaders in my community are embarking on an important and complex journey. Together, (some of us for the first time) we will be discerning and learning what it means to express the visible unity of the church in our community. To aid us in that task we are launching together into an important book that begins to get at the heart of the boundaries that seperate us.

Richard Beck, who serves as Professor and Department Chair of Psychology at Abilene Christian University, has written a challenging and important book for anyone who is in church leadership called Unclean: Meditations of Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality.

The blurb on the back of the book reads as follows:

"I desire mercy, not sacrifice." Echoing Hosea, Jesus defends his embrace of the "unclean" in the Gospel of Matthew, seeming to privelege the prophetic call to justice over the Levitical pursuit of purity. And yet, as missional faith communities are well aware, the tensions and conflicts between holiness and mercy are not so easily resolved. At every turn, it seems that the psychological pull of purity and holiness tempts the church into practices of social exclusion and a Gnostic flight form "the world" into a "too spiritual" spirituality. In an unprecedented fusion of psychological science and theological scholarship, Richard Beck describes the pernicious (and largely unnoticed) effects of the psychology of purity upon the life and mission of the church.

This book, primarily written to deal with the inner psychological challenges of local communities of faith (a.k.a. local congregations) is being read and interpreted in a different light in this project. Together with a number of other pastors and church leaders in my community we will be reading and interacting with the psychological and theological implications of this book as they relate to our (evolving) relationships with one another across lines of Christian traditions.

All church bodies (local, regional, or denominational) struggle with the implications and outworkings of purity psychology. Think about it this way:

If we (whoever that is: person, family, church, tradition) are right (or at least the "most right"...because none of us would claim to be perfect, right?) then "they" are wrong (or at the very least less right). This means that we must erect some sort of boundary or barrier to prevent them from tainting the purity of what we know or who we are.

Notice how one-sided such a posture is. "We" must keep "them" out, unless of course they are willing to leave where they are and join us. There is only one way in, and it's OUR way.

Jesus faced this situation more than once in his ministry, but perhaps never as clearly as the story that we read in Matthew 9.

   9 As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

  10
While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

  12
On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
(Matthew 9:9-13, NIV)

In this brief moment we see clearly the implications of these boundaries of purity. The Pharisees have said, "There is only one way for God to be happy with you, and that is if you are with us." Jesus defies such artificial and destructive boundaries.

In the ancient world (and still to this day), people believed that if you were clean (pure) and you came into contact with someone or something which was unclean (impure) that the uncleanness was transferred to you and you lost your purity. But things are different when Jesus is in the equation. Look at this story from Matthew 8:

  1 When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. 2 A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

  3 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. 4 Then Jesus said to him, “See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” (Matthew 8:1-4, NIV)

Notice the difference? When Jesus touches this man it is not he who is made unclean, it is the leper who is made clean. But the leper's request to be made clean is much more than a request to be cured of his leprosy. It is a plea to Jesus to make his whole life brought back into order. It is a plea for redemption both of his body and his place in the worshipping community of Israel. This is a transformation of mind, body, and soul.

This tension, the fear of becoming unclean, and the reality that the purity of Jesus is not ruined by the impurity of others but is itself transformed is captured in Jesus' powerful quotation of the prophet Hosea:

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13)

What are the implications of this for Christian communities? What does this mean for the life of churches especially as it relates to people of other Christian traditions? Why does Jesus (and the prophet Hosea) put mercy and sacrifice in tension with one another, can't we have both?

These and many other questions will be explored here as we embark on this journey together.

This project, these questions and this book have all been brought to the front by an upcoming conference this summer, Streaming: Biblical Conversations from the Missional Frontier.

This summer at Rochester College the implications of "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." will be explored by a number of scholars, theologians, and practicioners who are asking these questions in the day to day life of their faith communities.

One of the keynote speakers this summer will be the world-class Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann. There are few if any scholars who have had such a wide influence on both Old Testament scholarship and simultaneously the faith and practice of the church. He has written a ton of books, commentaries, and scholarly articles. The tension of Mercy/Sacrifice was one of the major themes of his important book, Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy.

Richard Beck serves as Professor and Department Chair of Psychology at Abilene Christian University, has written two books including Unclean and his newest book, The Authenticity of Faith: The Varieties and Illusions of Religious Experience. He also writes at his award-winning blog, Experimental Theology.

 

 

If you're interested in attending Streaming you can get more information here. In the meantime check out Richard's books and come back as we enter into this very important discussion for the faith and practice of the church.

Here are a couple of videos from Richard about the upcoming Streaming conference:

 

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!

The Good Samaritan and Exclusion...

In starting this series about a Luke 10 Theology I want to lay out what I understand to be one of the primary theological implications of the second story in this text, the parable of the Good Samaritan.

As a child I was taught that this story had something to do with helping others who were in need. The connections about why the first two people passed by completely escaped me. Later as I grew older I began to learn about the tension between Samaritans and Jews (although it was a sanitized Sunday School version). I certainly never heard about the ways in which they would seek to dishonor and make unclean each other's Temple or about John Hyrcanus who a littl over a hundred years earlier had raised the temple of the Samaritans to the ground. Hatred might not have been too strong a word.

But perhaps a more helpful framework for thinking about the relationship of Jews and Samartians both culturally and in this story comes from Miroslav Volf's award-winning book Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Explanation of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation. (Christianity Today lists this book as one of the 100 most significant books of the last century, and I agree.)

The way in which Volf helps us to think about this story and some of the more profound implications is through his categories of "exclusion". Here is a brief summary of the different ways in which individuals, institutions, and cultures organize and practice "exclusion".

Exclusion as Elimination
This is the kind of exclusion that can only be solidified by a process of extermination. Only in a denial of their humanity and a denial of their right to live can your ideal, agenda, or culture be held up as superior. One could point to the genocide in Rwanda for a horrific example of exclusion as elimination.

Exclusion by Assimilation
This is the more backhanded expression of "exclusion as elimination". This still denies the humanity and culture of the "other" but does not go as far as to take their lives if they "become like us". Interestingly I think there is some important space created by this category for the church to think about issues related to the role of the church and the issue of immigration.

Exclusion as Domination
This form of exclusion seeks to keep people "in their place". It has both obvious expressions (like the Caste system in India or Apartheid in South Africa), and expressions which are much more subtle and socially acceptable (like economic disparity along racial and gender divisions in the US). This form of exclusion functions to help those on "top" either maintain or grow in their position, power, wealth, etc. at the expense of those below. The poor get poorer while the rich get richer.

Exclusion as Abandonment
This is a form of exclusion that is especially prevalent in the way that the First World relates to those in the Third World, and the way that those in suburbs relate to the inner-city communities. (Some might refer to this as "white flight.") Volf summarizes this form of exclusion like this:

Like the priest and the Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan, we simply cross to the other side and pass by, miniding our own business (Luke 10:31). If others neither have goods we want nor can perform services we need, we make sure that they are at a safe distance and close ourselves off from them so that their emaciated and tortured bodies can make no inordinate claims on us. (Exclusion and Embrace, 75.)

Exclusion by Language and Cognition (a.k.a. "Symbolic Exclusion")
This form of exclusion seeks to seperate from a person, group, or institution through disparaging language and thought that dehumanizes or demoralizes the "other". This form of exclusion is so prevalent that it is difficult to describe the breadth of this practice of exclusion. Here are a couple of examples ranging in "severity":

  • The Jews are an inferior race who threaten the creation of a pure race in Nazi Germany. (The list of names, terms, and propoganda used to demonize and dehumanize the Jews in this situation is both too long and too offensive to list here.)
  • To the girl who dresses more immodestly or provocatively than we deem appropriate (a highly subjective criteria by the way!) we might use terms such as "slutty" or speak in such a way to give the impression that this individual must be sexually active and promiscuous.
  • To people who have different political frameworks we use different oppositional terms (defining ourselves against someone/something else). There are too many here to name like "liberal", "God-hater", "fundamentalist", etc.
  • To those who are theologically "other" we use a whole host of disparaging terms that malign both their understandings of Scripture (they are "ignorant", "rebellious", "brainwashed") or their character ("they don't respect the authority of God's Word", etc.). This is common even though it is something that the Bible explicitly forbids.

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:6, NIV)

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. (1 Peter 3:15-16, NIV)

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:10-12, NIV)

"Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister." (1 John 4:20-21, NIV)

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’
But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. ...  “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 5:21-22; 7:1-5, NIV)

We have heard from Paul, Peter, James, John, and Jesus.

CAN WE ALL AGREE THAT THIS IS A UNIVERSAL PROHIBITION?????

Volf concludes this section by speaking about a more sinister (and for our purposes more important) category for exclusion: Indifference.

Strangely enough, the havoc wreaked by indifference may even be greater than that brought by felt, lived, practiced hatred. ... Especially within a large-scale setting, where the other lives at a distance, indifference can be sustained over time, especially in contemporary societies. A "system"--a political, economic, or cultural [or religious!] system-- insinuates itself between myself and the other. If the other is excluded, it is the system that is doing the excluding, a system in which I participate because I must survive and against which I do not rebel because it cannot be changed. I turn my eyes away... I go about my own business. Numbed by the apparent ineluctability of exclusion taking place outside of my will though with my collaboration, I start to view horror and my implication in it as normalcy. I reason: the road from Jerusalem to Jericho will always be littered by people beaten and left half-dead; I can pass--I must pass--by each without much concern. The indifference that made the prophecy, takes care also of the fulfillment. ... We exclude also because we are uncomfortable with anything that blurs accepted boundaries, disturbs our identities, and disarranges our symbolic cultural maps. (Exclusion and Embrace, 77, 78)

So what does this have to do with Luke 10 and the Parable of the Good Samaritan?

What I want to unpack in my next post is how this framework of "exclusion" helps us to understand the ways in which we have wrongly practiced various forms of "exclusion" in relationship to people who are theologically "other" both throughout church history (think of the Inquisition) and in our present experience (the polarizing of Churches of Christ in relation to other Christian traditions).

So I leave you with a couple of questions to consider before I take this deeper with the next post:

(1) What forms of "exclusion" have you seen or experienced in relationship to someone who is theologically "other" (a.k.a. "different") than you?

(2) How might Jesus' story of the Good Samaritan give us a framework for re-envisioning this relationship?
This story is after all about what it means to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Luke 10:27-29)!

(3) At what point does someone become "theologically other"?
(This I think is the most profound and shaping question for this entire discussion, and the very question which this parable helps us to get a more theologically robust answer for.)

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.

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?

Living in the Way of Jesus...

The following list is from my sermon this last Sunday at Central. We were talking about the implications of the crucifixion of Jesus and the way that it radically reshapes the way that we are called to live our lives. Here it is:

We do not live according to the ways of the kingdoms of this world, but according to the way of the Kingdom of God.

  • We reject a life of revenge and "redemptive violence" to live a life of loving our enemies. 
  • We reject a life of power for a life of humility and service. 
  • We reject a life of compulsion or coercion for people to agree with our point of view in order that we may live a life of invitation for all to enter into the Kingdom of God. 
  • We reject the idea that those who claim to run the world in fact really do. 
  • We claim a citizenship that is NOT of this world and we follow a king whose throne is not in Jerusalem or Washington but is in Heaven at the right hand of God Almighty. 
  • We reject that we find life by preserving and enriching our own, but that we are to die to ourselves in order that we may life for the sake of others. 
  • We reject that there is another way to live the life that we were created to live other than the way of the cross of Jesus Christ. 

OR DO WE?

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)