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America: Land of the Soft and Home of the Victim

I begin my 2017 musings in a minor key, but addressing an issue that I believe is important if Americans in general, and Christians in particular, are going to make any kind of difference in the world today. If you narrow the audience down to members of the Churches of Christ, then I would say this topic rises to the level of urgent, if not critical.

I shall begin by posing a question (two actually): When, and how, did Americans become so soft? How is it that we have become a nation of victims?

I recently viewed a video clip of some twenty or thirty something year old who was discussing the issue of the problems facing millennials (the generation born in the 1990’s and into the 2000’s). He was making some really good points: this generation was raised by parents using a defective parenting philosophy. This was the generation that was told it was impossible to “lose” and that no one was “superior.” Everyone gets a trophy or a medal, no matter if you come in first or last. Parents were told to become their children’s best friends, and the child’s self-esteem is the be-all and end-all of parenting. Also, technology has had a significant impact on this generation – from smart phones to iPads to social media platforms, this generation is truly drowning in technological inventions. This has created an entire set of social problems – a millennial can have hundreds of “friends” and thousands of “likes,” and yet be utterly alone and bereft of any social skills whatsoever. Additionally, this is the age of instant gratification. From microwave ovens to instantaneous download speeds, this generation simply does not know how to wait. Patience? That is so yesterday – or worse.

Then, just when I thought the speaker was on to something, he launched into a blistering indictment of modern culture and how “we” were going to have to act if this generation was to be salvaged. “We” (and I’m not really sure who he was speaking to, although corporate America seemed to be the general focus of his tirade) are going to have to change everything so that this generation can cope. These poor little darlings are so fragile, so soft, that any challenge to their survival is going to have to be overcome by anyone and everyone who is not a millennial (because, obviously, the millennials did not create any of these problems, so how can they be expected to solve them?)

Assuming his earlier points were valid (and I thought he was pretty astute), let me ask a few follow-up questions:

  • Which generation alive today was raised by perfect parents? I defy you – no generation has been perfect, and every generation has had to deal with dysfunctional family situations.
  • Which generation has not been told they are brighter and smarter and more likely to succeed than their parents? In other words, which generation has been told they are the one exclusion of the evolutionary family tree? I posit that none have been.
  • Which generation has not been significantly impacted by technology? My grandfather, for instance, was born before the Wright brothers made their first flight, yet he lived to see Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. Can any millennial claim to have witnessed that kind of technological leap? I dare say, NO.
  • Which generation alive today was not handed a critical, life changing and potentially world altering political crisis? I would suggest there is only one – the one generation that claims to have had life the worst – the millennials. World War 1 and 2, Korea, Vietnam – these were real shooting wars, and the last three involved the use (or at least the potential use) of atomic weapons, so, please, do not tell me that the events of 9/11/01 or the election of Donald Trump qualifies as a real crisis.

I think I could go on, but I hope you get the point. The millennial generation is no worse off, and in a number of ways is so much safer and more prosperous, than any generation in recent memory. Yet, to hear the majority of Americans talk today, you would think we are the most impoverished, insulted, abused, and persecuted culture to have ever existed. How did we get so soft?

And, lest you think I am drawing a line of distinction around Christians, think again. Just let someone say, “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” and you would think Adolf Hitler himself had been resurrected. Persecuted?? Because prayer has been taken out of public schools?? Because homosexuals have been granted the “right” to get married?? From what I hear from a lot of “Christians,” prayer has been removed from a lot of churches and “Christians” have long been trashing the sanctity of marriage as well, but I suppose that is a rabbit that will better be chased on another day.

My point is that we, as Americans – and that includes Christians equally, if not more – have raised victimology to a fine art. Everyone is offended by everything these days. Political correctness has not only destroyed higher education (exhibit “A” – the number of colleges and universities that had a collective emotional melt-down the day after the general election), but it has permeated and is in the process of destroying the church as well. Preachers should not be worried about Hollywood or Washington telling them what they can or cannot preach – they should be worried about the members in the pews who do not know the definition of the word “sin” or the significance of Jesus’s death on the cross. Jesus did not die because humankind was perfect – he died so that his disciples might be made perfect. And the only way his disciples can be made perfect is to die themselves – die to the world that is so blatantly seeking to destroy the church today.

I have no idea what the future holds for America. Politically and socially we are on a downward trajectory and I personally see no reversal in the near future. If we continue this head-long plunge into narcissism I fear for the future of the Republic. However, we as a nation have proven ourselves to be incredibly resilient against a number of enemies, so maybe we can overcome our own seeming desire for self-annihilation as well.

As regards the church, this I know for sure. We will not be able to save ourselves. Humankind never has, and never will be able, to overcome this depth of fatal self-absorption. We are going to have to return to being a people of the cross – that horrible symbol of God’s judgment on human hubris – if we are going to have any meaningful message to speak to the world.

In the vernacular of the day, we are going to have to put on our big boy pants and suck it up, buttercup. We are not the victims, we are the sinners. We, the church, collectively and individually as members of it, are all “miserable sinners” (in the words of the older Anglican confession. Sadly, even that has been modernized.). We are going to have to start preaching against sin and we are going to have to start practicing both positive and negative church discipline. If we (the church) had been faithful to our mission we (society as a whole) would not be in the mess we are in now. So, let’s be honest with ourselves, honest with God, and honest with the world.

Let us pray that in 2017 we can have the courage to stop being victims, and start being responsible disciples of Christ.

What Has Changed?

There are two opposite, but equally destructive, responses to perceived threats. The first is the the “Chicken Little” approach, which is to run around screaming “The sky is falling, the sky is falling” when in fact, the sky is very much not falling. The other approach is the “stick your head in the sand” approach, which is to deny that there is any threat, or if there is, it really does not apply to me, because I cannot see it, because I have my head in the sand.

By no means do I want to be a Chicken Little. But being an ostrich really does not appeal to me either. God gave us the sense to be able to “sense” dangerous situations, and call me a “nervous Nelly” if you want to, but I cannot help but see a real threat on the horizon.

Every election since 1980 has been labeled as “the most important election in our lifetime” (at the very least). I have already heard that phrase used about this coming presidential election. So, I don’t want to go there. That ship sailed a long time ago. The fact is, this election in but an inconsequential thimble of water in the comprehensive ocean of significant events in the history of the country.

Be that as it may, this election does have significance in one respect. I believe this election will be the first election for a country that is post-Christian, and perhaps even anti-Christian. (You may argue this is the second such election, but it is the first election in which that attitude is unmistakably obvious).

For the overwhelming majority of our 240 year existence, the United States has at the very least proclaimed a distinct Christian foundation. I do not adhere to the propaganda that we have always been a Christian nation (the evidence to the contrary is just too strong), but we have always advertised that we believe, and attempt to act, according to fundamental Judeo-Christian principles. Take, for example, the struggle for civil rights for minorities. Yes, the manner in which certain races were treated was deplorable – unChristian to the core! But it was that very Christian foundation that we espoused that allowed crusaders to appeal to our “higher angels” and thus we have been able to reverse many of those inhuman laws and behaviors.

However, we are now living in a different era. Old solutions no longer work. Old equations no longer provide the same result. What changed? Why is this election so different from every other election we have witnessed?

The answer, in brief, is that the country has emphatically abandoned any association with those fundamental Judeo-Christian principles that has provided both an anchor for stability and the engine for change for our culture.

For my evidence of this accusation I have to point no further than the seismic change over the past eight years regarding sex and gender issues. Homosexual behavior and gender-bending activities are not longer on the extreme fringe of society – those activities are openly promoted and welcomed at the highest level of our culture including and especially within major branches of the Christian church! When our culture has rejected what is the very essence of what it means to be human – the distinction of what it means to be made in the image of God as male and female – we can in no appeal to logic argue that we are a Christian nation. Some label it a post-Christian culture, I would argue that in many respects our culture has be come as anti-Christian as it was in the pre-Constantinian era. An affinity with a watered-down, feel-good, cheap-grace kind of Christianity that Dietrich Bonhoeffer condemned is still very much in view, but not the “carry your own cross and deny yourself” kind of Christianity of which we read in the gospels.

What makes this election so significant to me is that neither (or none, if you add the minor parties) of the major candidates is making any effort at all to appeal to those “higher angels” that both provoked and allowed our country to overcome its inherent flaws. All I hear from all fronts is the most putrid kind of humanism. God is most decidedly out of the picture!

Which then leads me to a most profound observation – this election provides those who proclaim their discipleship to Jesus a most wonderful and epic opportunity. We can once again become the Church of Christ! We can jettison our attachment to a sick and dying political establishment that has only served to weaken the proclamation of the gospel of Christ. Actually, this is far more than just an observation – it is a challenge, a call to arms. Let us become what the name on our buildings so proudly proclaims (and, thanks to all who have so cowardly removed that name from their assemblies. Good riddance!)

Let us become, let us be, let us live, let us thrive – as disciples of Jesus Christ. Let us be done with Republican and Democrat and Independent and Green and whatever else. Our banner is the cross and our citizenship is in heaven! For crying out loud, brothers and sisters – let us be done with the things that do not matter and let us busy ourselves with the things that do matter.

Can I get an amen?

The Enemy of My Enemy

There is an old saying that goes, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

This works on occasion. Take for example professional football. Any team playing the Dallas Cowboys is automatically my friend. Except, that is, if the Cowboys end up playing the New England Patriots. If the NFL schedules the Cowboys against the Patriots the result is not a football game, it is a curse from the football gods who are punishing us for allowing these teams to exist. A pox of both of them, I say.

Sports are one thing (and hopefully I have not offended too severely) – the field of politics is an entirely different kettle of fish. Many voices today are claiming that we have to support one presidential candidate over against the other simply because the “other” is my enemy, and so the enemy of my enemy suddenly becomes my friend.

Hogwash, fiddle-faddle, and pfffft to all, I say. We are not speaking of that which opposes our personal tastes here. We are speaking about what opposes the kingdom of God. The enemy that opposes the kingdom is my enemy, regardless of their relationship to another enemy which opposes the kingdom.

Both candidates from the two major political parties have plainly taken positions which are diametrically opposed to kingdom principles. Neither candidate can be trusted. Both candidates have records that display dishonesty, corruption, and a flagrant disregard for biblical truth. Both candidates have even taken positions which reveal they disregard the American constitution – let alone the Bible. Neither is qualified to serve in the office, if personal character is in any way, shape, or form, a prerequisite for being the President of the United States. You may argue that this has been true for decades – and you may have a point. But I am not arguing past elections – I am talking about the future of our country as it relates specifically to this election.

I am genuinely worried about the individuals who claim that we MUST vote in this election, lest the vile, wicked, evil, opponent should win. To which I ask, “Which vile, wicked, evil, candidate are you supporting?” This is not an issue of voting for the lesser of two evils (a pathetic option if there ever was one). This is an election in which NO Christian should sully their hands. It is not an issue of right/wrong, good/bad. It is an issue of voting for Satan or the Devil.

If there was ever an election that screams that we listen to the voice of David Lipscomb, it is this one!

Imagine what would happen if every Christian in the United States abstained from voting for the office of President. Imagine what would happen if Christians voted for senators, congressmen, governors, mayors and the local dog catcher, but wrote in “None of the Above” on the top line. Imagine what the media would have to say when the “winner” was rejected by the overwhelming majority of voters, not because they voted for the loser, but because they did not vote at all.

Come November, one of these two wretched choices will be declared the next president. But they must hear – clearly and with no ambiguity – that they have been rejected by those who hold Christian convictions. He or she may hold the office – and we must show respect as far as our pledge to Christ allows us – but that does not mean we have to support her or him.

No enemy of the cross can ever be my friend – no matter how awful the other choice may appear.

Where Have All the Christians Gone?

Where have all the soldiers gone,
Long time passing?
Where have all the soldiers gone,
Long time ago.
Where have all the soldiers gone –
Gone to graveyards every one.
When will they ever learn?
Oh when will they ever learn?
(1960’s folk scare anthem, titled, Where Have All the Flowers Gone? third verse)

I picture a scene in the late 1930’s in Berlin. It is a picture of two worlds. On the one hand an economy that was literally on the brink of disaster is now starting to show signs, not just of life, but of genuine health. The mood of the nation borders on ecstasy. The long, dark night following the embarrassment of the Great World War is fading into the dark recesses of history. People are working. There is food on the table. Instead of a waffling, insecure national government, there is a leader who knows what he wants to do – he knows what is best for his Volk, his people. He is their leader, der Fuhrer.*

Crouched over a simple wood desk a young pastor and sometimes university lecturer looks out his window overlooking Berlin and wrinkles his forehead. Through his spectacles he sees a much different Germany. The bright red, white and black swastikas that hang from the government buildings, as well as from many of the church buildings, do not indicate wholeness to him, but rather a terminal sickness. Rather than a facile prosperity, he sees the war machine fueling the new economy. Rather than unity and a restored pride in German law, he sees the systematic dismantling of basic human freedoms. As a country rises like a phoenix from the ashes, he watches a culture begin to burn with the most acrid fires of hell. And he wonders, where is the church? Where are the Christians? The church buildings appear to be full – but where is the faith? Where are those willing to follow their Lord to the cross?

America in the second decade of the 21st century shares far more in common with Germany in the 4th decade of the 20th century than many people are aware of, or are willing to admit (and, no, I am not trying to be sensational here, just point out some disturbing historical parallels). Our most recent economic scare, the “Great Recession” has long since faded from our (increasingly deficient) memory. Ever since September 11, 2001 our federal government has incrementally but steadily become more monolithic and focused on the person of the president. What once was a trip-partite “sharing of the powers” has become a totally inefficient and inept Congress and a judiciary that is nothing but a docile lapdog of the most liberal and leftist agenda. Our current president, and both of the nominees of the two major parties, have made it abundantly clear that they do not respect the constitutional separation of powers, but that, as the elected president, they will be the de-facto fuhrer of the American people.

Morally the country is in a complete free fall. No, we are not emptying neighborhoods of “undesirables” and shipping them off to death camps. But that quaint little concept of “freedom of speech” is fast becoming a relic to be studied in a museum. Do you think we are a country of laws, and not of personal privilege? Compare the story of a baker or a photographer who decline to participate in the wedding of a homosexual couple, only to be sued into oblivion, to the story of a sovereign state, the duly elected officials of which pass a law that protects the rights of individuals to exercise their religious freedoms, only to see one of the largest corporations in the country discriminate against them by removing one of their largest celebrations from the state. Who gets the praise here – those who practice their religious rights, their freedom of speech, or the state, (or corporation) that uses their legal or economic power to bully the other into submission? From newspaper editorials to talk shows to political pundits – the voice of those who defend perversity and attack those who stand for Christian morality is almost universal.

The tragedy here, from a biblical standpoint, is that the church has become utterly complicit in this decay. Instead of a clear voice (remember Amos?) all we here from the collective pulpit of American Christianity is, “Don’t say anything offensive!” “Scientists say they can’t change, so we should not burden them with guilt!” “We have to make the gospel relevant, and telling people about sin just does not communicate anymore!” I guess the worst is, “If we tell people they have to change, they might leave the church!” Yea, right. As if having them in the church is doing them or the church any good.

It’s called SIN, people. Sin in the world, sin in the church, sin in you, sin in me.

What we need is for the church – for disciples of Christ – to stand up with a unified voice and condemn that sin. Condemn the sin in the world, condemn the sin in the church, condemn the sin in us – you and me.

Despite the efforts of the young pastor – and hundreds like him – the church in Germany chose either to remain mostly silent – or to actively support the fuhrer – and the world erupted into another hell of war. Those who refuse to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.

So, I ask – Where have all the Christians gone, long time passing . . . 

*Fuhrer (with the umlaut, which I cannot seem to figure out how to insert over the “u”, simply means “leader” in German.)

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?”

 

 

Live and in Living Color!

And now, the moment you have all been waiting for – okay maybe not all of you, and maybe not THE moment you have been waiting for . . . but here it is anyway!

Thanks to my lovely wife and the talents and kind assistance of one of our members, here is a video of the latest attempt at a sermon by the ol’ Freightdawg.

Anyone needing (or just wanting) a new preacher – feel free to share.

Thanks, and as always, I appreciate your companionship in the fog . . .

Paul

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.

Boundaries of Brotherhood – The Case for Inclusion

Yesterday I spoke of a struggle I have – and probably share with many others. That struggle is with the concept of boundaries, specifically boundaries of the Kingdom of God. I expressed that by nature I tend to be more exclusivistic (the word I used was Pharisaical), but by virtue of intellectual process I know that my “gut” can often be wrong. Today I argue against myself, taking a quick look at those passages in the Bible that let us know that, however much God has revealed of Himself, he is still ineffable, transcendent, and Holy. God is God, and we dare not attempt to tell him what he can or cannot do.

I suppose we need to begin with Ishmael. We all know that Isaac was the chosen son, the son of promise – the one from whom the nation of Israel was to come. Let us not, however, dispense with Ishmael so cavalierly. We learn that Ishmael was to be “blessed” by God, and he himself would be the father of 12 princes (foreshadowing Jacob, anyone?). A few verses later we learn Ishmael was circumcised along with Abraham, and all those who were a part of Abraham’s entourage, whether natural born or bought as slaves (Genesis 17:20, 22-27). The point of the story is clear: Isaac is the chosen son, the son of promise. Ishmael was not forgotten, however – he was a natural “child of Abraham.”

Another text that gives me pause is Amos 9:7. Remember the story of God delivering the Israelites from Egypt? Well, apparently God is in the delivering business for a number of nations, because he pointedly reminds the Israelites that he had done the same thing for the Philistines and the Syrians. Yes, I know – Israel is the chosen people, the “family” of God. Just as with Ishmael, however, God’s reach extends slightly further than Israel wanted to admit. Sometimes God has to remind Israel of that fact.

Another text that causes grief between my gut and my head is John 10:16. In the great passage of the Good Shepherd (we all love that passage, right?) Jesus had this to say, “And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them in also, and they will heed my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:16) Now, I know (or at least I believe I know) to whom Jesus is referring – the “flock” of the Gentiles to whom he would be sending his disciples after his death. What I want to point out is that at the moment Jesus is speaking these words, the disciples had absolutely no idea that this other “flock” would even be considered for salvation – unless, of course, they would change and become exactly as they (the original flock) were. It actually took a fairly significant kick in the seat of the pants to get the first flock to welcome the second flock into the fold. Point is – there was a second flock the first flock had no idea existed. To Jesus, however, it was just one flock that had not been unified yet.

I could go on here to point out the Ethiopian eunuch, Cornelius, and the church council of Acts 15. The people of Israel, the Jews – God’s chosen people – were very slow to recognize and to welcome this “other flock.” The inclusion of this “other flock” did not meet their standards of propriety. God’s plan did not work like their plan did. They wanted to draw the boundaries of brotherhood in one fashion – and God had another design entirely. It took a while, but God’s design finally won.

Now, before everyone lines up to melt the tar and pluck a goose, I am NOT arguing here that any and every “religion” is equal to New Testament Christianity. I have not ever, do not now, nor will I ever, argue that “all roads lead to heaven.” I hope that I have clearly stated my understanding that the covenant promise begins with Isaac and ends with Jesus. My only point in this little exercise is to illustrate that it is God who draws the boundaries, and sometimes those boundaries were just a little bigger than what his followers were able to see. If God is God, then we must always bear in mind that, while we must always and in every way follow his commands and submit to his will, there will be areas of his reign that we simply cannot understand. He has given us everything we need to know (2 Peter 1:3-4), but that does not mean that he has given us everything that HE knows.

To be blunt: I know what God expects of me, but I can place no expectations upon God. I must accept the boundaries that God has created, whether I agree with them or not.

Tomorrow: I return to my instinctual perspective, and argue the case for exclusivity.

It Really Is Not About Us

Worship is not about us. Worship is about the One who created us, suffered for us, and redeemed us. Worship is not about style or place or who stands behind the podium. Worship is certainly not about the podium. Worship is about submitting ourselves to the  one who is worthy of our worship. When we measure worship by human standards, we remove God from the center and place ourselves on His throne. Worship can never be about us.

Prayer is not about us. Prayer is not trying to get God to align with our wants, wishes, and goals. Prayer is about aligning our hearts and bodies with God’s designs and goals. Prayer is about transforming our mind into the mind of Christ. Prayer is the path to sanctification. Prayer is not about us.

Evangelism is not about us. Evangelism is about the God who calls all of us to be reconciled to him. When we decide that we have to have a “method” or a “style” of evangelism, we make evangelism to be about us. When we are more focused on the “unchurched” or the “unsaved” rather than the God who calls all people into community and salvation, we have made evangelism about us. When we can list exactly how many people have been baptized but we cannot name a single person who has been discipled we have made evangelism about us. We can never make evangelism about us.

Bible study is not about us. We do not study the Bible to confirm our prejudices or certify our phobias. Bible study is about learning the mind of God – through the mind of Christ. We do not worship the Bible, but we use the truths found in the Bible to lead us to worship the God revealed in those truths. We must never make Bible study about us.

When we make anything about us, everything disintegrates, because we are broken, fallible, human beings. All division, all sectarianism, all animosity of any sort has its roots in the fact that some person or group made some aspect of the church all about them. From the most arcane and virtually incoherent arguments about the nature of the trinity down to the whether women can preach or pass the communion trays, sectarianism boils down to one ugly little proposition: we are like God, knowing right from wrong, and we don’t have to pay attention to what God said, because we are at the very least as smart as God, and therefore we can direct our own paths. When everything is about us there is no room left for the Creator, and certainly not for the Crucified One.

What we see in far too many congregations today is tragically the result of making the church about us. We have put ourselves front and center, and worshipped our reflection in the mirror. As the culture around us becomes even more narcissistic, I fear the situation in the church will only get worse.

There is a solution – there is a remedy for this malaise. But we have to get one thing straight first.

It really is not about us, at all.

Dialog vs. Fellowship?

Okay – contrary to my usual over-wordiness, this post will be relatively short (yea, right, I bet you’ve heard that one before).

The subject comes from a conversation that I had yesterday with a peer (and to hide everyone’s identity – I will speak in the most general of descriptions). We were discussing many things theological, and in the middle of the conversation he mentioned a distinction that I do not think I have used, or even been aware of. Maybe I have, and just forgot it. Anyway – it was striking to me and so I thought I would throw this out and see if it resonated with anyone, or if anyone had any comments or feedback.

The comment was this: he is a member of a large denomination, one in which there are some smaller fellowships. His particular association is fairly conservative, and another of the groups which share the same name is, in his estimation, beyond liberal. So, in our conversation he mentioned that he is in dialog with many religious groups (both inside and outside of his denomination) even though there might not be any true “fellowship,” but he (and his association) cannot even be in dialog with this other group which, (at least nominally) they should be in fellowship with.

That got me to thinking – what difference does it make to be in “dialog” with a group, but at the same time refuse to be in “fellowship.” What “lines” exist for deciding that fellowship cannot be maintained, but healthy dialog can occur? And, at the next level, what line (or lines) must be drawn that, when crossed, mean there can be no “fellowship” between groups, or individuals within those groups?

Clearly, as the New Testament is silent on the issue of “denominations” (in the New Testament there is only the church, and heretics and schismatics outside of the church), there can be no clear and unambiguous teaching from the pen of the gospel writers or the later apostolic letters. However – is there no counsel at all?

Somehow this is a new concept for me (sorry if you have traveled down this road before – more than one person believes me to be a Luddite, but I digress). I would love to be in dialog with a number of individuals – but in order for there to be dialog there must be some basic assumptions, and one of those assumptions is that there must be mutual respect. I can dialog my peer with whom I was conversing, even though we come from very different perspectives, because he is firmly convinced of his own position, but, at least in my presence, is respectful and generous to listen to what I have to say.

Sadly, he is more willing to listen to my convictions than are some of my “family members” within the Churches of Christ. That is why what he had to say about dialoging with groups outside of his denomination, even though dialog with those who share the name of his denomination was no longer possible, resonated with me so powerfully. I’ve been there too, I just could not verbalize it the way he said it. It’s the same experience I had at Fuller Theological Seminary. I could not “fellowship” with many of my classmates, but we had some wonderful (and at times heated) dialog.

Comments? Feedback? Threats of excommunication?

Thanks for flying in the fog today . . .

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