BLOG 4.19.19. BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU HECKLE

BLOG 4.19.19. BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU HECKLE

People who toss out heckles at political events might need to be careful, especially when using scripture as part their heckles, as happened at a Pete Buttigieg rally the other day. Hecklers  were on his case because he is openly gay, and were chanting: “Sodom and Gomorrah, Sodom and Gomorrah …” While it is true that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because of the violent homosexual behavior in the Genesis account (and from which, I assume, the designation sodomy derives), that is evidently only one dimension of their wickedness.

Skip over the centuries to the prophecy of Ezekiel (16:49-50) and you will find this interesting for the reason Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed: “Behold, this was the sin of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” Economic sins loom very large in the teachings, especially in the Old Testament prophets, but also in the teachings of Jesus, … like: “Blessed are you poor. Woe to you rich.” The significant Biblical studies on homosexuality seem to come down to the conclusion that it is promiscuous homosexuality that is being condemned, not loving permanent commitment. (You can pursue that is you will, but it’s a complex bit of scholarship).

But economic sins, most especially neglect of the helpless poor are omnipresent and unequivocal. Take that them into the current presidential race and where it goes. There seems to be little doubt that control of political policy is in the hands of the wealthy powers, the PACs, the lobbies, and other influences at the disposal of the 1% who control the wealth. If one is inclined to be a heckler at a political rally, and choose to use scripture as a weapon, you will probably not get much traction heckling the rich.

People who tout themselves as ‘evangelical Christians’ seem to be pretty ignorant of huge Biblical themes such as economic justice, or the care of the environment, or racial prejudice, or the proper role of government in establishing peace and order and justice for all of its citizens. In a sense, the Occupy Wall Street movement a few years ago was much more of a prophetic movement that all too many religious gatherings. Scriptures don’t dodge controversial issues, and such prophetic issues need to be taught as part of discipleship.

The care of the poor, naked, homeless, unjustly imprisoned are the criteria with which Jesus taught that he would separate the sheep from the goats at his return. Candidate Buttigieg is openly gay, but is also a devout Episcopalian for whom scriptures form his ethics, and his platform. Check out the several candidate’s platforms and see how they reflect these Biblical priorities. It’s an interesting study.

 

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BLOG 4/15/19. FROM POLITICS TO THE MISSION OF GOD

After a hiatus of three months, first due to work on a manuscript on disciple-making, but more so because of an unexpected accident that took me off the scene, … I am returning to my twice a week blogs, to share with my subscribers and readers some of my thoughts about the mission of God, or of the mission that God has given to the church. I define myself as a missional-ecclesiologist. Precisely what it is that Jesus is creating his church to be and to do. Certainly not to be a pleasant gathering of religiously inclined who gather to passively enjoy the liturgy week by week.

So, I was fascinated yesterday (as the presidential campagn heats us) to listen to the announcement by Mayor Pete Buttigeig that he is entering the 2020 race. He is remarkably well-informed and articulate, but there were a couple of points that translate easily into understanding the mission of God. First of all, everyone who knows him comments on how carefully he listens to whomever he is talking. He tunes-in to people very thoughtfully. Having just finished my thoughts on disciple-making I am keenly aware of essential that we listen to the persons to whom we are talking, taking time to clearly understand some of the pieces of their lives and engagements that are part of their formation as disciples. There is no one-size-fits-all model for disciples. All being to the calling all the factors that make them who they are, and are the influences in which they seek to obey Christ’s calling.

For Mayor Pete, this is one of the factors that has made him so popular as mayor, and has been taken note of by so many others. As we are called to be engaged as those who are called to be the missionary arm of the Holy Trinity, to be listeners is an essential. Jesus asked his first inquirers: “What are you seeking?”

The second thing that caught my attention (as a missiologist ) was his vision for the nation’s future with all of the cultural, generational, ethnic, and other inescapable challenges. His insistence that we can’t go back, we must create a whole new generational culture that looks at the realities and problems that have no easy answer. It does not suffice to want to make the nation great again. We can never go back.

So, with the church. Patterns that have been present for centuries of church institutions formed in the Christendom era do not accomplish the mission of God in a post-Christian culture of self-satisfied humanism. (Which is why I wrote Homebrew Churches: Reconceiving the Church for Tomrrow’s Children). There is an unquestionable need for those communities of faith in which God’s people “teach and admonish one another” but it will take many forms to meet hugely diverse needs in various contexts. Like tomorrow’s politics, tomorrow’s church will require a new generation of creative leaders.

I’ll be coming back to this, now, in these blogs. I’m thankful for being able to hear from you and to share with you. Peace.

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BLOG 4/15/19. FROM POLITICS TO THE MISSION OF GOD

BLOG 4/15/19. FROM POLITICS TO THE MISSION OF GOD

After a hiatus of three months, first due to work on a manuscript on disciple-making, but more so because of an unexpected accident that took me off the scene, … I am returning to my twice a week blogs, to share with my subscribers and readers some of my thoughts about the mission of God, or of the mission that God has given to the church. I define myself as a missional-ecclesiologist. Precisely what it is that Jesus is creating his church to be and to do. Certainly not to be a pleasant gathering of religiously inclined who gather to passively enjoy the liturgy week by week.

So, I was fascinated yesterday (as the presidential campagn heats us) to listen to the announcement by Mayor Pete Buttigeig that he is entering the 2020 race. He is remarkably well-informed and articulate, but there were a couple of points that translate easily into understanding the mission of God. First of all, everyone who knows him comments on how carefully he listens to whomever he is talking. He tunes-in to people very thoughtfully. Having just finished my thoughts on disciple-making I am keenly aware of essential that we listen to the persons to whom we are talking, taking time to clearly understand some of the pieces of their lives and engagements that are part of their formation as disciples. There is no one-size-fits-all model for disciples. All being to the calling all the factors that make them who they are, and are the influences in which they seek to obey Christ’s calling.

For Mayor Pete, this is one of the factors that has made him so popular as mayor, and has been taken note of by so many others. As we are called to be engaged as those who are called to be the missionary arm of the Holy Trinity, to be listeners is an essential. Jesus asked his first inquirers: “What are you seeking?”

The second thing that caught my attention (as a missiologist ) was his vision for the nation’s future with all of the cultural, generational, ethnic, and other inescapable challenges. His insistence that we can’t go back, we must create a whole new generational culture that looks at the realities and problems that have no easy answer. It does not suffice to want to make the nation great again. We can never go back.

So, with the church. Patterns that have been present for centuries of church institutions formed in the Christendom era do not accomplish the mission of God in a post-Christian culture of self-satisfied humanism. (Which is why I wrote Homebrew Churches: Reconceiving the Church for Tomrrow’s Children). There is an unquestionable need for those communities of faith in which God’s people “teach and admonish one another” but it will take many forms to meet hugely diverse needs in various contexts. Like tomorrow’s politics, tomorrow’s church will require a new generation of creative leaders.

I’ll be coming back to this, now, in these blogs. I’m thankful for being able to hear from you and to share with you. Peace.

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BLOG 1/18/19. A WORD OF EXPLANATION TO MY SUBSCRIBERS

BLOG 1/18/19. A WORD OF EXPLANATION TO MY SUBSCRIBERS

In my last blog (1/15/19) I broached the subject of disciples and disciple-making. Those are such commonly used, and s commonly misunderstood or misused, that I have become consumed with an interest of how I could use the lessons I have learned over a long career of grappling with this Biblical mandate in order to provide some realistic orientation into this formative New Testament concept. This has been provoked by my disappointment in some well-meaning recent books, which while containing some helpful principles, … in my mind were too ‘gimmicky,’ too wedded to a ‘one-size-fits-all’ pattern (that doesn’t always fit!).

After all, every disciple is a unique personality with often-complex traits, … and every disciple-maker, likewise. Then there is the ever-changing cultural context that often has so many ambiguous components, in which context of change this discipline takes place. Disciple-making is not learned in the abstract, or in a classroom, but in practice. Yes, Jesus did spend time instructing his twelve disciples in private (what with their diverse ages and personalities) and in public, but then he sent them out to put into practice what he had taught and modeled for them.

They, in turn, could return and ask him questions, and express doubts or confusion to him. But at least they had a primary model in Jesus, and disciple-makers do indeed need some kind of a model. They could watch him engage in all those encounters with real persons along the way. They also kept making mistakes, and ‘tripping over their own feet.’ Yet, that is a part of the learning process. Paul would later write the Philippians: “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9).

All of this is to explain that recently I have been provoked and encouraged to write into some sort of a publication what might be my own lessons-learned about disciple-making. This will consume my thinking, and may also may these blog erratic for a few months. Somehow, I hope to share some wisdom learned that will help us to be purposefully contagious Christian men and women. Disciple-making should certainly be a sine qua non for all of us who signed-on to be Christ’s faithful disciples by virtue of our baptismal/confirmation vows. When we come to Christ by faith, it is something like my signing a ‘statement of consent’ to allow my cardiologist to perform heart surgery on me, i.e., we give Christ consent to live out his life and mission through ours.

It is also a constant reminder that those who do Christ’s will are the ones who are his disciples. This writing projcect is an intimidating task for me to undertake, but if it will be purposeful for some, then it is worth it. I would covet your prayers.

Thank you

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BLOG 1/15/19. WHAT ON EARTH IS A ‘DISCIPLE’?

BLOG 1/15/19. WHAT ON EARTH IS A DISCIPLE?

As per the New Testament gospel recorder, Matthew, Jesus’ parting mandate to his followers was to: “go and make disciples from every people-group/nation in the world …” Fine. So, what does such a ‘disciple’ look like in flesh and blood? For starts, he tells them that they are to teach these disciples to observe all that he has commanded them. Somehow, then, they are to be equipped to be the practitioners of Jesus’ teachings. Okay, but what kind of people are these disciples. Well, if Jesus’ own twelve disciples are any examples, they are personalities from all over the map: young, old, gentle, abrupt, … a semi-agnostic, a betrayer, some profane fishermen, and some who are never defined.

So, Jesus takes them as raw material. They began as some curious individuals, who had somehow come into contact with Jesus—some through the preaching of John the Baptist, and some through coming into contact with Jesus himself as he initiated his public career as an itinerant preacher. Their curiosity provoked them to ask: “Where are you staying?” His response was: “Come and see,” i.e., “If you want to know, come spend time with me. Get close. Watch me. Listen to what I am saying. Ask questions. Tell me what you are thinking,” etc.”

Long story, short: that is the essence of disciple-making. Jesus takes the raw material of these seriously curious, and very diverse men …[please, please note that this was a male dominated culture, but some of the most faithful disciples were the women, who were always there, from his mother Mary to the women who were the first at the tomb on Easter morning] … and  chose the twelve to spend three years being formed by his teachings, his way of life (life-style) and his mission to inaugurate God’s New Creation.

This meant that when he told them to: “Go make disciples!” He was saying that they were to do to others exactly what he had done with them, to spend such significant time with others that they would be formed into the image of Christ. They would form other disciples in both the message and the praxis of God’s New Creation through Jesus Christ. They still were not there, however. Disciple-making requires the divine power which would be supplied by the Spirit of the Father and the Son at Pentecost. New Creation disciples are not accomplished by gimmicks, or ten steps. It is a work by God’s Spirit in conjunction with their human obedience.

Jesus had taught them: “Those who have these teachings of mine, and who do them …” are my true disciples. When we first come to Jesus, we bring with us all of the alien baggage of our former ways of thinking, of behaving, and of relating to God. Such requires our existential encounter with God’s design to recreate us into the image of the Son, of Jesus, … so that we look like Jesus in the way they think and live.

Every religion has disciples who are formed by the teachings of their masters: Buddhism, Confucianism, Islam, etc. This is only natural. There are also political disciples, disciples of social and cultural ideologies. … We are called to make disciples who are formed by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and of this mission of inaugurating God’s new creation in and through us.

This is a critical and often overlooked discipline, even in Christian training schools. I was introduced to it enroute through my encounter with a new convert, who innocently asked: “Bobby, I’m new to this Christian stuff.  Could you spend some time with me?” That was the beginning of my own conscious career as a disciple-maker, and of having to comprehend what discipleship was about in authenticity. I learned it is not gimmicky. Paul would say: “Be imitators of me even as I also am of Christ. … To be continued.

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BLOG 1/11/19. THE CHURCH IS AN ‘ALREADY-BUT-NOT-YET’ COMMUNITY

BLOG 1/11/19. THE CHURCH IS AN ‘ALREADY-BUT-NOT-YET’ COMMUNITY

Hey! If you’re looking for the perfect church, I’ve got news for you: It doesn’t exist. That really is a liberating thought. Think what it would be for you and me to have to live in a perfect community, knowing that we were there under false pretenses, and that the church would no longer be perfect with us in it. No, the good news is that the church is a community of real sinners, of imperfect men and women, whose initial confession of faith as they come to faith in Jesus Christ is that we are sinners (which term needs unpacking also).

Any thoughtful person Christian person will respond: “Of course. What else?” And yet there seems to be that continual exodus of folk from so many Christian communities because of their disappointment at the imperfections. One has only to read the New Testament documents to realize that every community addressed was seeking to cope with some shortcoming. In my mind, the most helpful (classic?) work on the communion of God’s people is Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. In it he verbally chastises those who refuse to acknowledge that it is a community of real sinners, and who are seeking an illusion of some other kind of a community of perfect people.

The church is that community of men and women who have been called out of darkness and into the Light by Jesus Christ. It is the community of God’s already-but-not-yet New Creation. It is the company of those so called, who are in process, … and they come from all over the map of hurting, guilty, insecure, fractured, often-pathological, persons. For all that is beautiful in the family of God’s New Creation people, i.e., its wonderful people, its mutual ministries, its worship, its encouragements, its generation of faith and hope and love in our lives together, … for all of that, there is also, sadly, always a lot of ‘crap’, that remnant of our broken-ness, our pre-Christian behavior, our power-struggles, our over-sized (or under-sized) egos, and the often-lack-of-capacity to acknowledge such, and to cast off the works of darkness

When I was dealing with an extremely destructive person, who was not only on my case, but was disturbing the whole community, I was reminded that even the apostle Paul had such an encounter in one Alexander the coppersmith, “who did me great harm.” There is an old tried-and-true rule of the thumb, that one must first go through the illusion, then through the dis-illusion, in order to get to the reality. The disillusion is that one encounters, periodically inside the church community, all those human flaws of sexual misconduct, greed, quests for power and prominence, pettiness, loveless-ness, and other unexpected expressions. We are also told that have an adversary, the devil, who loves to provoke just such disillusioning behavior.

Even so, the church is that community of God’s New Creation which is in process, and indwelt by the holy spirit. It is a community in which “he who would be great among you, must be servant of all.” It is that community, if I can quote Henri Nouwen, where we are to “seek littleness”

All that said: we need one another, more desperately than we know, in this pilgrimage, and in our quest to be faithful disciples. So, some of the gifts of the holy spirit are: longsuffering, patience, gentleness, love, goodness, and self-control—all requirements of God’s in-process New Creation people, God’s already-but-not-yet New Humanity.

Yes, and by-the-way, I do heartily recommend Bonhoeffer’s Life Together, if you want to pursue a fruitful study of the Christian community. It’s worth the effort.

Blessings.

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BLOG 1/8/19. CONTAGIOUS FAITH … VERSUS GOSPEL ASSAULT

BLOG 1/8/19. CONTAGIOUS FAITH … VERSUS GOSPEL ASSAULT

I must confess, up front, that I am a bit shy, and am an introvert, and probably have a life-long inferiority complex, all of which means that I am more than a little uncomfortable when some religious zealot (however sincere and well-meaning they are) assaults me with his/her religious proposition. I say that, having also been my denominations director of the office of evangelism for a term, having taught evangelism as a visiting professor in a couple of seminaries, and having written books about it and given more lectures than I can count on the subject. After all, Paul did encourage his young disciple Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist.” I also am aware that the great commission, given by our Lord Jesus, is his mandate to his followers to “goa and make disciples.”

All of that means that I have had to come to grips with what Christ has mandated us to do, and with who I am, and with how I can become a contagious Christian, who wholesomely and fruitfully communicates the awesome message of Jesus Christ. It also means that I must be sensitive to the post-Christian culture in which we live, and with all of the persons who, in our current social and political scene, have hijacked the designation of ‘Christian’ or of ‘evangelical’ in an attempt to give credibility to their cause.

Maybe even more, it means that in my circle of associations in my neighborhood, or workplace, or school, as I encounter those who have built up anti-bodies against religion, and who see no use in churches, or religions (designated as ‘nones’), … that I have to seek to be and communicate my identification as a follower of Christ as winsomely as possible, and to pull down defenses that are so commonly present.

All that being so, let me pass along to my readers a few principles that I have found useful. First of all, Jesus taught us that as we live out his beatitudes (Sermon on the Mount) that people would see our good works and know that God was at work in our lives. Then he told his disciples that they were to love as he loved, and that people would know by our love that we were his disciples. Our faith is to be visible in our behavior. Which brings me to my own favorite text on this subject, which is from Peter’s second letter. It explains that we are to so live our lives among those outside of the faith, that when they see our good behavior they will be curious about what generates that hope within us, and will ask us a reason for that hope and that we should be prepared to give them a thoughtful answer with sensitivity and gentleness.

I like that.

That being so, when anyone asks me if or why I think or act such as I do, I have a stock ‘one-liner’ which I hand to them, and let them take it from there if they want. I will respond: “Yes, I am an incorrigible follower of the life and teachings of Jesus.” If they want to pick it up, that’s their decision. If they press it a bit further, I can ask them if they have ever read the primary sources/documents of the Christian faith (probably the first three gospels), and if they say they haven’t, I tell them they ought to look into them.

This also works in those unexpected conversations one gets into over coffee or at the corner pub. I want my life to be so contagious, so loving, so illustrative of God’s new creation, … that my conversation partners will ask questions, … and, surprisingly, it frequently does. But it is a principle with me to never assault somebody with a gospel proposition. Rather, I want to demonstrate the love of God in Christ. OK?

 

[If these suggestions are helpful to you, suggest that your friends subscribe to this blog. Thanks.]

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BLOG 1/4/19. WHAT IS MY ANTICIPATION OF THE CHURCH?

BLOG 1/4/19. WHAT IS MY ANTICIPATION OF THE CHURCH?

Face it, it is incredibly easy—too easy—to participate in the Christian church / community and in Christian worship with total attention blindness about what its real purpose it to be for my life, … and never notice. For so many of us formed by the former Christendom culture, ‘going to church’ was a habit, too often engaged in mindlessly. It reminds me of the ditty: “They do it every Sunday. They’ll be over it on Monday. It’s only a habit they’ve acquired.”

I need to continually ask myself: What is my anticipation as I participate in the Christian community, in Christian worship? Or, perhaps more basically: “What is Christ’s purpose and design for the Christian community?” … and not asked mindlessly. I need to ask, on a regular basis: How am I fulfilling my baptismal / confirmation vows (or do I even remember them)? If one enters Christ, by repentance and faith, … then that is a very radical intellectual, moral, and ethical vow. One vows (according to classic baptismal vows) to become Christ’s faithful disciple, to forsake all other lords and loyalties, to renounce Satan and all the forces of evil, and to live, henceforth, only for Christ, … then he / she is can no longer be passive as a fellow participant in that community.

My thesis in all of these blogs is that the church is the communal form of God’s new creation, of God’s new humanity in Christ. That community becomes, thereby, the “dwelling place of God by the Spirit” according to apostolic teachings. One becomes, thereby, a person called to be part of the ministry. In the New Testament documents, there is very little that describes any set form of that community. It was for decades a suspect, often a clandestine community. A key concept in those early documents is the repetitive use of the concept of one another as describing our ministry to one another. In the post-Pentecost description, it only states that they were together in public and from house to house. In Paul’s letter to the Christians at Colosse, they are encouraged to let the word of Christ dwell among them as they minister to one another in songs and hymns and spiritual songs.

All believers, according to Ephesians 4, are to be equipped for ministry. All are to be creators of Christian community, to be contextually and culturally sensitive, to be skillful in communicating the good news of Christ. To be sure, there were those who emerged (and do emerge) in the community as more skillful teachers, disciple-makers, models and mentors, but not as a separate (clergy) class. Neither were there places that were special (sacralized) sanctuaries, though places could become special and meaningful. What that means, though, is that we must be continually asking ourselves about how we conceive of our personal response to the community.

In a sense, the New Testament church was more like the crowd-sourcing of the digital age, than it is by the clergy-sanctuary focus of so much of our contemporary scene. Again, I always need to be sensitive of my / our ministry of nurture and encouragement to the others in the community.

Again: what is my anticipation of the Christian community? How am I being a faithful disciple of Christ as well as a ministering participant to the others? What is the role of the teaching-shepherd, and of the sermon? What is the purpose of the liturgy and music? What is the purpose of the prayers? … I love the prayers of one of the elders in my community who always prays for all of us in our particular places in the 24/ world of home, neighborhood, workplace, vicissitudes, difficulties, … as well as our life together, and for the church’s leadership. How are we together incarnating faithful discipleship?

Let’s begin 2019 in pursuit of such integrity and faithfulness, to be teaching and encouraging one another …for starts.

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BLOG 12/21/18. THE INCARNATION OF GOD IN CHRIST HAS CONSEQUENCES

BLOG 12/21/18. THE INCARNATION OF GOD IN CHRIST HAS CONSEQUNCES

 

The Christmas celebration has been so taken captive by the commercial and entertainment interests of our society, that it has almost ceased to be a time of reflection on the event that changed the course of human history – or as the apostle Paul would state it: is the key to the mystery of human history (Colossians 1:15-27). But, before I take a break from posting these Blogs until after the first of the year, there are a couple of other liturgical observances that the church has historically noted, but which are usually avoided because they are so tragic that they put damper on our superficial understanding of the consequences of the incarnation of God in Christ. In those earlier centuries when the church (primarily the Roman Catholic) began to form the liturgical calendar for the year, they not only did is to assure that the major events of the life and ministry of Christ were annually celebrated, … but they also included remembrances of significant events, and of the ministry of unusually gifted saints into that calendar.

For whatever reason, I became fascinated by this liturgical calendar through the influence of a wonderful and devout Roman Catholic friend, and in my own prayer and contemplation use them as good reminders of faithfulness, and of the consequences of such faithfulness. In the very recent days Pope Francis has elevated Latin American bishop and martyr, Oscar Romero, to sainthood for his opposition to the wickedness of the military government in El Salvador, which provoked his assassination.

But, back to what all this has to do with us in this Christmas season, as we reflect on God’s invasion of human history in Christ, … the God, who in Christ was reconciling the world unto himself. It is interesting to note that in the liturgical calendar, the day after Christmas, December 26th, is the Feast of St. Stephen the Martyr. Isn’t that interesting? Stephen is our reminder that to be faithful in our calling to herald Jesus as God’s heaven-sent messiah can call forth the wrath of those who dispute that—in Stephen’s case, his Jewish countrymen. (To be honest, he also declared that God does not dwell in temples made with hands, which was to de-sacralize their reverence for the temple in Jerusalem, which didn’t go down well with his opponents). Stephen was a deacon, a servant to others, who was also a witness to God’s anointed Son, as the long-awaited messiah of the Jews.

Thus, the church along the way, declared that on the day after the celebration of the nativity, it should celebrate the first martyr of the Christian church. That would be followed on December 27th by the Feast of John the Apostle. … then, now note: December 28th is the Feast / Remembrance of the Massacre of the Innocents – of King Herod’s attempt to stamp out any competitors to his rule through a “king of the Jews,” whom the wise men were seeking. He did this by destroying a whole generation of young boys, which caused great lament and grief in the land. Thus, the church wanted us to never forget the innocent victims of human rage against God’s messiah. These two post-Christmas feast days are, to me, a necessary reminder to avoid any sense of ‘triumphalism’ in our Christian calling, … plus that there are many innocent victims, who through no fault of their own become the tragic result of human fear and wickedness. (Now, less that sound too remote, let me remind my readers of the current tragedy of children being forcefully separated from their parents, or being tear-gassed on this nation’s southern border, people who through no fault of their own were fleeing in fear the violence of their home countries in Latin America.) Yes, the massacre of the innocents is not to be consigned to ancient history. It is present today in many places of the earth.

With those sobering reminders of two liturgical feast days, may these immediate days, for you, find time for reflections on the meaning and consequences of Christ’s nativity.

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BLOG 12/18/18. THE “ONE ANOTHER” COMMAND OF JESUS

BLOG 12/18/18. THE “ONE ANOTHER” COMMAND OF JESUS

I think that if I were to write another study[1] on the nature and mission of the church (ecclesiology), I would write the first chapter on the inescapable prominence of the one another dimension of that church in the New Testament. I would begin with Christ’s great commandment: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have love you, you are also to love one another” (John 13: 34). That is not a suggestion, but an essential mandate and component in the formation of the church as the communal form of God’s new creation/new humanity in Christ. It is not a command that one takes lightly. The love of Christ for us was totally self-giving. It was servant love. He taught his followers that if anyone wanted to be great among them, then he/she must become servant of all.

It also challenges the whole subverted concept of the church as an institution with custodial professionals (clergy) and passive membership. It is a community in which the ministry belongs to every member, and whose gatherings are to be communities of equipping and practicing just such forgiving, reconciling, ministering, mutual love is incarnated/fleshed-out in its relationships. It is also costly and realistic. It is a community in which we actually confess our sins to one another, in which we bear one anothers burdens, share our lives, deal with our differences, … are able to rebuke and reprove one another.

But it is a community of love that is visible: “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples in that you love one another.” In this increasingly sterile and secular post-christian culture, in which such concepts as religion, or church, are hardly comprehended, relationships of this kind of love point beyond themselves to some ultimate reality that actually calls for such self-giving love.

It is also not the kind of relationships that can be accomplished on an iPhone, or in a G-mail (such digital tools are useful for connecting, and passing along information, but can be a hindrance, even and obstacle to true and intimate one another communication). One another love requires significant time spent together in which we come to understand one another more deeply. Working through misunderstandings, and differences of personalities, … through hurts as well as joys and accomplishments, through all of the complexities and ambiguities that we perceive in one another.

Critical to such one another love is the discipline of listening deeply to one another. It is a love that is somewhat defined by the fruits of the Holy Spirit listed in Galatians 5, which in reality is the life of Jesus living in us by his Spirit, and so lived out in our human relationships. It is such that makes the church the incarnation of God’s new humanity in Christ. It is for the creation of such that Jesus came, suffered, and died, i.e., in order to reconcile us to God and to give to us the ministry of reconciliation with one another.

Chew on that over this Christmas season, when we celebrate not only Christ’s first coming, but also his expected return when he receives his Bride, which is the church and is being formed into his image and likeness in the meantime, and so incarnating its obedience to the one another commandment. … To be continued …

 

[1] My own pilgrimage in seeking to understand and communicate the church’s essence can be found in several books in print, under my name: Robert Thornton Henderson, and available on Amazon.

 

 

 

 

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