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The Question of Becoming

Okay, really short post today! I was reading in Clark Pinnock’s book, Most Moved Mover, when I came across this quote –

The element of risk may belong to the time of our earthly probation and our ability to choose may diminish; as choices become habits, habits become character, and character becomes our very being. In a sense, we are becoming our choices. (Clark H. Pinnock, Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness, Baker Academic, 2001, p. 171.)

I’m going to let this one simmer for a little while, but I will probably come back to this quote in future posts. In the meantime, I think it is enough to ask, “What are you becoming?”

 

 

Disorientation

When you are flying in the fog the worst thing that can happen to you (at least, before you crash) is that you become disoriented. It is a bizarre physiological reality – but you can be in just about any flight position – right side up, up side down, nose high, nose low, extreme bank angle – and your body will tell you that everything is just hunky-fine. There is a mistaken idea among non-pilots that you would just know if something was wrong. On the contrary – your eyes, your inner ear, your “seat,” basically your entire body will conspire to tell you the most pernicious lies. Graveyards full of disoriented pilots silently proclaim the grim results. The mantra of flight instructors becomes the pilot’s only way of survival – don’t trust your senses, trust your instruments (and keep a good cross-check going, because one of your instruments may have failed!).

I have spent the past week severely disoriented. Following the murder of the five police officers in Dallas I have gone through a dizzying range of emotions. Initially I felt an almost uncontrollable rage. I just wanted to strike out at anything – a punching bag would have been most helpful. Along with that emotion came confusion – how could anyone actually support the actions of the killer (and there were several who did)? I was caught in a “death spiral” – all I could do was depend on my senses, and my senses were telling me that everything was incomprehensible.

Incomprehensible – that is just the word for what I feel. I cannot comprehend the rhetoric surrounding the events of the past week. I do not understand how one of the most blatantly racist and militant protest groups is afforded blanket amnesty from virtually every segment of our society – with the result being the ambush and murder of five law enforcement officers, and the wounding of a number of others. What is particularly galling to me is that the response of supposedly “Christian” leaders is not to challenge or criticize this blatant racism, but to actually support and encourage it. This just reinforces my conviction that many so-called “Christian” leaders are concerned not about the truth of the gospel, but only about pandering to special interest groups in order to maintain their aura of sanctity – and power!

Every Christian should be appalled when a police officer abuses the power that is invested in him or her and uses that power to insult, injure, or kill an innocent civilian. It should not be a surprise that with the number of law enforcement officers that there are some who should not be wearing the badge or shield (one statistic I read was 800,000 LEOs nationwide). There have been far too many situations where an officer is clearly out-of-control, or worse, guilty of a major crime. With that fact only too well documented, it should also be noted that in a number of supposedly “clear” examples of police brutality, the factual evidence demonstrated that the officer was acting well within his/her authority, the “victim” was actually the aggressor, and the officer acted to protect his/her life or the lives of others nearby. Such inconvenient truths do not matter – the officer’s life is ruined, property is destroyed, and livelihoods of truly innocent business people are either wiped out or severely damaged, all in the name of “justice.”

Like I said – I just do not get it. Some brave voices in the media have pointed out that our nation is being ripped apart at the seams. It should come as no surprise when good is called evil and evil is called good that the foundation of civility is cracked. Just stop and consider what “justice” and “freedom” look like in the United States today – the relentless murder of millions of unborn children, the glorification of sexual perversity including, but not limited to, transgenderism and homosexuality, the systematic attacks against and removal of the safeguards of religious expression. But when the leading voices of the “Christian” church are either silent – or worse, are actually complicit in this degradation – how will the truth be heard?

The way in which a pilot safely navigates the fog and storms that envelop his or her plane is to rely completely upon the instruments that tell him or her what the plane is really doing. In the moral fog that has descended so thickly upon our culture it is imperative that disciples of Christ stop trying to “feel” their way out and begin to trust the Scriptures once again.* Those who do will be unpopular, they will lose their “power” (whatever they think that power is) and may actually be vilified. But disciples also know that submission to the will of God is the ONLY way to bring reconciliation and wholeness (both physical and spiritual) to this earth.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. (Matthew 5:9, RSV)

*In saying this I am not suggesting that the Bible itself is to be worshipped – that would be bibliolatry. I am saying, however, that God’s “instrument” that he has given us for our safety and protection is his written word. We cannot say we trust, or believe in God, and at the same time disparage, dispute, or minimize the Scriptures.

A Major Exam for Christian Colleges and Universities

A feature story in the July, 2016 Christian Chronicle (www.christianchronical.org) explains a rather severe exam could be in the offing for colleges and universities that have traditionally been associated with Christian churches – any college or university with a faith-based charter or by-laws. After steam-rolling every other opponent it has faced, the LGBTQ movement has now set its sights on institutions of higher education that (a) refuse to accept the demands of the LGBTQ movement, and (b) receive federal funding. The attack at this point seems to be focused on removing the federal funding, and in an interesting twist, denying these colleges and universities the ability to participate in NCAA governed athletic activities.

The mechanism that is allowing this particular attack is the piece of legislation known as “Title IX” – a law that guaranteed there would be no discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded educational institutions. Originally, the law was designed to provide for equal educational, and just as important, athletic opportunities for females. For every sport limited to males, there needed to be an equal opportunity (same sport, or a different sport) for females. The law had the unfortunate effect of having schools remove some male sports teams (high school wrestling was particularly hard hit), but now that seems like a minor bump in the road. Now the real target has appeared – remove federal funding from these hate-driven, homophobic bastions of conservatism, or at least kill their football programs.

The main channel of federal funding for most Christian colleges and universities is through federally guaranteed student loans. Take away those loans and you take away the greatest likelihood that a student can afford to attend a private college or university. That would eventually kill the institution, and force all students into state funded colleges and universities where the LGBTQ dogma has been firmly entrenched for years now. A lesser goal, although no less juicy for emotional reasons, would be to prohibit Christian colleges and universities from participating in NCAA governed athletics. That would, in effect, cripple a large majority of Christian college and university athletic programs, as the NCAA governs three different levels of competition (Division I, II, and III).

A Christian college or university can apply for certain exemptions regarding provisions of the Title IX law. While all Christian colleges and universities I know of offer full athletic and educational opportunities for females, there are other issues of compliance which lie beneath the surface, but would create significant moral issues for these institutions. Take housing for just one example – many (if not most) colleges and universities offer housing both for single and married students. Currently, Christian colleges and universities can limit males to male-only dorms, females to female-only dorms, and limit married housing to heterosexual couples (male/female married couples). Take away those exemptions and there can be no gender-specific housing – and in regard to married couple housing, now that the Supreme Court has legalized homosexual marriage, homosexual and lesbian couples who are legally “married” could apply for university sponsored housing. Although apparently many would celebrate this development, to an overwhelming majority of alumni from some institutions, this would simply be unacceptable.

So – a test of epic proportions lies not too far on the horizon for these institutions. Some who claim a Christian heritage are only too willing to comply. (I need only mention Baylor University, a Baptist institution, which knowingly shielded a practicing lesbian basketball player to enhance the chances of an NCAA title. As the Christian Chronicle article makes clear, Pepperdine University, a university once associated with the Churches of Christ, proudly proclaims that their policies are in full compliance with the stipulations of Title IX – and see no need to ask for exemptions). Abilene Christian University (thinly associated with Churches of Christ) has just spent millions of dollars transitioning from NCAA Division II to Division I, so I seriously doubt they will jeopardize any NCAA standing with a request for Title IX exemptions.

It will be very, very interesting to see how these colleges and universities make their decisions. Do they forgo federal student loan money and find creative, alternate methods of assisting students to attend? Do they give up their expensive sports programs in favor of joining athletic associations governed by groups other than the NCAA? Or do they comply with the progressive LGBTQ demands and surrender the right to make institutional decisions based on the teachings of Scripture?

Please fasten your seat belts and return your tray tables to their upright and locked positions. The ride ahead promises to be turbulent. I do not envy the administrators of these institutions. I do pray, however, that they have the courage to stand with Scripture and refuse to be bullied into submission over this issue. Those of us who hope that another generation of young Christians will have the opportunity to study at a college or university committed to Christian precepts must stand shoulder to shoulder with the administrations of those institutions who refuse to bow the knee to this form of legalized blackmail.

** Update – just today I came across this blog by Ed Stetzer that documents a legislative agenda in California to limit Christian based education strictly to seminaries and college programs focused solely on Christian ministry. In other words, those preparing for Christian ministry can be educated in Christian principles, but no one else can.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2016/june/californias-religious-liberty-moment-coming-to-state-near-y.html

Orlando – Outrage, but No Solidarity

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.’ (Luke 13:1-5, ESV)

Trigger alert – for those who believe that Christians must “join in solidarity” with every group that experiences some misfortune, this post will definitely be damaging to your mental health. Continue at your own risk.

Literally within hours of the horrific murders in Orlando, social media sites were lit up with accusations against Christians, Muslims, and anyone else for that matter, who disapproved of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning – I’ve heard both explanations) lifestyle. The fact that no on knew any of the pertinent facts of the case did not stop anyone. Well known and highly respected “Christian” authors jumped into the fray, calling for the “church” to join in solidarity with the LGBTQ community and excoriating anyone who dared to disagree.

Well, I disagree.

I just have one question – a question that has not been answered by any of those who call for this solidarity – “WHY?” Is it because of the manner of death? Is being shot by a crazed psychopath a more horrific death than dying as your plane falls from 30,000 feet into the ocean? Is it because of the alleged religious background of the killer? Does being killed by a Muslim terrorist make you more vulnerable than being killed by a Christian terrorist – or even an atheistic one?

No – the only reason I can decipher from reading the quotes and commentary is that Christians should join in solidarity with the victims because – they practice forms of sexual deviancy that are clearly and emphatically condemned in Scripture! Not as, “we are all sinners” (which we are, note the above Scripture), but we should be particularly sympathetic – and even empathetic – to this group specifically because of their lifestyle.

As more facts emerge from this tragedy I feel like my head is on a swivel. First the murderer was alleged to have sworn allegiance to ISIS – the terrorist group that is wreaking havoc all over our world. But, then a funny thing happened. It has also been reported that the killer had an account with a homosexual dating app – and frequented the very club in which he committed this atrocity. Apparently he was a common visitor in a part of town known for its gender-bending clientele. (So much of this is allegation, early and mistaken reporting, and who knows what else. I doubt we will know the whole truth for weeks, if not months). If any of this is true it certainly casts a deep shadow over the “Muslim terrorist” angle. I am no Muslim scholar, but I seriously doubt that Allah would approve of one of his followers hooking up on a homosexual dating app.

I understand the outrage. I feel it myself. I feel it after every mass shooting, bombing, or other form of mass murder. It was a horrific act – make no mistake and the victims did not “deserve” their deaths (contrary to the stated opinions of many other “Christian” commentators) any more than those little children and their teachers at Sandy Hook elementary school. As Christians I feel we have several responses that would reflect the love of Christ. Certainly we are to “bind up the wounds” and treat the survivors and the families of all the victims with love. I also believe that now is not the time to pull out the sermons on Sodom and Gomorrah or Romans 1. There is, as the Preacher once wrote, a time for weeping.

However, to suggest, even in the most innocent sounding or oblique manner, that the bride of Christ is somehow united or in “solidarity” with a community that flagrantly repudiates the beauty and wisdom of God’s creation is patently absurd bordering on obscene. Physicians heal, not by becoming one with the disease or the patient, but by standing over the patient and against the disease. Light does not become one with darkness, but light drives darkness away. The Son of God drew crowds of broken sinners to himself, not because he became one of their number, but because he showed them how to be reconciled to his Father.

Events such as these should cause us all to stop and reflect – to what extent are we guilty of prejudice, hatred, and, yes, even sexual sins that are just as clearly condemned in the Word of God as homosexuality. One of the most profound aspects of the faith and theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer was that he openly confessed the sins of the German church in regard to the crimes of the Nazi party. But while he was willing to sacrifice his life to protect the defenseless, he never proclaimed himself to be anything other than a Christian. He could, and did, protect the other, the outsider, without claiming to be the other. And it was only because he maintained that separation that he could be an authentic witness to Christ.

That kind of behavior requires an enormous amount of courage – and a clear, focused theology. Our response to events like Orlando should come from Christ, through Christ, in order to bring people to Christ. Let us work to unite the world to Christ, not the church to the world.

A Word from Timothy Archer – (I Approve This Message)

I do not usually steal other people’s material – I suppose I am vain enough to think that if I share other people’s material then no one will read my material. But, some laws are just made to be broken, and this post is one of those times.

Below is a link to a post by  Tim Archer, a blogger/author/teacher/preacher/missionary who always has good stuff. I highly recommend you follow him, if you are not already doing so. Tim is not always perfect – he is a fan of the San Antonio Spurs – but I choose to overlook the little things.

Anyway – he said everything I wish I could have said, in a lot fewer words that I would have used (another gift that Tim has).

So – read and be challenged.

Come out from them and be separate

It’s Not Just About Bathrooms

Okay, a word of warning. Today’s installment is going to be a tad more theological than most of my fulminations. It will be perhaps a bit more philosophical as well. I will attempt to keep it as short as possible. (Yea, you’ve read that before!)

I was tempted to title this piece, “An Anthropological Defense of Theology,” but I figured no one would know what I was talking about. I’m not sure I would even understand that title (but it just sounded so erudite.) So, I went with a simpler, and perhaps more “click bait” title as above. So, I am going to be addressing the current debate over gender and all the related issues. But, understand, this discussion is not just about bathrooms, locker rooms, and the associated politics.

One truth I have discovered over the past few years is this, stated in bold and italics to emphasize its importance to my argument:

We cannot come to know, love, or serve God as He has called us to know, love, and serve him until we become fully what he has created us to be. In other words, we cannot be transformed into His likeness until we become fully and completely human – created to be in his perfect likeness at the beginning of time.

There, now you may want to get another cup of tea and cogitate on that for a while . . . I’ll be here when you get back.

And, (drum roll, please), the very, very first physical description of the what he created when he created mankind is . . . “male and female.” Yes, folks, you read it here first, there are two flavors of humanity – male and female. XX and XY chromosomes, and nothing else. At the very core of our being is the description “in the image of God.” Attached to that core – inseparable from that core – is our maleness and femaleness. Our gender* is a biological gift from God, written into the very DNA which also determines our fingerprints, eye color, and whether we will ever have the ability to play for the Minnesota Vikings or not.

How we accept this basic anthropological fact determines our theology. We cannot, and I repeat, we cannot, have a true and healthy understanding of God if we reject this fundamental truth of our own existence. While I am sure that volumes could be written (and indeed have been written) further exploring this concept, I want to bring that truth to bear on this issue of “gender” and bathrooms, and, just to make everyone mad, the issue of male spiritual leadership in the church.

The most fundamental question is this: Do we get to choose our gender? The answer from God’s word is an unequivocal “No.” We are born male or female. Now, it is also clear from Scripture that we as humans can choose how we participate in sexual behavior once we reach the age of maturity, but we cannot change our birth gender (surgical procedures and massive doses of hormones cannot change DNA structures!) From that fundamental question a host of questions follow. One of those questions is “What happens when I feel like I am a member of the opposite gender?”

The psychology of gender dysphoria is well beyond my expertise. I will, however, offer this thesis – having a feeling, and acting on that feeling, are two entirely different kettles of fish. I may feel like I am qualified to play running back for the Minnesota Vikings, but the reality is I would die trying to live out that feeling.

I see a profound irony in the current discussion of “transgender” and the use of restroom facilities. There is (currently) a huge uproar over the possibility of a full grown man who “feels” like a woman walking into a women’s restroom or gym locker room and being able to undress and shower with females who resent his presence. But, a woman who “feels” like she is gifted and can fulfill the responsibilities given to males is honored and praised. Am I the only one who sees this incongruity?

Regardless of the position you hold regarding complementarianism or egalitarianism, there is one thing you cannot deny. Throughout Scripture it is the male who is given the role of spiritual leadership. Now, if you hold the egalitarian position you can (attempt to) explain this univocal position away – but you cannot deny the fact of its existence. From Adam to Noah to Moses to David to Jesus to the apostles, there is virtually no variation in the role of men providing spiritual protection and leadership.**

It is an inconvenient truth – a number of women want to keep men out of their locker rooms, but have no problem at all with accepting the mantle of spiritual leadership. The irony, at least as far as I see it, is that they deny the “feelings” of the transgender male/female, while at the same time they want to legitimize and promote their “feeling” that God has given them the same gifts and responsibilities as a male.

I don’t get it.

If a woman can “feel” gifted and therefore demand the role of a male regardless of her physical gender, why is it so hard to believe that a male can “feel” feminine and therefore demand access to facilities our culture has previously limited to those of genetic femaleness?

I return, then, to my statement made earlier in bold and italics. Until we come to fully accept our humanity – including our birth gender (sex) – we will never be able to be transformed and grow into the full likeness of God.

Has the church been too “patriarchal?” Have we limited the role of women in the church more than what God would have them to serve? Can we do a better job of honoring and promoting the gifts and abilities of the women in the church? Perhaps the answer to all of these questions is a resounding “yes!” I do not want to perpetuate stereotypes just because they are comfortable.

But this is not just about bathrooms, people. Ultimately, this is about how we understand God. If we can’t understand anthropology, how in the world do you think we can understand theology?

*There is a considerable debate as to whether the correct word should be “gender” or “sex.” I have heard it argued that “gender” is the appropriate term for the study of linguistic categories (as in, masculine, feminine or neuter nouns in inflected languages). Others interpret the word “sex” as primarily a verb – we participate in sex (as in sexual intercourse) but we are born with a gender. Honestly the debate is over my head. I prefer the less provocative term “gender,” but if it is a technical misuse of the word, I would be content to use the word “sex.” For the purpose of this article, I will use the term “gender” to refer to our maleness or femaleness. If any of my readers can explain the difference to me, I would love to be set straight.

**Whatever her position was, Deborah was not described a spiritual leader. The role of “Judge” was more of a political/tribal leader, not spiritual (see Samson, for example). The weak and highly debated arguments from Romans 16 suggesting that a particular female was a leader of a church would only describe a significant exception (if proven), not the rule. With no unambiguous evidence to the contrary, I will defend the position that the leaders of the New Testament congregations were all males.

He Who Defines the Terms Wins the Argument

A question I have been hearing (and repeating) frequently over the past few days, weeks, and months: “How could the moral compass of the United States change so radically, and especially so quickly?” I have no definite answer – but I think I have a pretty good clue. If you get to define the terms of the disagreement, you are two-thirds of the way to winning the argument.

For evidence, I offer the once useful, and justly powerful word, “victim.” Once upon a time, and really not that long ago, a victim was someone who was subjected to harsh, often unbearable and quite frequently lethal, abuse and/or events that were beyond his or her or their control. The Jews, gypsies and other “undesirables” were victims under the Nazi reign of terror in the mid 1930’s. Blacks were victims of the horrid social constructs of colonial America, extending quite literally into the 1960’s. Native American Indian tribes were victims of the despicable results of the American concept of “Manifest Destiny.” These, and other true crimes against humanity, are fitting examples of the concept of “victim.”

Notice today how that concept has changed. Today the only requirement necessary to claim the mantle of “victim” is to have your feelings hurt. A student hears a lecture that includes concepts or ideas that are foreign to his or her worldview and immediately becomes a victim of racism, genderism, or any number of other “isms” that might apply. A man wants to marry a man, and the bakery that refuses to bake a cake or the photographer who refuses to participate in the fraud is sued into bankruptcy because the couple has become a “victim” of “homophobia” (an illegitimate word if there ever was one). An entire class of victims has been created, not because of a genuine, certifiable injury, but simply because their narcissism has been challenged and they have no other recourse but to scream, “victim!”

In the beginning of this linguistic shift the church capitulated to the subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle, pressure to conform. It was believed that by becoming more “accommodating” and less “strident” or “abrasive” that the masses could be reached, yea, even converted, from the error of their way. What was not recognized then was the fact that if you allow your opponent to set the terms of the debate (and by defining all the terms the other side HAS set the terms of the debate), you will never be able to adequately or correctly present your argument. The moment the scriptural argument against homosexuality is presented, the homosexual lobby screams “homophobia, I’m a victim of homophobia” and the discussion is over. The moment an argument for male spiritual leadership in the church is presented, the egalitarians scream “patriarchy, I’m a victim of patriarchy” and the discussion is ended. The moment some person is told to get off of the unemployment roll and actually get a job, the “employment challenged victim” starts screaming “Capitalism, I’m a victim of crass, unjust capitalism” and can therefore return to the safety of his or her couch to watch the latest reality TV show.

How could the moral compass of the United States change so radically and so quickly? Quite simply, because those who were tasked with maintaining even the minimum degree of biblical morality quietly allowed it to happen. We, and I speak of the church here, simply acquiesced to the virtual re-writing of the dictionary, and we were either asleep and were not aware of what was happening, or we meekly followed along with the crime in the hopes that we would not be viewed as homophobic, patriarchal, capitalistic, xenophobic, troglodytes.

I suggest that the point has been reached where there simply is no more ground to surrender, no more space to retreat. The time has come to speak forcefully, even if that means those who disagree with us view us as being “abrasive.” In no way am I suggesting being unkind, vengeful, or hateful. Christians must never use the tools of Satan to attempt to defeat Satan. However, the time has come that we can no longer allow our language to be corrupted beyond the point of any usefulness. Sin must be labeled as sin – whether it be in the realm of sex, greed, hate, sloth, fear, or selfishness. We will not be loved or appreciated. I think I remember Jesus, Paul and Peter all saying the same thing about those who stand up against the powers of this world. But, who do we want to please – the world, or Jesus?

I am reminded of the words of Martin Niemoeller, a World War I U-Boat captain who would later become a part of the Confessing Church in Nazi Germany. He would spend the entirety of World War II in a German concentration camp because of his opposition to the Nazi regime. He wrote:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew.
And then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.

At some point the church is going to have to confront this godless attempt to silence and ultimately destroy Christian morality. The question is, who is going to be left to speak out?

Prayer

I shared last post about silence. Today I move from silence to prayer. Silence is the ground from which prayer is grown.

In my last post I attempted to stress the critical importance of silence. God created, God spoke, out of the primordial silence. Jesus was led into 40 days of wilderness before his speaking ministry would begin. “Be still (silent)” the psalmist directs, “and know that I am God.” If there is no silence, then speech becomes meaningless. It is silence that gives meaning to our words.

Silence, however, is not our highest passion. We are not called to vows of silence. We use the silence we are given (and that which we create) in order to move into prayer. Prayer is the proper goal of silence.

I know I am in the minority when I say this (perhaps the ONLY one who would say this), but I believe Christians have destroyed the gift of prayer. Christians have trivialized it, manipulated it, commercialized it, secularized it – and emasculated it. Far from being a path into the awesome throne room of the Almighty God, we have turned prayer into a perfunctory prelude before a meal, or worse yet, the opening rite before a disturbingly violent and utterly un-godlike sporting event. We use prayer to begin a legislative session in which women are given the right to murder their children, and where laws are passed to protect and even promote the deviant lifestyle of those who pervert God’s design for human sexuality. To salve our wounded conscience we declare one day out of 365 to be a “National Day of Prayer.”

National prayer for what? Have we never read Jeremiah 7:16ff and 11:14ff? Brothers and sisters, those are terrifying passages of Scripture! How can we be so hypocritical?

What then, is prayer?

Prayer is the path I take to align my bent and broken will to that of my Father in heaven. Prayer is the process by which I submit my heart and my body to the service of my Lord. Prayer is the method of communication that God has given me so that I can be at one time utterly human, and at the same time share in his transcendence. Prayer allows us to touch the infinite. Properly understood and practiced, prayer is the most powerful gift of expression that humans are allowed to use. Is it any wonder that when Jesus’ disciples heard him pray that they begged him to teach them how to pray? How many of us get down on our knees and ask God, “Teach us to pray!”?

This partially explains why we cannot pray today. Our world is so full of our words, of our noise, of the expression of our self importance, and even our own self righteousness that we cannot grasp the single most important component of prayer – the humiliating (making humble) and purifying presence of the gift of silence. We must listen before we can pray. It is then through the penetrating silence of God’s presence that we can begin to lift our own voice.

God wants us to pray. Jesus taught his disciples (and through their words, he has taught us) how to pray. The apostles commanded unceasing and fervent prayer. It is one of the great tragedies of the church that we have taken such a gift, yes, even such a command, and have turned it into something so base, so trivial.

Are we, as Christians, really serious about prayer? Maybe we need to begin by asking God to teach us, really teach us, how to pray.

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
(Matthew 6:9-13, ESV)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Community, and the Churches of Christ

A few introductory comments before I take off into the fog today –

A major section of my Doctor of Ministry dissertation was focused on the intersection of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theology and the Churches of Christ. Kind of like Oscar and Felix, it makes for an odd couple, but we have much to learn from this early 20th century theologian.

Second, although this particular topic is outside of my work on confession, the topic of community is closely related to confession (as most of Bonhoeffer’s theology is closely interwoven).

Third, when reading Bonhoeffer, a person must bear in mind the circumstances under which he was writing. So, with Life Together it is critical to remember that the thoughts, if not the exact words, were formed as the Gestapo was breathing down Bonhoeffer’s neck as he ran an illegal Lutheran Seminary. Ultimately they would force the closing of the seminary where Bonhoeffer taught, and that possibility was clearly in Bonhoeffer’s mind as he worked with his seminarians.

I am re-reading Life Together for the umpteenth time, and like so many other great works of literature, there are always new things to discover in this book. I want to share just a couple of thoughts that I think are so appropriate for the situation Churches of Christ (and many other churches) find themselves today.

First this:

Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial . . . Those who dream of this idealized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others, and  by themselves. They enter the community of Christians with their demands, set up their own law, and judge one another and even God accordingly . . . So they first become accusers of other Christians in the community, then accusers of God, and finally the desperate accusers of themselves. (Life Together DBWE vol. 5, p. 36.)

There are many in the Churches of Christ who want the church to be something that it is not, and frankly can never be. As a close parallel to Bonhoeffer’s time, a growing number of people want the church to be more culturally acceptable than spiritually pure. Their concept of the church is an ideal (in Bonhoeffer’s thought, think of Plato’s concept of the ideal vs. the real). So, just as with the “German Christians” of the early 1930’s, membership in the church has more to do with cultural adaptation than Spiritual sanctification. In a staggering act of irony, these purveyors of tolerance and broad-mindedness become the most intolerant and narrow-minded when confronted by those who disagree with their bent theology. Those who preach “judge not” become the harshest judges, even to the point that they end up condemning themselves. The “faux guilt” crowd that accepts (and at times even creates) blame for everything from racism to male chauvinism to homophobia is really becoming quite obnoxious. They want the church to atone for sins it is rightly guilty of – and for sins it could not even be possible to be guilty of. But, as Bonhoeffer pointed out – when you come to the church with a false idea of what community truly is, the end result is fore-ordained.

Second is this:

Two factors, which are really one and the same thing, reveal the difference between spiritual and self-centered love. Emotional, self-centered love cannot tolerate the dissolution of a community that has become false, even for the sake of genuine community. And such self-centered love cannot love an enemy, that is to say, one who seriously and stubbornly resists it.

Therefore, spiritual love is bound to the word of Jesus Christ alone. Where Christ tells me to maintain community for the sake of love, I desire to maintain it. Where the truth of Christ orders me to dissolve a community for the sake of love, I will dissolve it, despite all the protests of my self-centered love. (Life Together DBWE vol. 5, p. 43)

Now, here is where you really need to understand Bonhoeffer’s historical situation. The Lutheran “union” of churches of which Bonhoeffer had been a member had been destroyed by the heresies of the “German Christian” movement – the Nazification of the Lutheran church. Bonhoeffer was part of a number of theologians who realized that these “Christians” were no longer Christians at all – they were not just schismatics, they were heretics. However, not everyone saw as clearly as Bonhoeffer and his associates. They viewed the “Confessing Church,” of which Bonhoeffer was a significant leader, as an unhealthy and dangerous schism. The emotional toll of Bonhoeffer was tremendous. In effect, he was declaring that many people with whom he had a deep and abiding relationship were no longer his brothers and sisters in Christ. Thus, these words are NOT just ivory tower rhetoric. In these words to his young seminarians, Bonhoeffer is basically saying, “I may feel like maintaining fellowship with a particular group of people, but when the word of Christ tells me to separate from that group, I must decide to obey Christ or my emotions. I will obey Christ at all costs – even and including my human feelings.”

The siren song of liberalism and toleration is being sung at full volume within the Churches of Christ (as, perhaps, it has always been sung). The phrase, “in matters of opinion, liberty” has been expanded to mean that everything is a matter of opinion, and there are no matters of “necessity.” According to a significant, and apparently growing, number of young preachers, the only “sin” is in thinking that there is an inerrant and infallible truth to which all must submit. What is almost incomprehensible to me is the fact that this battle has been fought before, most recently in the early 20th century, and we have the writings of Bonhoeffer and others to show us the price we will end up paying if we reject the words of Christ and embrace this path to an ecclesial holocaust.

Bonhoeffer’s words are both comforting and distressing to me. Distressing because I can see so many parallels between his age and today. Comforting, because I can see where there will always be those who reject Satan’s temptations, and who stand firm in the words of Christ. As I prayed this morning, I hope that I will have the courage to reject the anemic gospel of a worldly church, and have the courage to call for authentic, and costly, discipleship for Christ.

A Bent and Broken World

I’m not sure exactly the time, but I can remember the speaker and the place. The speaker was Jim McGuiggan, and the place was Harding University. We had traveled to Searcy to listen to Jim speak at a youth event hosted by Harding. The quote has stayed with me for all these years, and it just seems to get more appropriate with each passing year.

I’m not even sure what Jim’s overall message was that afternoon, but at some point in the lesson he said, “We live in a bent and broken world.” Now, you have to hear that phrase through Jim’s measured cadence and thick Irish brogue for it to have its full effect. I think he might be the only person I know who could get two syllables out of the word “bent.” The phrase grabbed me, and has been a part of my preaching and teaching since that day.

It should not even be debated that we live in a bent and broken world. It has been ever since Adam and Eve took a bite out of that fruit. It became even more bent and broken when Cain killed his brother. I was reminded just how bent and broken the world was (and remains) when I pointed out to my Old Testament class that Moab (Moabites) and Ben-Ammi (Ammonites) were sons born of incest and the class almost had a collective heart attack. We are bent and broken now – and we have been bent and broken since the fall.

It would also seem to be beyond doubt that the major concern of the church today would be to heal  this bentness and brokenness. I mean, would it not make sense that the church, which is the body of Christ on earth, should want to bring people to the great physician so that he can restore them to health and wholeness? Sadly, I just do not see that happening to any great extent today.

I see a large portion of the church simply turning blind eye to that which bends and breaks humans today. Worse than that, this faction of the church actively promotes that which bends and breaks humans. “Don’t worry, be happy” is the mantra. “You’re okay, don’t feel guilty – the only sin worth forgiving is the sin of feeling guilty – and you are forgiven!” Just like a hot air balloon that floats gently on the prevailing winds, this “church” simply coasts along, never even once suggesting, or even recognizing, that the winds of culture might just be carrying their members right into a disaster from which there will be no escape.

Conversely, there are those who look upon those who are bent and broken – and curse them. Not in so many words, mind you, just with their attitudes and sniffling high-minded prescriptions. Just like the Pharisees to whom Jesus spoke, these folks are long on solutions and amazingly short on assistance. “So, you are naked and hungry – why don’t you get dressed and eat some supper.” Or, in biblical terms, “Be warm and filled.” Some things never change.

Part of being human after the fall is recognizing that we are all, every one of us, bent and broken. We all share in the human predicament. But that does not mean we have to promote it, or refuse to help those who seek to climb out of the muck and mire of their squalid conditions. And it certainly does not mean that we have the right to condemn those that we feel are beneath our station (how did we make that decision, anyway??). No, we live in a bent and broken world. We must accept that fact that if we are healed, we are called to be healers and share in the healing of this world. We have to call sin, “sin,” and we have to name that which is destroying our world. But we must always remember that we are “wounded healers” (to steal Henri Nouwen’s beautiful phrase).

If I am anything in this world, I am a wounded healer. I am bent and broken, too. I believe I have been washed in the blood of the Lamb, but that does not mean I do not walk with a limp, and carry a few scars. Knowing that, I can share with others how I met the Healer. That, I believe, is the role of the church. We must confront that which bends and breaks the human soul. We can no longer make excuses for this toxic culture. We must not, however, shoot those who are wounded. Let us bring them to the one who will make them whole. Let us be what we claim to be – the hands and feet of Christ.

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