Restoration Movement

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.

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

The Decline of the Churches of Christ in the US...

The Christian Chronicle recently released an article detailing the specifics about losses both in membership and congregations among Churches of Christ from 2003-Present. Their conclusion? In the last ten years we have lost one out of every sixteen members are have closed three congregations every two weeks for the last ten years. These numbers should be sobering. In the time that I have been at the Central Church of Christ I am personally aware of four congregations that have closed their doors, and know of a number of congregations that are barely hanging on numerically (not to mention other churches that are teetering on the edge of fracture and collapse).

But why?

The comments section on the Chronicle article are fascinating. Allow me to summarize some of what I heard from those who have responded publicly on the Chronicle website. 

  • Good! God is finally cleaning house in his church! This is the purge we have needed to keep the church pure and the false teachers away.
  • If we were more evangelistic then we would experience growth like we used to (hear here the 40's and 50's).
  • Well if we weren't so legalistic and addicted to patternism and John Locke we wouldn't have this problem.
  • This is just terrible. What can we do?

It is interesting that the Churches of Christ are in a nation-wide decline both in membership and congregations much like the rest of the denominational world (don't hear "denomination" as a derogatory term here). However, we see the opposite trend in "non-denominational" Christianity.

Mark Chaves, Professor of sociology, religion, and divinity at Duke University has said,

"If the unaffiliated congregations were all in one denomination, they would constitute the second-largest in number of participants (behind only the Roman Catholic Church) and the largest number of congregations... Although most Protestant churches are denominational, a noticeable and growing minority are not formally affiliated with any denomination." (From his book, American Religion, Contemporary Trends)

So what are we as members of Churches of Christ supposed to think not only about own decline, but about the tangible surge in the growth of churches that would label themselves very similarly to our movement as "non-denominational"?

First, I know that some people reading this will simply say, "Well it's because they offer entertainment and cotton candy theology that doesn't really take seriously either Scripture or the Gospel." Or some other similarly dismissive comment about their inferiority (whether in theology, worship style, morals, hermeneutics, or whatever). May I remind us here that only God knows the hearts of people. Any judgment from our position must be (1) humble, (2) relational, (3) and after significant self-reflection and an attempt to actually engage with "those people".

But for those of you who are willing to consider the reasons for such a dramatic shift within our fellowship I want to throw in my two cents about what may be going on. Some of these things we can change, some things we must, and some are simply the way that it is.

POSSIBLE Reasons for the Marked Decline Among Churches of Christ...

  1. Churches of Christ are especially rooted in southern and rural contexts.
    This is neither negative nor positive, but it is reality. With the majority of the world moving to urban population centers this is an unavoidable reality that shapes all of rural life, not simply its religious dynamics.
  2. Churches of Christ have struggled with "creating space" for theological diversity.
    The dust up a few years ago about not including Churches of Christ who use instrumental music in the national directory is symptomatic of a larger unwillingness or inability to tolerate or allow diversity of understanding and interpretation.
  3. Churches of Christ have made significant theological shifts in the last 70 years that have obscured both the richness and diversity of our theological tradition.
    It is ironic to me that a lot of the work and theology of early leaders in the Restoration Movement would be considered false and destructive in many churches today. I find it interesting that the Gospel Advocate takes positions on fellowship, baptism, and other theological issues that are almost completely opposite of one of its longest running and most beloved editors, David Lipscomb.

So what are we to do?

Well this is where you come in... How can Churches of Christ find themselves more faithful and better equipped to be flourishing fellowship of believers in the 21st century?

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.

R. H. Boll on "What We Owe the Government"

The following is taken from Word and Work, Volume 10, Issue 7, July 1917 and is entitled, "What We Owe the Government" by R. H. Boll...

"There is one thing," remarked a friend, "that I cannot get over; and that is that we should live in a country and get the benefits of its government and enjoy its protection, and then refuse to fight for it in the time of need." In answer to which it is sufficient to say that our obligations to a benefactor cannot go so far as disobedience to the God who is the one great Benefactor, Law-giver, and Judge, to whom we belong, whose rights over us are first and absolute. We owe the government respect, honor, obedience, customs, taxes. We render to every man his due; to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, to God the things that are God's. But God's claims have the right of way always. It would be of interest to know on the other hand, how much the world's governments owe to the children of God. Was not Sodom destroyed because there were not ten righteous men in it?

What is your reaction to Boll's comments here?

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.

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.

The Five Finger (Six Piece) Explanation of Salvation...

Walter Scott, an important figure in the early Restoration Movement would teach children about salvation using the "five-finger method". Notice the elements that he includes:

Belief, Repentance, Immersion, Forgiveness, the Gift of the Holy Spirit, and Eternal Life.

(Source: Walter Scott, The Gospel Restored: A Discourse of the True Gospel of Jesus Christ, in which the Facts, Principles, Duties, and Privileges of Christianity are Arranged, Defined, Discussed, and the Gospel in its Various Parts Shewn to be Adapted to the Nature and Necessities of Man in His Present Condition, page 6.)

What would you include in your list? How should we teach children about the salvation that is available to us through Jesus?