BLOG 8/14/18. CLARIFYING THE PASTORAL ROLE IN THE CHURCH

BLOG 8/14/18.  CLARIFYING THE PASTORAL ROLE IN THE CHURCH.

I have often heard, all too often, the charge that the church, and especially the pastor, was indifferent to some crisis or difficulty in a person’s life. Often that accusation was aimed at me in my decades of pastoral ministry. So, let me take a shot at seeing if I can give some clarifying context to the role of the pastor.  First off, the very word pastor is synonymous with that of shepherd, which was rich in meaning in the scriptures, i.e., the shepherd loves his sheep, and calls them by name.

Secondly, God doesn’t intend that any one of his people shall languish in anonymity. When the 600,000+ Israelites came out of captivity, strong leaders were chosen and that large number was broken down into units of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. This, of course, within their twelve tribal units. No one was to be anonymous. As their history unfolded with all its tumultuous episodes, we come to their paradigm king David, who was revered as the shepherd-king. As this structure all began to unravel, and the nation became oblivious to their reason for being, and forgot their covenant constitution which was the Torah, any accountability faded, and their behavior began to reflect the nations around.

Stick with me here. When the “greater than David” or God’s anointed servant-messiah appeared on the scene in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, it is instructive to see how he began to bring into being a new community that would be the living-breathing demonstration/incarnation of God’s New Humanity. Here ,no one who was his follower was to be anonymous. Jesus was the great Shepherd, the “bishop and shepherd (e.g. pastor) of our souls” (I Peter 2:25).

So, then, how did he implement this new community (which was soon to become vast) so that no one got lost, so that each person had a name and a face, and a story. The answer is two-fold, and very instructive. As more and more people began to respond to his message and to his person, and become is followers, … Jesus selected just twelve, and invited them to come and be with him. Those twelve became his intimates. He knew their personalities (and even that one of them would betray him), their strengths and weaknesses. They felt free to ask him questions, and to air their doubts. He, in turn, taught them to duplicate his ministry of preaching and healing. So, that toward the end of his pre-crucifixion presence with him, he would announce that who he was and what he had done was the foundation upon which he would build his church. The clear implication for the twelve was that they would be responsible to be and do the very same kind of ministry after he had left them.

Twelve is still a very helpful number. One cannot be an intimate, or be in a sensitive inter-active relationship with large numbers. One also cannot be anonymous in such a group. It is here that we can interact, share strengths and weaknesses, confess our failures, encourage one another, laugh together, and also to actually pastor one another. Even after the Pentecost event, we find the apostles teaching to a crowd of thousands, … but then those thousands met together “house to house.” Out of those house-to-house units emerged those more mature participants, those who were looked to for wisdom. They were the authentic practitioners of the faith. Pastoring and teaching were gifts given to individuals for the building up of the saints.

Our problem may have to do with the subversive creation of something designated as clergy, by which church leadership is endowed upon someone with an academic degree in divinity, and the approval of some ecclesiastical body.  That is not a Biblical practice or category!

In my own career, I often taught to congregations of many hundreds from the pulpit, but I could only be God’s pastor to the much smaller number in house churches, or gatherings around the table. I, and the church, could indeed be oblivious to real destructive or traumatic things going on in those who were keeping themselves aloof or anonymous, or hiding behind a churchy persona. I hope you catch my drift. Our pastoral ministry to one another is for another Blog.

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BLOG 8/10/18. CHRIST’S FOLLOWERS NOT SOME OTHERWORLDLY BUNCH

BLOG 8/10/18. CHRIST’S FOLLOWERS NOT SOME OTHER-WORLDLY BUNCH

We need to stop and remind ourselves regularly that our calling to be followers of Jesus Christ does not make us escapists from the often complex and grim realities of our present-day context. We are not called to be otherworldly, or “so spiritually-minded that we are of no earthly use.” I well remember as a pastor (a couple of decades ago) when the Roman Catholic council of bishops rendered a stinging critique of our government’s military policies. One of my members was a retired officer from the armored cavalry, and he was irate at me for affirming the bishops. I reminded him that they were a highly respected company of church leaders. His response was: “Maybe so, but they don’t know anything about the military.” He was so miffed that he left the church.

That maybe a bit of an extreme illustration, but we need to remember the foundations of our faith. Jesus was the Word of God made flesh and blood and dwelling among us. Our most common prayer makes the initial petition that God’s kingdom will be coming on earth as it is in heaven. This means that the invasion of God’s tomorrow will be taking place in our today, … or that God’s already-but-not-yet New Creation will be an ever present and transforming reality among us.

It was the giant theologian, Karl Barth, who commented that “we must do our theology with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” To be oblivious or uninvolved in the realities of the community around us, economically, politically, morally, and socially, what with all the complexities and ambiguities is a contradiction of our calling to be God’s New Humanity, and the demonstration of his passion for this very present and broken world that Jesus came to seek and to save. We are called to be radical humanitarians, champions of justice, of peace, and of order.

We will undoubtedly make some mistakes, but our ultimately authority is in Jesus Christ, and we live with his word in one hand and our daily newspaper in the other. Such people are springs in the desert, pools of water in the barren valleys of this present engagement.

What an exciting and all-consuming calling that is. It can be dangerous, but it is never dull.

That’s all I wanted to say.

Blessing on you in that calling.

 

[http://wipfandstock.com/subversive-jesus-radica-grace.html]

 

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BLOG 8/7/18. “CHRISTIANS … ALIENS IN THE OWN NATIVE LANDS”

BLOG 8/7/18. “CHRISTIANS … ALIENS IN THEIR OWN NATIVE LANDS”

Don’t we live in confusing times politically? what with so much deception, the dodging of responsibility, the ever-present power of wealth and greed, a seeming absence of any strong sense of justice and humanitarian concern by so many in places of power, and the heart-breaking accounts of the victims of all of this? But then, we are not the first to live in such times. It has been that way since the beginning of the church. Consider these words from a second century official to his superior: “These Christians … live in their own native lands, but as aliens; as citizens, they share all things. Every foreign country is to them as their native country, and every native land as a foreign country” (Letter to Diognetus, from Pliny the Younger).

Sound familiar?

Or maybe the words of the prophet Jeremiah to the Hebrew exiles in a foreign country: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray for the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:7). Yes, to be sure, these United States are not our primary country. We live as part of a trans-national holy nation, which lives under the authority of its Lord, Jesus Christ, and under obedience to his radical teachings of peace and order and justice. Our ultimate authority belongs to that one “by whom and for whom all things exist.” Yet, at the same time he places us in the very real temporal nations, in order to be his own salt and light, to be the “sweet aroma of Christ” to our neighbors.

In the background of our formation is always that reality that Jesus is the One in whom the “mystery hidden for ages and generations is now revealed” (Colossians 1:26 in loc). This means that we have a two-fold stewardship in the here and now, i.e., we are primarily citizens of the kingdom of our God and of his Christ, and yet we are commissioned by him to also be his responsible citizens in the very real places in which we live (which can often be non-congenial, even hostile to this calling).

What does this mean, basically?

It means that we must speak the language of our cultural setting, its vernacular, its idiom, its images. We must speak its language. We live in a nation of a whole mosaic of sub-cultures and tribalism: neighborhoods, workplaces, political parties, recreational clubs, … those with whom we hang-out. We’ve got to know the language. We’ve also got to be engaged in its dynamics, but not captive to its power structures, its principalities and powers. We live in a culture so often defined by its “sullenness and hyperactivity” and yet as the incarnation of the love and joy and hope given us as we are in Christ.

It also means that we need to expose it lies, its deceptions, and those of its leadership, and to understand the social pathologies that infect it and make it less humane, less given to justice and peace and order. We identify with those in the political context of our setting who demonstrate such, even though they may be totally unfamiliar with that which motivates us. We are not (as has often been said) primarily Republicans or Democrats, but we seek to place our support behind those in either party who espouse those principles that are at the core of Jesus agenda for reconciliation. And … we vote our Christian conscience!

We are, after all, the light of the world, and the salt of the earth, … not someplace else, or in some other time, but in the here and now, at this moment, it will never return. At this place and at this moment in history is … our high and holy calling. It will never return. Go for it!

 

[If these Blogs are provocative and helpful to you, recommend them to your friends. Thanks.]

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BLOG 8/3/18. THE PLATFORM OF JESUS’ NEW CREATION

BLOG 8/3/18. THE PLATFORM OF JESUS’ NEW CREATION

A couple of generations ago, Martin Marty was the very prominent and distinguished and brilliant church historian on the faculty of the University of Chicago. He was also a columnist for a journal, land a frequent author of articles. But what made him so much fun was his puckish and unpredictable sense of humor. It was during a presidential campaign in the early 1970s that he wrote an outrageous and imaginative article in which  Jesus, in a post-resurrection appearance, was pursued by a political group to run for president. (My memory is that Jesus was reluctant, but acceded to their proposal for some reason knowing he could never win an election.)

In this imaginative episode, the reporters were trying to find out what his platform would be. Jesus’ response was brief: “I thought I made that quite clear when I was on earth!” As they pressed him, he kept responding to how much that was done in his name had nothing to do with what he taught, and was often a contradiction of his teachings. That article is a bit dim in my mind these decades later, but the essence of its insights comes to mind in our present confused and distressing political scene when so many misappropriate the name of Jesus in an attempted justification of policies that are the obverse, the exact opposite, of what Jesus taught. Consider, that Jesus inaugurated his public ministry with the announcement that he was the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.   (Luke 4:18-19)

This was his announcement, at the very beginning of his messianic ministry, of the platform of God’s new creation, of his messianic kingdom. It is focused on healing he brokenness and distressing helplessness of so many. And, as if that were not enough, Jesus concludes his public ministry, just before his crucifixion, with a statement of what it is that he expects from those who are his followers in verification of their understanding of his Kingdom agenda (check yourself against this). It is that they, like he, would care for the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, the poor and naked, the sick, and the imprisoned. It was his infinite love and compassion for the helpless and hopeless of our communities being incarnated through his disciples.

This was his platform. Toss in his twice repeated sermon (the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, and the Sermon on the Plain in Luke) and you get a brilliant and unmistakable statement of the agenda of Jesus for his people: radical and unselfish love and caring.

This being so evident, for those who profess to use a Christian label to justify their political and economic agendas, who seem to be indifferent to his humanitarian agenda, those who are filled with being against all of those evidences of compassion in our present scene, … proves how very deceived they are in even beginning to understand the platform of Jesus. “Why do you call me: Lord, Lord, and do not do the things that I say.”

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BLOG 7/31/18. A REMARKABLE RESOURCE IN NEW TESTAMENT STUDIES

BLOG 7/31/18. A REMARKABLE RESOURCE IN NEW TESTAMENT STUDIES

I’m not sure that bloggers are supposed to be in the advertising business, or promoting books (there are so many books being published regularly) … but I can’t resist, especially when there appears on the scene a series of commentaries on the New Testament that is so remarkably and skillfully done as a series written by N. T. Wright, and published by Westminster-John Knox under the overall theme of New Testament for Everyone. My comment? Wow!

Let me explain. For fifty years, I sought/attempted to be a skillful preacher-teacher of scriptures out of the pulpit. I was very convinced of the essential role that such teaching is to have in creating well-equipped disciples of Jesus Christ. I knew my limitations, but I was conscientious. I had access, along the way, to major theological libraries and, hence, to the best scholarship of the day. I profited by those engagements in good scholarship. But, then came the equally intimidating task of translating that scholarship into the language and realities of the ordinary mortals to whom I was preaching … that they could identify with. After all, the folk sitting in front of my lectern/pulpit were those who lived a wide diversity of daily occupations, and with the ordinary stresses, doubts, and vicissitudes of a multitude of scenarios.

I was often affirmed by those whom I was teaching, and attained something of a reputation as a better-than-average Biblical preacher. I was involved in various settings with internationally known Biblical scholars, and appreciated their gifts. But, … I often found them, sort of out-there in their own scholarly world and not all that keen on translating that scholarship into a form, and street language, that was understandable and digestible by ordinary folks.

Then, several decades ago, there appeared on the scene N. T. Wright, who was leaving behind him a whole new generation of New Testament scholars who had a whole different flavor, good scholars who were culturally sensitive and could ‘mash’ Biblical scholarship with cultural phenomena so that it became alive and dynamic to its recipients. Wright’s name had passed across my scope, but when I was in a conference with him, and saw him in action, and witnessed his capacity to communicate compellingly, that I sat up and took notice. At that conference it was a new experience to sit in the hotel’s cocktail lounge with Dr. Wright and a half-dozen others, lift a pint, and spend an hour with such a contagious and good-natured personality as he is.

Now, this series of paperbacks on the whole of the New Testament. To say that they are riveting is an understatement. They are compelling, understandable, and Wright exercises his gift as pastor by anticipating the doubts and misunderstandings, as well as the applicability of the texts he is dealing with. I actually look forward to my reading of them each evening, and am the richer and stronger by the encounter with such a remarkable teacher. Simple, profound, rich in insights, engaged with real life.

Do you sense that I am ‘high’ on this resource? You betcha! My highest commendation. What a gift from God this guy has. Twenty-one compact paperback commentaries. That’s my commercial for the day.

 

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BLOG 7/27/18. ECCLESIOLAE IN ECCLESIA … LITTLE CHURCHES

BLOG 7/27/18. ELLESIOLAE IN ECCLESIA, LITTLE CHURCHES IN THE CHURCH

Where are you likely to know where to find a real church? Does this sound like a stupid question? Hey! This, admittedly, is a “fools rush in where angels fear to tread” blog—right up front. Face it, for some it is some traditional church institution that has been around for a long time, and folks get downright idolatrous about such institutions. But then again, there are such a vast number of expressions of the church, so how does on sort out what is real and what is just playing church games?

Shifting gears, however, brings us to the sobering reality that for a considerable segment of this generation of self-satisfied humanism, this post-Christian culture, whatever the church is doesn’t even register with them. It was such a discovery that I made in a coffee shop a couple of years ago when several people, with whom I was in conversation, had no idea what the church was, when they asked me what I had done in my career. It was out of that those encounters that I wrote What on Earth is the Church? An Inquirer’s Guide. Correct. For a whole lot of people, their answer to what is the church is: Who cares?

But, then, for many, along the way, when a lot of questions about life and meaning and hope begin to burble-up in them and the presence of communities of folks who also have grappled fruitfully with these questions emerges into a possibility for them. There can be a lot of disappointments in this quest, but pursuit might well begin to lead them to something that one can call a real church. It may be some traditional old church institution that has maintained its vigorous grasp of the message and mission of Jesus, or it may be a group meeting under a shade tree to share scripture and to sing songs of praise. The forms and patterns are multitudinous.

And then there are those old church institutions, whose lights have essentially gone out, and yet where there are those who have found some refuge there, and so who continue to meet together in what some along the way have described as ecclesiolae in ecclesia, or ‘little churches in the church.’ After all, Jesus never gave us any pattern for the church much beyond: “For where two or three of you are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20). (That “in my name,” however, carries a lot of freight—it means, quite un-equivocally, that those together are together in their affinity for both the message of Jesus and the mission of Jesus! It is not a spiritual tea party were one is free to espouse all kinds of religious stuff.)

The apostle Paul reminded the Christians in Ephesus that he taught them in public and from house. The early church in Jerusalem also had such a pattern of meeting in public and then from house to house. There was public teaching, and then there was the interpersonal processing of that message, and holding one another accountable for it. Such ecclesiolae, or little churches, were (and are) the habitations of the Spirit of Christ, … and, note, they were contagious with the message and the mission. One would be quite secure in saying that they were the primary form of both the message and the mission of Jesus Christ. They were mobile, flexible, versatile, and often temporary, … but they were the agencies of the testimony of Christ to a world desperate for the Bread and Water of Life.

Where to find the church? Where ever you find two or three gathered in the name of Christ! Got it?

 

[http://wipfandstock.com/what-on-earth-is-the-church-14083.html]

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BLOG 7/24/18. THE CHURCH GRAPPLING WITH CHANGE

BLOG 7/24/18. THE CHURCH, LIKE EVERTHING ELSE, MUST GRAPPLE WITH CULTURAL CHANGE, … AND IT’S A TOUGH DISCIPLINE.

The church of Jesus Christ will always survive in some form, but those forms will, of necessity, be ever engaged with the inevitable tides of culture. We read daily of major economic and political institutions, who either come to grips the realities or a changing culture and generational realities, of fade in their inability to relate to that change. And there will always be those believers in Jesus Christ, and who are indwelt by his Holy Spirit—who are the dwelling-place of God by the Spirit—and who find one another and know of their need for one another and so find some manner of connecting with each other in order to show their love, support, encouragement, in mutual instruction within that relationship.

At the same time, those forms that may have been meaningful and fruitful in those communities of nurture yesterday, may become the victims of those very same cultural tides that are affecting every other human community. Yes, there will always be those who wear the garments of peace, the garments of salvation, but their incarnation as the people of God will morph as those communities (conventicles?) are committed to fulfilling their mission to demonstrate God’s New Creation in Christ. To cling to those forms which may have been meaningful and fruitful in the past, may be an act of unbelief.

It may sound like an oxymoron, but the gospel of peace can be very disruptive. Unlike so many merely human communities, the true Christian community sees beyond nationalism, beyond tribalism, beyond comfort-zone religion, or any merely-human scheme to accomplish God’s tomorrow, which ‘tomorrow’ has now invaded our today. This discipline of thinking into God’s tomorrow is of the essence of the Christian discipline of repentance by which we begin to thing and operate in a whole new frame of reference.

Those persons, who have been described by some as “religious Christians” are not up to this, not more at home with what is. They are not, seemingly, capable of engaging in the radical obedience that is required by being Christ disciple in this world of constant new challenges and change. Of course it’s demanding! Nobody ever said that to be a disciple of Jesus was (to quote the hymn) being “carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease.”

One might look at all of the innovations being engaged in by new digital age corporations (such as the innovations in office space by WeWork) and so many start-up companies that become successful, by approaching their goals in ways foreign to former cultures.

Happily, there are a multitude of just such culturally sensitive Christian communities functioning most fruitfully in a very diverse set of contexts, and bearing that fruit which God’s New Creation is called to exhibit, and joyously being God’s people of the Light in what is so often a turbulent, and short-sighted humanity.

This isn’t really new. The church has existed from its very beginning as aliens and exiles, but in recent centuries, in the culture of Christendom, the church settled down to enjoy its gains and to construct human institutions in an attempt to guarantee its role in society—and this is all evaporating very rapidly.

And yet, … our calling is still to herald the gospel of peace to every people group in the world (Matthew 24:14). It’s our calling as Christ’s disciples. It’s what we were made for. And it calls for the cultural sensitivity of all of God’s people: the weak and the foolish and those of no special reputation. This is the harvest field we are called to. “Come, labor on! Who dares stand idle on the harvest plain …”

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BLOG 7/20/18. “WHY ARE YOU ALWAYS SO CRITICAL OF THE CHURCH?”

BLOG 7/20/18. “WHY ARE YOU ALWAYS SO CRITICAL OF THE CHURCH?”

One of my dearest friends would occasionally ask me the probing question: “Why are you always so critical of the church?” My response was to refer her to God’s calling to Jeremiah the (7th century BC) prophet from Israel’s history: “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. … to pluck up and break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (Jer. 1:9-10). I had to explain that God’s calling of Jeremiah was because Israel, which was called to be a holy nation, had long-since forgotten that calling, and had contrived a comfortable religious structure which was high on God’s promises, but totally oblivious and forgetful of the purpose and demands given to it in its own founding, namely its calling to be obey the law, the Torah, which was to define its character which would set it apart from other nations.

God had to send prophets to Israel because they had forgotten Torah, i.e., their own calling, purpose, identity, and instructions.

God also told Jeremiah that it was unlikely that Israel would hear what he was saying, since they were completely self-satisfied with their reinterpreted sense of their uniqueness. Later, God would send Micah (8th century BC) to rebuke Israel again: “… and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” Micah 6:9). One can easily summarize the message of all of the prophets to Israel in a reminder to: remember Torah. Israel could not be a light to the nations if they forgot their calling and the character they were to demonstrate as they conformed to the teachings of the Torah, the Mosaic law.

So, then, here we are looking at so much the ostensible church in the 21st century, which has forgotten that its very designation: ek-klesia (translated into English as church) means ‘called out’. The church is a people called-out to herald in both spoken word, and in obedient lives, the teachings and mission of Jesus. The church is called out to be the continuing presence of Christ in the world. The church is called out to demonstrate God’s New Creation, his kingdom, in flesh and blood community.

Sadly, far too often, the church re-interprets is reason for being into something far less than that. It becomes complacent about its own calling to be the missionary arm of the Holy Trinity, and becomes a merely human religious institution, many of whose members cannot even articulate the teachings of Jesus to which and for which they are called. Those new creation communities may begin well, focused on their calling, and teaching one another and encouraging one another in this calling. But all too soon, forgetfulness sets in, and missional obedience is replaced by entertaining church activities. Their communal lights go out.

I had to explain to my cherished friend and inquirer that one could not “build and plant” positively until all those evidences of forgetfulness and gospel disobedience were exposed, plucked up, broken down, and destroyed. This, I explained, was the necessity of critical rebuke, which also is a God-given ministry.

I hasten to add, that such critical rebuke can easily become a very useless function when it becomes carping criticism born out of selfish dissatisfaction. It must always be done in love, and with positive intent, i.e., with kindness and humility. What this reminds us of is that we need to be continually engage in those disciplines that will keep the  community contagious with message and mission given to us by Jesus Christ when he calls us to himself.

At the heart of our calling is that we are to demonstrate the love of God in all our relationships, in both mutual encouragement and nurture, and in our ministry of rebuke and reproof within the community. “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples in that you love one another.” Run with it!

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BLOG 7/17/18. THE CHURCH NEEDS BOTH ARCHAEOLOLOGISTS AND ARCHITECTS

BLOG 7/17/18. THE CHURCH NEEDS BOTH ARCHAEOLOGISTS AND ARCHITECTS IN THE TURBULENT BETWEEN-THE-ERAS CULTURE

Those of us who inhabit church communities are certainly no more exempt from the turbulence of our present cultural whitewater as we are irresistibly carried along by all of the changes that are taking place in nearly every dimension of our lives. The church which took on many institutional forms over previous centuries has been seeing those institutions become victims of a post-Christian era, and being replaced by a culture formed by a much more secular era, and one so often indifferent to the Christian faith. In my city, here it is now common to see handsome old church sanctuaries demolished and replaced by housing or commercial developments. Denominations become increasingly irrelevant, and the digital age brings us into intimate contact with the presence of other followers of Christ across the globe.

I was in conversation with a gifted bunch of younger men and women a few years ago who were trying to figure among themselves what it would take to be a community that had integrity with what were the essentials of Christ’s intent for the church. A few of the leaders would get together with me from time to time to ‘pick my brain’ about my insights gleaned from decades of leadership in the church. They were a gifted, and not at all a passive group. They would would report in periodically. The day came when they wanted to share one of their insight with me, and I will pass their insights on to you here.

In essence: they shared that they did not want to forsake the treasures of the church’s past, or the lessons the church had learned in, often, extenuating circumstances and seemingly intractable difficulties. Nor did they want to forsake its heritage in the components of purposeful gatherings. But then again, they did not want to be captive to those forms as our emerging era is carried into a digital and global community of ethnic nomads who bring their cultures and religious or irreligious persuasions with them. So, Christian communities in Myanmar will partner with Christian communities in American cities and towns.

That means that the church must be always rediscovering itself, and reconfiguring itself. Their conclusion was simple: they were to be, intentionally, both ecclesiastical archaeologists and ecclesiastical architects, i.e. those who were always retrieving the treasures of the church’s past, and at the same time forming communities that were sensitive to the emerging future. They sensed that having integrity in this nation might well be, at the present historic moment, one of the most difficult what with those forms of communal life that perpetuated overfamiliarity and mindless participation. They were keenly aware that there are abroad in this country and at this moment those who make the most noise about their Christian faith, who seem to be the most illiterate of its essence, which makes those outside the church the more resistant to the true church’s message.

Their insights get very close to home with me. As my own Presbyterian denomination was rapidly losing members, a professional study group did an in-depth study of the causes. Here we were with venerable theological institutions, ostensibly producing good leadership, yet it was the conclusion of the poll that, note, … a denomination of Biblical and theological illiterate laymen and laywomen. Alas! My young friends were sharp enough to know that it takes continual work to maintain a fruitful Christian community in a culture that is rapidly in transition—and yet without losing touch with its rich heritage from the past two millennia. Archaeologists and architects. Indeed, that is a compelling calling for all who participate in such communities.

[http://wipfandstock.com/the-church-and-the-relentless-darkness.html]

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BLOG 7/13/18. CHURCHES IMMUNIZED TO THEIR MESSAGE AND MISSION

BLOG 7/13/18. THE CONTRADICTION OF CHURCHES IMMUNIZED TO THE MESSAGE AND MISSION THAT JESUS GAVE THEM

If this kind of situation were not so tragic it would be humorous, i.e., that landscape is filled with ostensible churches who are totally sterile and non-reproductive. Jesus taught us that we are to be branches of a grapevine (which grapevine is his own life and power), and that it is to be expected that the branches would bear fruit. OK? But what happens when a branch does not bear fruit? What does the keeper of the vineyard do? Simple, he prunes the branch off so that it does not continue to sap the of its intended purpose, which is simply to bear fruit. And the pruned branches are then cast into the fire and burned.

So, then, how does one account for all of those communities purporting themselves to be Christ’s churches that seem totally immune to the obligations of discipleship in knowing the teaching of Jesus and the mission of Jesus, which he committed to his followers? Happily, this is not true of a great host of alive, growing, thriving Christian communities globally, … but it is pathology that needs to be diagnosed and dealt with in all-too-many. Living churches created disciple, which disciples are informed of the message, and engaged in the mission, i.e., disciples make disciples. But when one is somehow immunized to the message and mission, one suspects the subtle wiles of the devil at work. One of the fruits of having been engaged in the church’s leadership, for as long as I have, is to have to observed such subtle subversions take place, and to wonder why?

To that end, let me give you one ‘for-instance’. I had been the pastor of a fairly traditional Presbyterian church for several years. I was well received. We engaged in all the expected functions that churches are to perform. It was a comfortable and congenial company of church members. We had a well-thought-out membership class for those seeking admission into its membership. With that background, I had the bright idea of allowing the congregation to participate in the sermon with me. I was to preach, that Sunday, on the text from I Peter 3 in which Peter tells those of that community (which evidently was living in a very hostile environment) that they should, first of all, live out the lives as illustrations of God’s new creation in Christ, even if it subjected them to harassment and persecution. But, also, they should be ready, peradventure someone one asked them for the reason for their hope (like: “What give with you guys?”), with a thoughtful answer for that hope, and to do it with gentleness and sensitivity.

With that in mind, I proposed to my congregation that as an exercise of that teaching that we take a few minutes, and for them to turn to the person next to them, and to share with them the reason for their hope, their belief in Jesus Christ, the joy of their faith. The response? I could observe that some picked right up on that and happily engaged in such sharing. But then there was also some obvious dismay and embarrassment among all too many. Alas! After the service, one of the prominent first ladies of the church approached me, eyes flashing with anger, and said: “Bob, don’t you ever do that to us again,” and stormed off.

How to explain one so prominent in the community, and yet so immunized to the gospel and its mission? At the end of the letter to the Ephesians, Paul tells those folks to be strong in the Lord and to beware of the wiles of the enemy, i.e. Satan’s subtle schemes to render them immunized to the gospel and to be less than contagious with it in fulfilling his mission. They are to be irresistibly reproductive. And when this is not so in a congregation, then our yellow-lights should blink on. True disciples make disciples. That is the work of the Spirit that enables us to bear much fruit, even in the most unlikely circumstances, … and it is every believer’s responsibility. It is the life of Christ at work in our very human lives. Got it?

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