BLOG 10/19/18. “WHEREVER I AM, I AM THE GLORY OF GOD”

BLOG 10/19/18. “WHEREVER I AM, I AM THE GLORY OF GOD”

A dear friend for nearly fifty years, and one of my great civil rights heroes, is John Perkins. John is very unique in that, on one hand, he is quite modest and self-effacing, and on the other hand is bold as a lion. He grew up as a share-cropper’s son in rural Mississippi where he suffered all of the intense racial injustice and the indignities of those days. He was beaten by law enforcement agents and jailed for engaging in voter registration. He laughs that he was a “third-grade dropout, yet in recent months he has received his fourteenth honorary doctor’s degree—which says something of what has transpired in the intervening years.

His latest book is: One Blood: Parting Words to the Church on Peace and Love (which I heartily commend).

To escape the violence of Mississippi, he and his wife moved to California, where John encountered Jesus Christ, through the witness his son, who was enrolled in a Christian club, and brought the faith home to his father. Whoever mentored, or ‘discipled.’ John did it very well. By that time John had moved up into a management job with a major grocery chain in that region. As he grew in his response to the life and teachings of Jesus, the more he became that he should move back and minister to his own people in Mississippi as both an evangelist and as a Christian community developer in the small town of Mendenhall. He saw the implementation of justice and of economic development as an essential part of the gospel he was preaching. He was very effective, and his reputation began to grow.

My wife and I met him in 1973 when he was speaking at a student conference in southern Mississippi, and we bonded instantly. That friendship has grown stronger over the years. He was so effective that the state of Mississippi later declared an official ‘John M. Perkins Day’ in his honor. As he trained a second generation of leadership to take over the work in Mississippi, John and his wife Vera Mae moved back to do the same ministry in a troubled and crime-ridden section of Pasadena, California. That is where the following conversation took place.

I was in Pasadena to engage in my own mentoring conversations on the campus of Fuller Theological Seminary, but I chose to stay with John. He walked me around is neighborhood, where he had made many friends, and provided educational resources for the youth. He also pointed out to me the drug dealers, and the local color. His wife, at that time was back in Mississippi with a new grandchild. The guest room in their house was also John’s study. On the wall were tributes, honorary doctorates, and even a picture of John in the Oval Office of the White House, with the president.

One evening we were eating out together, and as he was devouring his fish, I asked him: “John, how do you maintain your humility with all of the accolades you have received. He pondered for a moment, and then responded: “Bob, I have to remember that wherever I am, whether chopping cotton in Mississippi, or being received in the Oval Office, that there I am the glory of God.” Wow! Does that ever say worlds? I had grown up as a good Presbyterian kid quoting the answer to the catechism question, that: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” Here was a remarkable practitioner of that affirmation. I have made John’s understanding of that as a principle in my daily prayer disciplines ever since.

‘Wherever I am, there I am the glory of God.” (New Testament scholar Gregory Boyd is helpful when he defines glorifying God as our displaying the divine nature, or embodying the image of the Son of God in whatever the vicissitudes of our daily life might be.) God give us more men and women in this troubled present scene with John’s passion for God’s glory, in which reconciliation and economic justice are also essential expressions of the gospel, of our evangelistic calling. Amen and amen.

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BLOG 10/16/18. DYNAMIC CHURCHES CAN (AND DO) STAGNATE

BLOG 10/16/18. DYNAMIC CHURCHES, AND OF VIBRANT FAITH, … CAN (AND DO) STAGNATE

From the very beginning of its history, the church of Jesus Christ has always been engaged in a struggle to maintain its integrity, it has been warned not to conform itself to the norms of this age but, rather, to be continually transformed by the renewing of its mind. Even so, there has always been the subtle proclivity to (as one scholar put it) displace, dilute, or forget that very raison d’etre for which it has been brought into existence.

This was brought again to my mind after I wrote, in my last Blog, about the phenomenal growth of the Christian church in China. That growth was taking place in the cultural revolution under Chairman Mao, and continues into the present regime, in both its ‘registered’ church’, and more obviously in its ‘underground’ expressions (which are illegal). That being said, it is also true that current studies show that though China is still officially an atheistic government (where all religions are discouraged), it has swung between severe oppression, and turning a blind eye to the phenomenon. These studies also indicate that even the underground church has shown tendencies to stagnate, alas!

As China has emerged more and more into a strong economy, and a more engaged world power, the followers of Jesus Christ have been engaged more inescapably in the results of China’s emergence into the global culture. The observers note several reasons for this stagnation: 1) ageing congregations, i.e., those whose faith persevered and grew under persecution are now a former generation; 2) ‘chasing mammon,’ i.e. national prosperity has not left Christians immune to wanting to acquire wealth; 3) smartphone power, i.e., Chinese Christians can now not be isolated from the other cultures of the world; 4) nationalism, a temptation to put the ‘empire’ before the community of the kingdom of God, to put Caesar before Christ; and 5) false gospels.

Sound familiar?

Such seductions have been present from the first generation of the church. Vibrant Christian communities tend to remain so for one generation, then to become institutionalized and to survive even when stagnant and comfortable in this present age. In that first generation of the church, the apostle war the church to” “be not conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

Strangely enough, the church has been at its best when it was under persecution. When you look at those seven apostolically founded churches in chapters 2-3 of last book of the Bible: The Revelation of John, it is only the two who were undergoing severe tribulation who receive no rebuke, but are praised for their faithfulness to their calling. The rest receive modest or strong rebukes and qualified praise. One has gotten so happily satisfied with its inner communal life that they forgot Christ (left him outside the door knocking). Others were infected by alien teachings, or other compromising factors.

Later, in that same book it is written that in the teeth of persecution God’s faithful church overcame Satan “By the blood of the Lamb, by the word of their testimony, and they loved not their lives even if it cost them their lives” (Rev. 12:11). That overcoming capacity has been reproduced many times over the centuries, but always when extenuating, or severe circumstances made it go back to is founding purpose. The stagnation observed by these scholars of the church in China translates painfully to the churches in the United States that have too often become “stagnant pools of ‘religious Christianity’.” … Ageing, mammon, smartphones, nationalism, and false gospels. And this in the emergence of the first truly post-Christian generational culture, GenZ. Alas!

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BLOG 10/13/18. A HOLY NATION WITHIN A (NOT-SO-HOLY) NATION

BLOG 10/13/18. A HOLY NATION WITHIN A (NOT-SO-HOLY) NATION

Being “aliens and exiles” is nothing new to the people of God, … but it can get confusing if one is in any illusion about its context. It gets more confusing when there are those who identify themselves as the people of God, while at the same time, espousing those governmental personalities and policies that are totally at odds with the teachings of Jesus Christ. It is also challenging when there is a price to be paid in obeying those teachings, whether that be the scorn of acquaintances, or the penalties imposed by governing authorities.

This can readily be seen in China, where the governing Communist government does not placidly countenance anything that challenges the ultimate authority of the state, and only allows the Christian church to exist when it is registered by the state, and when it does not do or say anything that is in opposition to that autonomy. The ‘registered’ church is known as the Three-Self Church (self-government, self-support, and self-propagation), designed by the government to keep it free from foreign influence. (And, to be clear, this is aimed at Protestant churches, the Roman Catholics deal with the government differently, but still exists under government approval.)

Ah! but then there is the other Protestant church, which is the underground church, which, because it operates clandestinely and is unregistered is difficult to quantify. But, it is widely acknowledged that the Christian church in China is the largest Christian church in the world, with estimates ranging from 31 million to 67 million, and projected to reach 110 million by 2030. For our purposes here, it is essential to note that it is with this underground church that the exponential growth is taking place in apartments, homes, out-of-sight locations, and is a church that owns only one Lord, Jesus Christ, and is seeking to be formed by his teachings. Its members know they live under the state authority of the Communist Party, and participate as citizens as they are able, but seek never to forget or compromise their primary calling.

The official Three-Self Church, for the purpose of being able to be public and to meet in public, bows the knee to the Communist ideology. Since the time of the Cultural Revolution under Chairman Mao, the underground church has frequently prospered as communities forming in odd places such as concentration camps. A holy nation existing with an alien culture, not bowing the knee to any Lord but Jesus Christ, … often at the cost of their lives.

This is not new. The Christian church has always been at odds with the ultimate demands of the empire, going all the way back to its clash with the Roman empire at its birth. It the twentieth century it was tragically displayed with the vast majority of the Christian church in Nazi Germany, maintained its security by never challenging the horribly wicket policies of Adolph Hitler. The witnessing church in Germany was the exception, but it had to survive by being underground, and out of sight. Its major figure was the giant Christian leadership of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The political context became so extreme that Bonhoeffer felt he was justified in cooperating in a move to assassinate Adolph Hitler, for which he was ultimately captured and hanged.

The true Christian community is always a community of aliens and exiles. So, at this moment and in our day, it is not sufficient to hi-jack the designation of Christian or Evangelical to justify your legitimacy. The true Christian community is that company of people formed by their obedience to the teachings of Jesus, regarding justice, stewardship of God’s creation, peacemaking, care for the poor, rejection of the power of wealth/mammon, … but primarily by their love. It exists as a holy nation within a nation often anything but holy! This comes at a cost.

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BLOG 10/3/18. I OWE MY READERS AN EXPLANATION

BLOG 10/3/10. I OWE MY READERS AN EXPLANATION

I owe my readers and subscribers an explanation for my silence for these past weeks. Here’s what’s going on: I’m trying to be a good steward of the nonagenarian days of my life, and an interview about my life that took place earlier this year triggered in me some reminiscences that I had long since forgotten. As a result of that, I have set for myself the goal of putting into writing something of a record of the faithful and providential hand of my Great Shepherd in my life. I have had to focus on this alone. It has been a fruitful time of late-life self-discovery for me. I should be able to finalize it in a few more weeks. … then I shall return to my twice weekly Blogs.

That’s it. Peace.

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BLOG 9/21/18. SO, WHAT’S NEW? THERE’S ALWAYS BEEN TRIBULATION.

BLOG 9/21/18. SO, WHAT’S NEW? THERE’S ALWAYS BEEN TRIBULATION

It all seems so bewildering: disrupting and devastating floods on the east coast and forest fires on the west coast, typhoons in the Philippines and China, chaos in our political arena, moral confusion with so many prominent people in high places, opioid devastation in lives, sixty-five million refugees in the world, persecution of religious minorities in Myanmar, human trafficking on a frightening scale, hopeless migrant families being separated, domestic conflicts and divorce, urban crime,  … and on and on …. What is one to think? Is the world coming unglued? Well, actually, no. Jesus forewarned us that tribulation / trouble has been and always will be the normal situation with us.

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Jesus didn’t have rose-colored glasses. The context of Palestine in his day was one of the military occupation by a foreign power, ethnic prejudice, a religious power-structure, with leadership that too often forgotten its own sacred calling and purpose. Sound familiar. Jesus so often addressed these issues, and proposed to his followers that his New Creation transcended all of this tribulation, while not in the least denying it very real and omnipresent reality. At the same time, he commanded an ethic, a way of behavior, that, in turn, demonstrated the love of God for all the fractured persons who occupied the systems of darkness.

Jesus was the great Reconciler, the lover of sinners, the incarnation of God’s righteousness, and the of the God who forgives, recreates, and endows his followers with a “peace that passes understanding” even in the most horrendous circumstances. Jesus was the embodiment of what he was teaching, and became the victim of its worst violence. Such self-giving love has set us free to be the continuing embodiment to that love … always in the context of human brokenness and tribulation.

It is into this brokenness, and with all of its victims, and tragic realities that we find our holy place. C. S. Lewis has one of his characters contemplating the horrendous circumstances that he has just gone through with these reflections: “This chapter, this page, this very sentence, in the cosmic story was utterly and eternally itself; no other passage that had ever occurred or ever would occur could be substituted for it.” (Ransom in Perelandra. p. 146). What he had been through was an encounter with evil in its most vicious personality—a nightmare. And yet his faithfulness to his calling was awesome in its liberating consequences. Ours may never be quite so dramatic, but the reality of ever-present tribulation / difficulties is our ‘normal’ in this age, … in this age where we are the agents and demonstrations of God’s age to come.

Our calling is to be a people of hope, who wear the garments of salvation in the midst of the most mundane, and often tragic, contexts. And would you believe? … it is in such contexts that we are to “rejoice always”?

________________

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BLOG 9/18/18. THE ENIGMA / LIABILITY OUR CELLPHONE CULTURE

BLOG 9/18/18. THE ENIGMA / LIABILITY OF OUR CELLPHONE CULTURE

Let me run a thought by you. I am looking at two inescapable present cultural forces, and struggling to know how to relate them in my comprehension of the realities in which we all live. One is the obvious and fascinating information age culture, what with omnipresent iPhones, iPads, and the whole information age reality, with so many brilliant and mind-boggling new discoveries. I see this reality in web-sites source such as Singularity Hub, and on television accounts from places such as M.I.T. where young geniuses are linking their brains to a computer with all the potential of that. Such information age discoveries hold the potential of solving many of the problems we face in this present moment of history. This is all positive and heartening.

But then, … there is a subtle downside to all of this: an emerging generational culture, while it is the most connected and has access to more information than is imaginable, … that is exhibiting an observable loss in its capacity for significant inter-personal communication, for empathy, of the grace of listening to others with their hearts. This is now becoming an inescapable result of a whole generation’s captivity to their iPhones, while also to its inability communicate eye-to-eye and to ‘tune-in’ to those with whom they interact each day.

Recent studies have indicated that strong home life and communication is one of the major components in a young person’s capacity to learn in school—not at all the superiority of one school (private) over another (public). There are now major sociological studies dealing with what is necessary to reclaim good conversation (e.g. Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle). Such a lost capacity has distressing consequences. To sit at a table with others who are lost in their iPhones is to be a stranger in what should be a context for mutually helpful communication, for listening, for sharing, for laughing together, for asking questions, for confessing hurts and failures.

Another result of this captivity to iPhones is the loss of a capacity to walk through a neighborhood and note things of beauty, or to even acknowledge others who are passing by. Yet to mention this to these persons is to draw a response of indifference, or a “who cares?”

For those of us who are the followers of Jesus Christ, we are always profoundly grateful that Jesus was the very being of God, the Word of God made flesh and “moving into the neighborhood” (Eugene Peterson’s wonderful paraphrase of John 1). Jesus immersed himself in conversation with ordinary, often morally delinquent, or fractured people. To read the gospel accounts is to see One who moved easily among, and engaged in purposeful conversation with people along the way. This call to be in purposeful conversation is an undeniable facet of his command to “love one another as I have loved you.”

His followers are to see all things from his point of view (Colossians 1:9 JBP paraphrase). It is difficult to even imagine how Jesus would respond to this culture that seems so often immune to significant and intimate conversation. The early church came together (as the account in Acts relates it) from house to house in an intimate fellowship, a fellowship in which they shared each other’s lives, confessed their sins, and incarnated an empathy for one another by the dynamic of the Spirit of Jesus which they all shared. And that empathetic love was shared in their outreach in to the larger community.

I could wish that when I and we get together for coffee, or beer, or a meal, that we all could turn-off cell-phones, look each other I the eye and listen with our hearts to one another, … to express empathy with those with whom we are engaged in conversation. Maybe I’m an unrealistic dreamer, but that’s my very inadequate attempt to at least bring to your attention a not-so-subtle pathology that makes true community almost impossible, … and please feed-back your responses to me. We all are participants in these two cultural forces, and I would value your insights. Thanks.

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BLOG 9/14/18. CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP AND ECONOMICS

BLOG 9/14/16. CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP AND ECONOMICS

With all the confusing stuff in our present scene about religion, definitions of the term ‘evangelical,’ scandals in the church, etc. … it might be a good time to stop and take a look at the economic dimensions that are of the very essence of Christian discipleship. After all, the only competitor to God that Jesus names is mammon, i.e., “You cannot serve God and mammon.” This is not a minor factor in the gospel accounts. Jesus, after all, did not go around preaching theological treatises, he called men and women to a whole new understanding of life. What he did was to declare unequivocally that in himself, God’s Age-to-Come, God’s New Creation, God’s eternal kingdom, … has invaded our present age, i.e., has become present in himself. What did was to teach that those who would be his disciples, his followers, would be known, not by their words, but more, by their visible behavior. Then, when you begin to explore what that visible behavior looked like, a major component is that it is seen in one’s faithfulness to a new understanding of the place and use of possessions, and of one’s freedom from the domination of one’s life by money/mammon. Christ’s teachings on New Creation behavior are seen in his Sermon on the Mount / Sermon on the Plain: “Woe to you rich. Blessed are you poor.”

Those outside of the community of faith are hardly impressed by ‘religious talk’ but they cannot escape the reality of lives that have a different center, a different authority, a different creative source, and a different guiding line. … And this is seen in the freedom from self-interested captivity to wealth and possessions. It is seen in unselfish, generous, sensitivity to human need, and so much more. The Latin American Christian community made prominent the term orthopraxis, i.e., the doing, or living out in flesh and blood, the truth in daily life.

Such discipleship, however, requires that we be free from the captivity to possessions(. Jesus was unequivocal in saying that if anyone would come after him, he/she must forsake all that he/she has so that obedience to Christ would be primary. This becomes so difficult to even conceive in our consumer culture. When the rich young man came to ask Jesus what he must do to become his disciple, Jesus knowing that the young man’s wealth would always be his ultimate trust, required of him that he sell all that he had, then come—which exposed the young man’s ultimate trust. (Imagine saying that to, say, Jeff Bezos and you begin to get the picture.)

It is probably exhibited most colorfully in Jesus encounter with Zacchaeus, who had amassed a fortune by all kinds of deceptive means in his role as tax-collector. When Jesus, humorously called the short Zacchaeus to come down out of the tree, and invited himself into Zacchaeus’ house, there occurred a long conversation. What did they talk about? What transpired? Whatever it was, when they emerged from the house, Jesus announced that salvation had come to the house of Zacchaeus. What Zacchaeus announced, however, was that his encounter with Jesus had radically changed his economic practice, that he would restore all that he had defrauded four-fold, and that he would give half of his possession to the poor. That’s orthopraxis!

Mammon, the power of greed and wealth, so control our lives, our politics, our culture that it appears almost unsolvable. The very rich get tax breaks, while the helpless poor struggle to survive and cope with the basic demands of health, education, and earning a living wage.

Have I made my point? It would almost seem that Jesus would be more fulfilled in being with the protestors in the ‘Occupy Wall Street” movement, … than he would be in attending the Presidential Prayer Breakfast (which has become a prestige event the significance of which is dubious). Who are the rich? Probably most of us (who read these blogs). Jesus: “Truly I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven.” However, complex this issue is, we dare not ignore the vast hold that mammon exercises on all of us.

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BLOG 9/11/18. “I KNOW THAT I AM NOT ALONE”

BLOG 9/11/18. “I KNOW THAT I AM NOT ALONE”

Loneliness is a very real issue for so many people, and always has been. There was the book a few years ago: Alone in the Crowd, or another Bowling Alone. I think of it often since my wife’s death what with the absence of her company, our conversations, her wisdom. For some reason this reality came back to me in a poignant memory from a moment in 1974 in Lausanne, Switzerland. In that year, the Billy Graham organization had planned and convened a remarkable International Congress on World Evangelization.

The planning committee had done an unbelievable (near miraculous) job of finding out who the real practitioners of evangelism were from across the globe, and finding the funding to bring them together in Lausanne in the summer of that year. What that meant was that they found many in remote parts of the globe who functioned fruitfully under the most difficult circumstances of poverty, cultural opposition, and a multitude of discouragements. The congress planners found the means to fund these faithful ones to come for the event, and to house and feed them while they were there.

One of the events of the Congress was a huge rally open to the public, which took place in the Olympic Stadium in that city, with Billy Graham as the preacher. It drew people from all over that part of Europe. My Betty and I had arrived early and were seated high up I the stands, and were enjoying surveying that cosmopolitan crowd assembling. Betty, being who she was, engaged a delegate who was seated next to her (and was bi-lingual), who if remember correctly was from a remote village in northern India. She asked him what were his thoughts as we participated in that event. His response was: “I know that I am not alone.” When she pressed him to explain that, it came out that he operated out of a small Christian community in a remote village in a primarily Hindu culture. He regularly got on his bicycle and rode to even more remote places and communicated to them the message of God’s love in Christ.

That meant, however, that there were many discouragements, and much misunderstanding, and even more, an often sense of loneliness. Being there in Lausanne made him aware that he was a very real component in the global community of Christ’s followers, and that his isolated work as a herald of the gospel was also a dynamic piece of that global mosaic which we call the church. “I know that I am not alone!”

Christ’s people around the world remind themselves of this reality when they repeat together the Apostles Creed: “… and I believe in the holy catholic church,” that global family of God to whom Jesus has promised: “I will never leave you, nor forsake you,” i.e., you will never ultimately be alone. To be sure, Christians quite often find themselves somewhat isolated and misunderstood, and not always having access to a community of other believers, but then they know that Christ’s church is also the dwelling-place of God by the Holy Spirit.

What is encouraging to me is my realization that these Blogs go to my Christian brothers and sisters, some of whom are isolated, and for whom these are their communication with the community of faith, and for whom I can be their reminder that they are not alone, … something of a cyberspace Christian community. I’ll not even try to explain that theologically, but only to report that it is a reality that I am aware of because of the responses I receive, for which I am grateful that I can from afar represent the family of God.

And may grace and peace be multiplied to you.

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BLOG 9.7.18. THE CHURCH: CALLED TO BE SENT

BLOG 9/7/18. THE CHURCH: CALLED TO BE SENT

I had to chuckle. The responses to my last blog on the (caricatured) conceptions of the church as either composed of settlers or pioneers, were quite revealing of the fuzzy understandings that are formative in so much of the church’s self-understanding. There is a sense in which the church could be considered as both, but so often those of us who make up the church become comfortable in some institutional form what with its regular services and activities, its professional leadership, and its predictability, and so become (to use the term) church-i-fied.

There are so many conceptions of the church, i.e., sociological, historical, theological, Biblical, etc. that it is not surprising that one could be sincerely a part of a Christian community/church and yet not understand its role in the design of God. The very word church is the English translators word used to translate the Greek word ek-klesia (ecclesia as in ecclesiastical). It is a word that defines a community called-out for a purpose. Jesus employed the word when he told his disciples that he was going to build his church/ek-klesia ­upon those called out to be his followers and to engage with him in his message and mission.

That means that the church is called for a specific purpose, not to be ‘religious’, but rather to be engaged with him in his mission. He has called his followers to express their faith in and love for him in lives of trust and obedience. Everyone who is baptized has taken a vow to be his faithful disciple and to live a life of obedience to him.

Ah! But Jesus also tells his followers/disciples: “As the Father has sent me, even so do I send you.” That means that we are called by Jesus to be sent by Jesus to engage in his mission. Such also means that whatever the church is, it is a community formed by him and his word, and a community sent by him to be the incarnation of that mission in the totality of its life. The church (and every follower of Christ who composes it) is, in a very real sense, the missionary arm of the Holy Trinity. It does this by not only heralding the life and teachings of Christ in its ordinary conversation, but in being the communal expression of God’s New Humanity in Christ, by its love and good works, by demonstrating the love and good works of Christ, by loving not only friends, but strangers and even enemies. Because those who compose the church have been reconciled by Christ, they are also called to be reconcilers. Because they have been forgiven by God in Christ, they also forgive those who have sinned against them. The become a redemptive community that is to be contagious with the life of Christ which indwells them by the Holy Spirit.

The purpose of the community’s gatherings is to re-inforce, to be nurtured in the teachings of Christ and of holy scriptures, to celebrate in songs of praise together this calling and this mission. So, that whenever the church becomes focused on a place and designates it as the ‘house of God’ some yellow lights should go on. The dwelling-place of God is in his people by the Holy Spirit, not in a building. Yet the church has again and again become idolatrous of its buildings and institutions. Of course, there is a degree of institutionalization that takes place whenever a church is formed to function efficiently in its calling. Of course, there are those who emerge as gifted in its ministry of equipping its members for the carrying out its/their mission,

The church is the human community recrated, but it can be (by the very words of Christ) as small as two or three gathered together in his name, where he is with them. It can express itself in large assemblies or in houses, in diverse and often secret places, … but its integrity is always in its faithfulness to the message and mission of Christ. Its form changes in different contexts. Yes, we are both called and sent. We are the Body of Christ in the realities of daily life.

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

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BLOG 9/4/18. THE CHURCH: PIONEERS OR SETTLERS?

A few decades ago, a very astute, witty (even mischievous) Episcopal priest by the name of Wes Seeliger wrote a colorful, border-line irreverent, and yet most revealing book about two common appraisals of life and of the church. The book is entitled: Western Theology In it he sees two visions of life, and two kinds of people. The first see life as a possession to be carefully guarded.  They are called settlers. The second see life as a wild, fantastic, explosive gift. They are called pioneers.

These two types give rise to the two kinds of theology: Settler Theology and Pioneer Theology. Settler Theology is an attempt to answer all the questions, define and housebreak some sort of Supreme Being, establish the status quo on golden tablets in cinemascope. Pioneer Theology is an attempt to talk about what it means to receive the strange gift of life. The Wild West is the setting for both theologies.[1]

In Settler Theology, God is the mayor, and the church is the courthouse. It is the center of town life. The old stone structure dominates the town square. It’s windows are small and this makes it dark inside. Within the courthouse walls records are kept, taxes collected, trials held for bad guys. The courthouse is the settler’s symbol of law and order, stability, and most-important security. The mayor’s office is on the top floor. His eagle eye ferrets out the smallest detail of the town’s life. In Settler Theology, God is the mayor. He is a sight to behold … but since he keeps the blinds drawn no one sees him or knows him directly, but since there is order in the town, who can deny that he is there.

In Pioneer Theology, the church is the covered wagon. It’s a house on wheels, always on the move. The covered wagon is where the pioneers eat, sleep, fight, love and die. It bears the marks of life and movement—it creaks, it is scarred with arrows, bandaged with bailing wire. The covered wagon is always where the action is. It moves toward the future, and doesn’t bother to glorify its own ruts. The old wagon isn’t comfortable, but the pioneers don’t mind. They are more into adventure than comfort. In Pioneer Theology, God is the trail boss. He is rough and rugged, full of life. The trail boss lives, eats, sleeps fights with his people. Without him the wagon wouldn’t move. The trail boss often gets down in the mud with the pioneers to help push the wagon. … You begin to get Seeliger’s analogy.

In Settler Theology, Jesus is the sheriff who is sent by the mayor to enforce the rules. In Pioneer Theology, Jesus is the scout. He rides out ahead to find out the way the pioneers should go. The scout suffers every hardship that the pioneers do. In Settler Theology, the Christian is the settler. In Pioneer Theology, the Christian is the pioneer. In Settler Theology, the clergyman is the banker who keeps within his vault the values of the town. In Pioneer Theology, the clergy is the cook who doesn’t furnish the meat, but dishes up what the buffalo hunter provides. In Settler Theology, faith is trusting in the safety of the town: obeying the laws, keeping your nose clean, etc. In Pioneer Theology faith is the spirit of adventure, the readiness to move out, to risk everything on the trail. … and so it goes.

Sound familiar. I love the analogies. Comfort-zone Christianity is one of the most pernicious heresies we encounter. Christ’s calling is to a life that is only secure in our obedience to him. The true church is always a company of pioneers. I couldn’t resist sharing (maybe confusing you?) with Seeliger’s analogy.

[1] I think that much of this comes from a digest of the book by Brennan Manning that I copied years after reading the book.

 

 

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