BLOG 4/20/18. PRINCIPALITIES AND POWERS ARE FOR REAL

BLOG 4/20/18. PRINCIPALITIES AND POWERS … ARE FOR REAL

Reading Cory Booker’s (junior senator from New Jersey) fascinating recent book United is a graphic reminder that the Biblical teaching about the sinister and subtle and subverting presence of principalities and powers, is for real. Here is this very gifted young man, a high-achiever both academically (Stanford, Oxford, and Yale Law) and athletically, who graduates with honors from Yale Law School and with a zeal to assist the underprivileged, goes under a grant from a non-profit to live in inner-city Newark, New Jersey. He right away realizes that he must move into the areas of need he has come to address, and so moves into a notoriously troubled public housing project. Then he finds that his real encouragement is not at all from the public agencies and civic government, but from a couple of wise older women who live and serve in the projects. They daily face the neglect of the civil authorities, the management of the projects, and the presence of gangs, drug trafficking, poverty, … and so many other manifestations of the brokenness of that urban scene.

He is encouraged not just to confront the issues as an outsider, but to run for the city council, which he does, and wins. Ah, but there with his youthful idealism he confronts the self-aggrandizing defensiveness of the entrenched political system, yes, the principalities and powers that determine so much that is alien to Cory’s quest for justice and civil responsibility … and those principalities are not about to relinquish control to this upstart Booker. How he grows up to the realities and becomes a significant change-agent is the rest of the story (which I highly commend).

The apostle John, in the first century, would declare: “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” This should not seem a strange sound to anyone who is Biblically knowledgeable. After all, when Jesus first left home to enter his public ministry as the one who would inaugurate God’s New Creation, he encountered the prince of Darkness/Satan in forty days of satanic effort to divert him from God’s mission for him. That encounter continues as he engages his three years of ministry in Palestine. It becomes tragically obvious within days after Pentecost when Stephen challenges the legitimacy of the Jewish temple, and the principalities and powers of that temple establishment have him stoned to death. It emerges most surprisingly at the end of Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church (churches in Asia Minor), when what seems to be his ultimate design after a most informative teaching on the nature of the church, he tells them that they need to put on the whole armor of God if they are to withstand the wiles of the devil!

Paul’s own commission from the risen Lord Jesus is that he is: “I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may t urn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God” (Acts 26:18).  To the Colossians he wrote: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13). The point I want to make is that Satan’s alien dominion is not passive, and whenever it is challenged or exposed, Satan is not passive. Nor is he passive in seeking to infiltrate, subvert, and immunize the church itself to his presence and dark power. All too much, the church itself has become captive to the era of the Enlightenment/rationalism that denies such a supernatural force. But, like Cory Booker, if we seek to aggressively affirm the principles of the dominion of the Light in the darkness of the church, or the civil magistrate, then all hell breaks loose. Luther discovered that the hard way inside the Roman Church, and so his hymn states: “… and though this world with devils filled should threaten to undo us, we will not fear for God has willed his truth to triumph through us.” Chew on that for a while, but be alert: Satan is sinister and vindictive.

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BLOG 4/17/18. “BY THIS TIME YOU OUGHT TO BE TEACHERS OF OTHERS”

BLOG 4/17/18. “BY THIS TIME YOU OUGHT TO BE TEACHERS OF OTHERS”

OK, let’s get this on the table right up front: Christ’s followers are called to be contagious with the reality of God’s New Creation, which he came to inaugurate. Yes, everyone who is baptized into Christ as his follower/disciple is called to be a fervent communicator of that reality. A non-communicating Christian is an oxymoron. The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews underscores this with a rebuke to those in whatever community he was addressing this letter to: “…you have become dull of hearing. For by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God” (Hebrews 6:11ff.).

The Christian community is not a place (though it does need a common place to meet), nor a gifted professional teacher (though such do emerge within living communities). No. The Christian community is that company who have responded, and are responding in obedience and faith to the life and teachings of Jesus. When Jesus Christ is invited into one’s life, he indwells that person in his role as the demonstration and communicator of that mission of God. That means that the church which is faithful, is a community of those capable of teaching and admonishing one another (Colossians 3:16 in loc).

The church was tragically subverted when is began to define itself as an institution, and when it became dependent on professional clergy. That self-understanding allowed its members to be passive-dependent observers of ecclesiastical rites, rather than being engaged in the mission of God. That being so, one can ever so comfortable as a church member and never become part of what Jesus called his church to be and to do. One needs to remember that in Jesus’ earliest teaching were the beatitudes, the purpose of which was to demonstrate in the lives of his followers that New Creation/Kingdom, i.e., “that men may see your good works and glorify God.” The church understood that it was on a mission, and that its lifestyle was to elicit curiosity that men and women would inquire as to what it was that produced such a life.

To make the lame excuse that: “O, I’m only a layman,” or “I’m no preacher” betrays a total shameful misunderstanding of Christ’s calling. It is further interesting that in our engagement as Christ’s followers, and our lives in the Spirit, we are in nose-to-nose engagement with “wiles of the devil” who seeks to subvert the mission, and so we are taught to daily put on the whole armor of God, which armor begins with our knowledge of the person and work of Jesus, but right away includes our lifestyle, i.e., the breastplate of righteousness, the we are to put on, as shoes, the readiness of the gospel of peace, … then after our resource of defense, which is the body-shield of faith, we are to put on the helmet of salvation, i.e. we are to think (have our minds formed) like New Creation/Kingdom people. But, careful (now) then we are to take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the ability to communicate the message of Christ (Ephesians 6).

“OK, Henderson, are you trying to make us feel guilty?” Answer (with a chuckle): “Probably.” I’ve been a pastor-teacher in Christian communities for a couple of generations, and I’ve seen my share of church-shoppers, always looking for the perfect church to satisfy some set of definitions they have. But the participants in the Christian community who make a difference, are those who find in their times gathered, the nurture and encouragement from each other, that enables them to be more effective communicators in all the non-glamorous settings of their 24/7 incarnations. Such have the DNA of Christ in them, and are on the cutting-edge of the mission of God, and the love of God, in this very broken world. It is thrilling mission, and it is what we are called to be by Christ, and what we are baptized into as we have come to him. Contagious. Communicators. Incarnations of God’s new humanity in Christ. Got it? Run with it!

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

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BLOG 4/13/1. YOUR LIFE IRRELEVANT TO HISTORY? SAY WHAT?

BLOG 4/13/18. YOUR LIFE IRRELEVANT TO HISTORY? SAY WHAT?

My last blog precipitated some response that requires a follow-up. I quoted a missions professor whose statement was: “If you can’t relate your life to Christ’s Great Commission, then your life is irrelevant to history.” I readily admit that such a challenging comment requires more context than I gave it, so let’s give it a re-run. First off: what is the purpose of history? Are we floating around in what one called a boundless, bottomless, sea of chance? Is human history purposeless? Does it even matter what, or how, I conceive of my life’s resonance with any larger purpose?

Actually: yes! It does matter. Somewhere hidden in down in the meta-consciousness of humankind is a wonderment about life’s meaning.  The enigma that we face in Jesus Christ is that he came proclaiming a message that gave answer to that very question, but he did it in such a way as is (again) most enigmatic. Jesus came onto the human scene proclaiming that God’s eschatological (check that word out) design for his creation was now being inaugurated: in himself: Jesus Christ. That sounds a bit grandiose for a Palestinian peasant, doesn’t it? In an almost insignificant little near eastern country, out of nowhere, comes this one with such a claim. He doesn’t even come to the centers of religious or political importance, but on the back roads of the province of Galilee. Is he to be taken seriously? Even his later, first-century followers acknowledged it as: “the foolishness of what we preach.”

But it’s crucial to the ultimate question: What, indeed, is the purpose of this life? How can such a claim be taken seriously in a context that is so often peopled with troublesome, fractured, vain, sometimes sordid humans? What’s more, Jesus’ call was not to the powerful, or intellectual, highly-born … but to ordinary, weak, foolish, lowly-born folk. What he did require, however, was that those who were to be his followers take on a whole new frame of reference—that is his command to repent/have a change of mind. It is a requirement to accept the reality that the Creator-God does, indeed, have a purpose for his creation, that that purposeful-creation has been invaded by a spirit of rebellion—a vain attempt at autonomy, or of being its own gods and goddesses, and that this has resulted in all of that which we subsume under the rubric of: evil.

Jesus’ message is that, in himself, God was invading his own rebellious creation in order to make known to it its true purpose, and to bring about a reconciliation between the Creator and the creation, and to inaugurate a whole new creation, and a whole new humanity—but that it would be accomplished at tremendous cost to himself. “The foolishness of what we preach.” So, back to the quote at the beginning of this blog: The followers of Jesus saw in Jesus (his life, death, resurrection and teachings) “the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to Christ’s followers.” Bingo! The meaning of human history.

To relate one’s life to such an understanding is enormously freeing/liberating. It is a calling into a whole new sense of the meaning of my life. And, like Jesus’ own life and ministry, it is communicated in unexpected and non-glamourous places, to real, often-difficult human beings. It makes the most mundane of daily life to be related to the design of God in making all things new. In makes one’s seemingly insignificant contribution in daily life to be suffused with hope. It is the relating of my life to Christ’s Great Commission, and so to be very relevant to human history—not gathered in church meetings (though such have their role in our mutual encouragement), but in being Christ’s church scattered in the 24/7 brokenness of daily life as his witnesses in the sheer Christ-likeness of our love and good works – living out the Great Commission. And if anyone asks us what it is that “makes us tick,” we can communicate the message to them with love, humility and gentleness.

Run with that! [and I’d love your comments]

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BLOG 4/10/18. “IF YOU CAN’T RELATE YOUR LIFE TO THE GREAT COMMISSION …”

BLOG 4/10/18. “IF YOU CAN’T RELATE YOUR LIFE TO THE GREAT COMMISSION, THEN YOUR LIFE IS IRRELEVANT TO HISTORY”

Doesn’t that sound like an outrageously extreme proposition? It’s worth chewing on. It comes, as I recall, in something similar to this form from Robert Colemen, who was professor of missions at Asbury Theological Seminary, and a wonderful and edifying scholar in that field of missiology. Many will find this almost impossible to relate to. We have subverted the whole of our Christ-given enterprise by defining the church as institution, and by creating that category of church professionals—including both the teachers and the missionaries—and so absolving the rest of God’s people from the responsibility to obey Jesus’ design for all his people.

The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) is given to the whole of the community of Christ’s followers. It does not consist of some special vocation to go to some exotic other place as a professional—though, indeed, there are those who have such a calling to cross cultural boundaries as has been displayed from the very beginning (such as the apostle Paul). I want to insist here that your mission field, and mine, is where we operate 24/7, from home to workplace and all in between. It is to live out the Beatitudes among all kinds of people: polite and impolite, pleasant and difficult, curious and indifferent, ethnic cultures, irreligious and those contemptuous of religion … you name it. It is in such unexpected places that we are to be the Body of Christ, to be “the sweet aroma of Christ.”

It is in such seemingly unsuspected places that we are to wear the gospel of peace on our feet. It is in such surprising places that we are relate our lives to the Great Commission, and so case our lives to be relevant to history. It is in the realities that we are to grow into maturity in Christ, and bear much fruit. It is not some other person’s calling—it is ours, all of ours. Maybe it is a good time to copy here the oft-quoted comment from C. S. Lewis’ The Weight of Glory, and so I will …

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which,if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

Welcome to the vast company of those expediting the mission of God in the world, to the faithful disciple-makers who are incarnating the love of Christ in the cubicles, schools, back streets, stressful daily occupations, … and becoming witnesses to the great hope that God has inaugurated in Jesus Christ. It is to such that he will say: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

 

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BLOG 4/6/18. THE ENIGMA OF THE TRUMP PRESIDENCY

BLOG 4/6/18. THE ENIGMA OF THE TRUMP PRESIDENCY

It inevitably comes up in conversation, once that conversation turns to politics, and that is how so many ostensible Christian persons can be so dedicated to a person whose whole demeanor contradicts everything that Jesus taught and demonstrated: immoral, obscene language, untruthful, prejudiced, greedy, arrogant … and on, and on. In the recent web journal: Salon Magazine, the author offers a clue that I had never considered, and I commend it to you.

[https://www.salon.com/2018/04/05/have-christian-nationalists-staged-a-soft-coup-with-trump-as-their-figurehead/]

The author, Andrew Whitehead offers the proposal of the quest for a Christian nationalism, i.e., that these persons have the vision of a ‘Christian America’, and see this president as one who can implement their illusion of such. The problem is that this has never been a “Christian nation” even though it has been significantly influenced by Christian values (or maybe Hebrew-Christian values) which often form its politicians. But the founding fathers were more often deists—one thinks of Ben Franklin, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, etc.

Politics is never neutral ground. There are always selfish motives, aggressive egos, pressure groups, huge financial interests, so much so that even the most sincere and principled persons find themselves prone to compromise. And compromise is the art of politics—give a little and get a little, win some and lose some, betrayal by those whom one trusts, dishonesty among colleagues. Often the most principled and skillfully crafted policies come from those who are essentially secular in their orientation, and vice-versa.

Representative government is just that: representative of those who are the electorate and their interests. And the political process can be messy, or as someone likened it: to watching the making of sausage. What makes a country such as ours to have the flavor of Christian ethics and interests is the responsible engagement of those of us who are the citizens by our voting, and being significantly formed and informed both by the life and teachings of Jesus, but also the issues before us politically, socially, and culturally.

I once did a term paper seeking to understand how Scotland, after the Protestant Reformation, with its very dogmatic principle of the separation of church and state, could become so influenced by the Christian faith. The answer was that Christians, with strong and principled vision, ran for and were elected to the Scottish parliament, and used their ethical and moral vision to implement the policies of that country. They were, as it were, salt and light in a deliberative body that reflected the vision of those who made the policy. Many who were not at all Christian became co-belligerents with the Christian parliamentarians in bringing about peace and order and justice (which their confessions stated was the purpose of civil government).

There was also that aborted attempt by the English Puritans to establish a Christian government under Oliver Cromwell, which didn’t really work. The government, after that, became a constitutional monarchy, under the rule of a parliament made up of representative members—some Christian, and many not so. It is interesting to note that under that government, right down into the 19th century, the slave trade flourished, seemingly to the non-concern of many Christian parliamentarians. But there was that small group of Christians who were appalled at it, and who each weekend retreated to their home parish of Clapham to pray and plan. It was that small ‘Clapham sect’ who ultimately prevailed and caused the cessation of the slave trade. Those few were the responsible Christian “salt and light” in that moral darkness. So, it is all of our responsibility, not to Create a so-called Christian nation, but to live responsibly as citizens incarnating Christ’s teachings in responsible voting.

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BLOG 4/3/18. WHAT FOLLOWS EASTER? HOPE AND PERSECUTION

BLOG 4/3/18. WHAT FOLLOWS EASTER? HOPE AND PERSECUTION!

It is worth a brief reminder, that historically what followed that first Easter was something like four centuries of persecution … and what made that persecution endurable was the incredible hope that was generated by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and the verification of his claim that in himself, God’s new age had dawned, and in himself God’s promise of the Messiah was being realized.

That all seems so difficult for us to comprehend in our present North American culture, when Easter signals more the dawning of spring, spring-break from schools, sports, and such. In my native Georgia setting so much is focused on a new baseball season, the Master’s Golf Tournament on that splendidly landscaped course in Augusta, so much so that the tragic events taking place around the world what with all the human atrocities seems almost unreal.

The juxtaposition of hope and persecution as the legacy of the Easter event is difficult to even comprehend from this vantage point. Yet, as we have often asserted in these blogs, the life and teachings of Jesus Christ are counter-cultural to the core: they stood in direct confrontation to both the Temple hierarchy of Jerusalem religiously, and the hegemony of the Roman Empire with its Caesar-worship politically. Neither of these powers took that lightly, so that you see almost immediate persecution, and Christians meeting clandestinely, and yet joyously and contagiously in Jerusalem, and soon across the empire.

But this engagement with an alien culture was not a flash-in-the-pan. It went on for centuries. To be publicly identified with Christ could mean torture, imprisonment, or death. Chew on that for a moment! The time came when making Christians the victims in the bloody spectacles in the Roman Coliseum was a popular spectator sport (along with gladiatorial fights). But even that did not dissuade the heirs of Christ’s cross and resurrection. They counted it an honor to suffer for Jesus’ sake, and the gospel of the kingdom of God continued to leaven the world as it spread it message of a new humanity realized through faith in Christ, and obedience to his teachings.

It is worth retrieving an account (much mythologized, admittedly) of a 5th century Christian monk from Turkey by the name of Telemachus, who upon hearing of this terrible form of entertainment in Rome, traveled to Rome and entered the coliseum as a spectator, and when all of the bloody events of the day were taking place, made his way down in front of the Emperor Honorius’ box seat, and raised his hand in protest, declaring: “In the name of Jesus Christ, forbear!” He was almost immediately struck down and killed by Roman soldiers, so the story goes. But whatever embellishments the story has accumulated, it is noted historically that these bloody spectacles began to decline as of that day. Honorius is a forgotten Roman emperor, but Telemachus is named a saint by the Roman Catholic Church.

The letters of the apostle Peter in the New Testament verify the conviction that to be a follower of Christ is to be an alien and an exile, to be subject to persecution, … and yet in the midst of it all to be the living exhibits of the New Life in Christ made possible by Christ’s death and resurrection. Yes, and even in the most hostile of cultures, to be the incarnation of God’s New Creation in Christ, the “sweet aroma of Christ unto God” in whatever expression of the cultural darkness we inhabit. To bear the name of Christ’s children of Light in this dominion of darkness is a high and holy calling. Go in peace!

[And … if you find these Blogs provocative, recommend them to your friends, and I will be grateful. I am also grateful for your comments. And, may I remind you that my latest book is: Homebrew Churches: Reconceiving the Church for Tomorrow’s Children, and is available from Amazon, or from Wipf and Stock Publishers.]

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BLOG 3/30/18. “HE DESCENDED INTO HELL”

BLOG 3/30/18. “HE DESCENDED INTO HELL”

How to even approach this classic affirmation of our Christian faith, which the church has professed in its creed for nearly two millennia? For those who are the followers of Christ it is quite too inexcusable to sentimentalize it, or profess it mindlessly. And for a society and culture whose dominant religion is something more like self-satisfied humanism, or secularism, it is scarcely even acknowledged, or even known, in our obsession with one’s entertainment-obsessed lives. All that, however, doesn’t mean that it is not a tragic, yet salvific reality at the very center of human history. It deserves, at least for those of us who are followers of Christ, some sober reflection.

One of the haunting descriptions of the human condition of those who are not followers of Christ is that they are those “having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). Such a description corroborates the findings of so many sociologists and psychologists, that we are a culture too often defined with a pathological loneliness. We consume ourselves with entertainment to escape that loneliness. So, it is, first-off, worthwhile remembering that these are the very people that God so loved that he gave his Son. And it is also worthwhile remembering that it was the mission of God’s Son to bear, on their behalf, the results, the guilt, of humankind’s God-rejection. He took, on our behalf, the nightmarish and infinite hopelessness, purposelessness, and emptiness of life without God.

Then, there is the image of those who persist in rejecting God’s goodness as being cast into the outer darkness, or the mandate given to the early apostle to “go turn men from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God.” The emptiness of human life apart from any hope, or meaning, or acceptance is at the heart of so many psychological pathologies. So, we come back to the fact that God gave his Son, not to condemn us, or consign us to that darkness, but to rescue us, to open our eyes, to recreate us into our true humanity. And yet, our guilt and complicity in rejecting the light of God is real. As an old hymn expresses it: “Was it for crimes that I had done, he groaned upon the tree?”

It will not do, then, on this Good Friday to sentimentalize the crucifixion. Consider that he who knew no sin, was made sin for us, in order that those who receive him may be made again into their true righteous design before God. Consider—contemplate with tears—that on that executioner’s scaffold, it was not the physical suffering that was the most agonizing for Jesus. It was, rather, that in our place he suffered total darkness, total hopelessness, total rejection by both God and man, total silence—he was totally alone—he was abandoned by his closest intimates (with, note, the exception of the women who were his close followers, which is interesting). On that cross Jesus experienced the nightmare of darkness, silence, rejection, hopelessness, emptiness—he was alone “bearing sin and scoffing rude, in my place condemned he stood.”

That is just a glimpse of the meaning of: “He descended into hell.”

And our response?

“What language shall I borrow
To thank Thee, dearest Friend,
For this, Thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?
Oh, make me thine forever!
And should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never,
Outlive my love for Thee.”

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BLOG 2/27/18. CAN A CHURCH BE PART OF THE DARKNESS ?

BLOG 3/27/18. CAN A CHURCH BE PART OF THE DARKNESS?

In the morally and ethically confused period through which we are currently living, what with issues of gun-control, homelessness, huge prison populations, record number of refugees worldwide, hunger, immigrant status, arrogance of the wealthy and greedy, racial and sexual prejudice, and on, and on … there inevitably comes the question above, can the church be part of this moral and ethical darkness? And the answer comes: Absolutely! No question. From the outset of its history, the church has always been tempted to be conformed to the mores of the culture around it, to make friends with the forces of darkness, to forsake its calling to be a holy nation, to be a light in the midst of the darkness.

Let me see if I can put a foundation under that charge. In the New Testament documents upon whose authority the church finds its definition, there is one over-arching and cosmic reality, and that is: that in the coming of Jesus into the human scene, that God’s future has entered into our present, that God has come in Christ to recreate all things, to bring his light into our darkness, and to cause all to conform to his own dominion and purpose. This is indicated in the repetitive references to Jesus and his apostles preaching the gospel of the kingdom. Those who hear that message and respond make the decision to, henceforth, be inhabited by the very life of Christ himself by his Spirit. This means that his kingdom and his ethical and moral teachings become those of us who have chosen to be his followers. Jesus never ceases to remind us that those who obey him, who are responsive to his teachings, are his true disciples.

This reality emerges in its communal expression in the church, which is the communal expression of this new creation. The church is dwelling-place of God by the Holy Spirit; it is referred to as: the body of Christ. The consequence of this is that it becomes the human community as God intends it to be, and incarnates in the midst of this present cultural and spiritual darkness the very divine image. It is the doer of God’s new creation, of his will.

A caveat here: this does not mean that others, who are not followers of Christ, are not also very often the doers of his will. Theologians call this reality common grace, or God’s preserving grace. One sees this so wonderfully displayed in humanitarian organizations (such as Doctors Without Borders) which are staffed by, and whose purpose is in harmony with the ethical, humanitarian, justice seeking, and peace-making teachings of Jesus. Christian and the church are thankful for these and become (as one described it) co-belligerents with them against the darkness.

But, back to the beginning: when ostensible churches become obsessed with their institutional life, their liturgical pageantry, their comfortable (what Bonhoeffer called) ‘religious Christianity,’ and fail in their calling to the radical kingdom ethics taught by Jesus, … then they become a religious dimension of the darkness, and so deny the water of Life that Jesus intends for those who are his Bride. In this Holy Week, and in this period of ethical and moral confusion in our society, any community which claims for itself the designation of being his church needs to examine what are the fruits of its being inhabited by, and obedient to, the life and teachings of Jesus.

And (parenthetically) after the incredible display of righteous indignation by millions of young people protesting the absence of gun-control this past Saturday, one needs to ask where the church’s voice is on such a threatening issue? Who is the church responding to? With whom is the church engaging as co-belligerents in the causes of righteousness? How is it the community of the Light, of God’s New Creation in Christ?

And also, note, this is not a safe calling. How’s that for a Holy Week reflection?

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BLOG 3/23/18. ME? A PROTESTER?

BLOG 3/23/18. ME? A PROTESTER?

Tomorrow, all over this country, thousands upon thousands of (primarily) young people will be marching in protest about this nation’s failure to enact stricter gun control laws. They will be primarily young because the older one gets the more one is committed to security and lack of conflict, and less willing to sacrifice that for even the most noble causes This was essentially true of the civil rights movement, though with notable exceptions. It was John Lewis and the SNCC, made up initially of black university students that took the risk, and challenged the racism of the deep south.

But, … did you realize that to be a follower of Christ, and by virtue of one’s baptism into new life, also makes every true follower of Christ to become part of the major protest of human history? Every time one prays: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done” one is praying a protest prayer against the kingdom of darkness, the kingdoms of this world, and is petitioning God to establish his own new creation, this age-to-come, his kingdom righteousness in the midst of the power structures of this age, this creation in rebellion against its Creator, against all that is of the darkness, and greed, and inhumanity, and unrighteousness that is so omni-present?

And, do you realize that on this coming Palm Sunday, the church is ostensibly celebrating the dramatic last week of Jesus’ own protest that would bring him into confrontation with the religious and political principalities and powers of Jerusalem and the Empire? The cross was the consummation of his protest, and is so profound in its meaning that we can never fully comprehend what that protest cost him. And yet it was by his blood that he reconciled us to God.

Jesus came, from the very start, announcing the staggering good news of the kingdom of God, of the invasion of God’s age to come right into the midst of this age. And his invitation was never without risks and costs. “Unless a man forsakes all that he has, he is not worthy to be my disciples.” “Unto you is given on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in his name, but also to suffer for his sake.” His invitation to become his follower always comes with the command to repent, to enter into a whole new frame of reference. Our primary allegiance is never to the power structures of this age. We can seek to be fruitful citizens in the land of our sojourn, but we are always aliens and exiles since our primary allegiance is always to the kingdom of our God and of his Christ. In this present scene, Christ’s followers can never own the mantra of ‘America first.’

Having said that, we have to confess that those of us who are his church had so tragically domesticated his calling into his Age to Come, his New Creation. We have spiritualized it and made it safe—but the calling to follow Christ is never safe, or tame, or without consequences which may even include being killed.

The thousands of young people protesting tomorrow may not be Christian … but they are protesting a moral failure of a society in which violent gun deaths have claimed more lives than those caused by our wars. Their cause is just, just as the cause of the young people who protested racial injustice those years ago. That movement had its foundation inside the black Christian church, and its major prophetic voice would assert from the Birmingham jail, that he “appealed to a higher law” than the unrighteous laws of his society. Jesus inaugurated a protest movement against hunger, homelessness, illness, injustice, ethnic prejudice … and all those violations of the peace of God. It is easy to protest when it is popular to do so, and when there are no consequences. But Jesus’ protest movement always includes a cross, a renouncing of the expressions of darkness in those places of our sojourn.

Stay tuned …

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BLOG 3/20/18. “HOW EVANGELICALS LOST THEIR WAY …”

BLOG 3/20/18. “HOW EVANGELICALS LOST THEIR WAY …”

For those of you who are the regular readers of these blogs, you would know how totally dismayed, even undone, I am over the phenomenon of this present administration, and the way the president and the ‘religious right’ have hi-jacked and even bastardized the noble designation evangelical. It defies easy explanation, how those whose policies stand as the stark opposite of the radical social agenda taught by Jesus and the apostles. But this week a refreshing light of explanation has dawned. In the April edition of Atlantic is the cover article by Michael Gerson, a columnist for the Washington Post, former congressional aide, and speech writer for a president, as well as a graduate of Wheaton College in Illinois.

The article is entitled: The Last Temptation. I cannot commend it too highly. It is profoundly researched, eloquently written and quite brilliant in its historical, sociological, cultural, Biblical and theological components. In seven journal pages, it spells out the huge contradiction that exists when those who identify as ‘evangelicals’ identify with the political alt-right as though that political extreme reflected the teachings of Jesus. … And to see Donald Trump as their “dream president” is off-the-chart. (The article can be accessed on Google.)

Gerson begins: “One of the most extraordinary things about our current politics—really, one of the most extraordinary development in recent political history—is the loyal adherence of religious conservatives to Donald Trump. The president won four-fifths of the votes of white evangelical Christians. This was a higher level of support than either Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush, an outspoken evangelical himself, ever received.

The author then tracks the history of the evangelical movement from the mid-nineteenth century when Jonathan Blanchard, the founding president of Wheaton College, was a social progressive opposing slavery and making the college a safe-haven on the Underground Railroad for run-away slaves. He also tracks the history of Oberlin College; whose president was evangelist Charles G. Finney, also a social progressive. There is a very real sense in which they were both socially radically, and with large influence in the Christian community in the United States. That brand, or definition, of evangelicalism was, Gerson asserts, the predominant religious tradition in America. But came the Civil War and much disillusionment about any golden age of Christianity, and evangelicals began to become more defensive, reactive, and adversarial, what with the emergence of the social gospel, the assault on the supernatural by much of the intellectual community.

The seminal event was the famous Scopes Trial in Tennessee in 1926 over the teaching of evolution in the schools. It was at that point that evangelicals began to be identified as anti-intellectual, … and it all ‘went south’ from there. I hope I am whetting your appetite to read the whole much more persuasive and eloquent essay by Michael Gerson (Please do. You’ll be much the richer in understanding if you do.)

Skip down to the end of the article and Gerson laments: “It is difficult to see something you so deeply value discredited so comprehensively. “Evangelical faith has shaped my life, as it has the life of millions. Evangelical history has provided me with models of conscience. Evangelical institutions have given me gifts of learning and purpose. Evangelical friends have shared my joys and sorrows … And this sets an urgent task for evangelicals: to rescue their faith from its worst leaders.”

Lord, have mercy! Christ, have mercy! Lord, have mercy? Yes, and Amen.

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