A FRIGHTENING PARALLEL

BLOG 1/20/20. A FRIGHTENING PARALLEL WITH NAZI GERMANY

Germany in the late 1920s and 1930s was a very enlightened nation in every way. It was a center of higher education, of music and the arts, of science and technology, … and with a very prominent church presence and theological community. All of that makes it the more puzzling and frightening is any attempt to understand how a populist blowhard could emerge out of a beer halls of Bavaria, and within a brief time seduce the whole of that remarkable nation to follow his call to make Germany into a world power made up of ‘Aryan-pure’ Germans under him.

I was becoming aware of world events as a boy in the 1930’s, and with other Americans laughed at Charlie Chaplain’s movie: The Great Dictator, in which he spoofed Adolph Hitler in a brilliant caricature. But in Germany it was more frightening as that remarkable nation looked the other way even as Hitler seized power, and the government agencies fell under his sway, and celebrated him in vast displays of military presence, began to allow him to implement his atrocious anti-Semitic policies and the beginnings of the holocaust and the death camps, which ultimately led to the death of millions of Jewish citizens. With the creation of his Gestapo it was not a good idea to question Hitler’s actions.

So, to my point in this blog: where was the church in all of this? The church was a very prominent institution in Germany. The answer is that Hitler took the church captive also, for the most part. His challenge to the church was that to be a ‘good German Christian’ one would be a faithful follower of the policies of his Third Reich. And do you know what? Most of the church bought this line—but not all! But to protest this Nazi claim on the church was to become an outlaw.

It was in this context that a brilliant young German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote the classic work, The Cost of Discipleship.

There emerged an underground ‘witnessing church’, a clandestine church seeking to be faithful to the church’s calling and mission. Its most notable figure was this same Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and his book Life Together describes this underground church, and has become a classic on the nature and discipline of the communion of God’s people. Ah! but this was an illegal church. The legal church in Germany was composed of what Bonhoeffer described as ‘religious Christians’ i.e. nominal (in name only) Christians.

Meanwhile the witnessing church was also producing one of the great confessions of church history, namely: The Barmen Declaration (under the guidance of Swiss theologian Karl Barth). That declaration is a classic for those in such a context as were they, and are we at this frightening moment in our history. This Barmen Declaration resides in many collections of the church’s confessions.

All of this is round-a-bout way of my saying to my readers that we are in a similar context in this country in which so much of the church in our nation seems content to be placidly conformed to a political agenda/party and dubious leadership, rather than being part of a dangerous and costly witnessing church. Bonhoeffer and the Barmen Declaration give us great resources in finding our way to faithful discipleship.

Or, to quote Martin Luther King, Jr. on this day that honors him, when challenged that he was breaking the law: “But we appeal to a higher law.”

Peace!

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THE CHURCH: A MISSIONAL COMMUNITY.

BLOG. 1/14/20. THE CHURCH: A MISSION COMMUNITY, GATHERED AND SCATTERED.

It helps us to remind ourselves, from time to time, that the church is, as the community of God’s new creation, a community that is called by Jesus Christ to be sent into the world to engage in the very same mission that was given him by his Father in heaven: “As the Father has sent me, even so do I send you.” … But right away comes the reality check: When are we to be engaged in that mission? The answer? 24/7, every day, all day, in every place that we find ourselves. The church is as much the church on Thursday afternoon as it is on Sunday morning (or whenever your Christian community gathers).

It is the church gathered weekly for mutual encouragement, to “teach and admonish one another with psalms and hymns” to be equipped for mission and refreshed in our sense of calling. But, … it is no less the church when it is scattered into homes, neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, etc. on Thursday afternoon. As a matter of fact, a case can be made that it is more in contact with the human community/world that Jesus came to reconcile to God on Thursday than it is on Sunday morning. Communal gatherings on Sunday morning are to re-evangelize us anew, to encourage us, to let us know that we’re not alone, and bond us to one another in love.

Ah! But then comes the “Monday morning world” into which Christ sends us to be contagious with the life of his new creation, to be his glory, the “the radiant display of his divine nature.” The Monday morning world is where the rubber meets the road. It is where the darkness is the most realistic and complex, yet where we are called to be the light, to be the demonstrations of new life in the Spirit what with all those fruits of a contagious and radical love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and so much more.

The Monday morning world is our mission field, and is that specific place to which Jesus sends us. When we become aware of this and pray about the realities, … it is amazing what kind of conversations you can get into in the most unexpected place, i.e., over a cup of coffee, or stuffed into the middle seat of a commuter plane!

Got it? Run with it. And pass the word along.

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CHRIST’S CHURCH ALWAYS COUNTER-CULTURAL

BLOG. 1.10.20. CHRIST’S CHURCH IS ALWAYS COUNTER-CULTURAL

Here, at the end of the week, given the chaos on the national and international scene, we need to be reminded that in whatever expression/community of the Christian we inhabit, … that the church, first of all, is a global community existing in multiple expressions, and a plethora of traditions, is a holy nation, whose calling is to be that of a community of Light in themidst of cultures of darkness. It is to be a community which is called to be God’s agent of righteousness and reconciliation, of peacemaking and of compassion for the broken, lost, hungry, homeless, unjustly imprisoned, and poverty-stricken of the world.

The reality is that we are citizens of the particular nations of the world. In those nations, we also need to choose the communities and political identities with which we will participate. Ah! But those choices are always made with the awareness of Christ’s calling to be primarily the demonstration of his New Creation, of his New Humanity. We become instruments of righteousness in national and international relationships.

This is an election year in these United States. As God’s new creation people out priority should be on those persons and those policies that most closely express demonstrate/incarnate the mission of God to the world in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. This is always costly. The darkness always resist the light. Greed and unrighteousness always have a way of trumping generosity and righteousness. Principalities and powers tend to resist the long-range welfare of God’s creation.

Our brothers and sisters in Christ who live in Uganda, or China, or Iraq … face similar, and often far more costly. But they are, with us, part of God’s holy nation, “the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. And they are in their context also counter-cultural, salt and light in cultures replete with corruption and darkness, estrangement and unrighteousness.

God’s new life in his people is always counter-cultural. Run with that!

I always love to hear from you. Plus, is you find these blogs provocative, recommend them to your friends.

Peace!

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‘EVANGELICAL’: A PROTEST

BLOG 1.7.20. ‘EVANGELICAL’: A PROTEST

I want to add my voice to the protest against the conservative right wing on the political scene who have both hijacked and bastardized the venerable and adjectival designation ‘evangelical’ to give legitimacy to their political agenda, which, in truth, is the antithesis of the term. ‘Evangel’ is a Greek word (euangellion) that refers to some thrilling news being heralded, i.e. a military victory, a celebration of some kind, etc. The New Testament chose it as the designation of God’s invasion of his rebellious creation in the person of Jesus Christ to make all things new, to put all to rights, to accomplish a reconciliation between God and humankind. It is translated in our Bibles with the word ‘gospel’.

‘Evangel’ is a word that is filled with hope and transformation, … and a radical new way of living, thinking, conceiving, hoping, loving, … and so much more, all in response to the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. It is anything but a political agenda as is being pushed by the conservative right in our current national political moment. That segment seeks to give legitimacy to is dubious platform by somehow identifying themselves with the Christian faith. Their platform will not stand the scrutiny of the thrilling message of Jesus Christ and his apostles (and the Old Testament prophets).

Consider, as a case in point, this from the teachings of Jesus: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your enemy and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be the sons and daughters (show the family likeness) of your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 55:43ff.) That means that in every dimension of life we are to the living, breathing demonstration of God’s new humanity now being created by Jesus Christ. It includes good new to the poor, help for the helpless, refuge for strangers, food for the hungry, deliverance for those in captivity, clothing for the naked, peacemaking, ministries of mercy and justice. That is the agenda of the true gospel/evangel. It’s anything but that being promoted by those currently passing themselves off as evangelicals on the political scene.

Or, ponder the teaching of the Old Testament prophet Micah: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” In all the tragic and destructive policies and inexplicably complex issues facing all the nations of the world, God’s new creation people are to be agents of justice, to be reconcilers, to incarnate costly discipleship that heals and brings hope, … and that comes with the people of God using their political influence as salt and light, as instruments of righteousness, … and in our political scene that will be costly and controversial. But on our radical kingdom agenda and obedience rests the possibility of Jesus saying to us: “Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

And may the Lord make of you and me the sweet savor of Christ. We are living in a critical moment in a global community, in which global community are all those communities of God’s new creation people such as we. All of this explains my protest! Peace be with you.

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BLOG 12.18.19

BLOG 12.18.19. WORSE THAN IMPEACHMENT … IS REJECTION

The media are consumed these days with the potential impeachment of the president, and his removal from office. It will be traumatic for the country, to be sure. But the possibility triggers in my mind a potential far more nightmarish, namely, being renounced and rejected by God, which potential rejection faces God’s humanity.

In one of the most sobering passages in the teachings of Jesus, which foretells his return in glory and the consequent separation of those from the nations, gathered before his throne like a shepherd separates his sheep from the goats. Please read this Matthew 25 passage carefully.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

  Do you get the awesome impact of this? Our eternal relationship with Jesus is given integrity by his living out his life of compassion in us for the real strangers, the homeless, the hungry, and the naked. And what is the context of this exhibition of our new creation integrity? Well, in the context of today, it is exhibited not only in our neighborhood and daily context, but in the political agendas and politicians we support. It is bad enough to be impeached or to support a president who is being impeached, … but far worse to be eternally rejected because we did not live out our calling to be the incarnation of his compassion. Sobering, isn’t it?

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BLOG 12.13.19. ‘SALT OF THE EARTH?’ WHAT’S THAT?

BLOG 12.13.19. ‘SALT OF THE EARTH?’ WHAT’S THAT?

In the midst of all the distressing behavior among so many prominent figures in today’s news comes the refreshing event of a movie about Fred Rogers, who dominated children’s television for so many years. In all the reviews, one caught my attention, it asked the question as to what it was about Fred Rogers that made him so effective a communicator, and one of the most influential persons of hi generation? The answer: Radical kindness. Don’t you love it?

Then comes the next question: What formed Fred Rogers into such an agent of that radical kindness? Well, he was a Presbyterian pastor with a theological degree, so you could attribute it to that, but that won’t do. There are lots of Presbyterian pastors with theological degrees who are hardly any sort of demonstration of radical kindness, alas! Maybe it was just his unique capacity to look upon children through the spectacles of his New Testament faith, especially needy and hurting children, and to demonstrate to them how the life of Christ in him saw them. Granted, he was gifted in communicating that life.

Go back to the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry, to his Sermon on the Mount. There, Jesus inaugurating his new creation, i.e., the kingdom of God, spells out some guidelines of behavior for those who would be his followers. We call those: the beatitudes. They reveal an incredible sensitivity to human need, and lives willing to pursue such a lifestyle, even if it brings suffering and persecution on them: affinity for those who are struggling financially, for those who mourn over great loss, those who hunger for justice, for those who incarnate mercy, and more.

At the conclusion of these beatitudes, he tells them that it is such a radically different and new ethic that they will become the salt of the earth and the light of the world. He also tells them that if they fail to live out this demonstration of light and life, that they are not fit for the calling to be his new humanity, but only to be cast out (wow!). All of his earthly life and ministry were aimed at recreating his own life in them, i.e., “If you abide in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit” (if not only good for the fire).

Let’s face it: this is not mere human religion—this is a radically new creation that incarnates God’s love for little children and all of his creation. (He also says that by our works shall we be known as his disciples, … which makes the ostensible Christian profession of many prominent public persons a bit dubious.)

Later, in the apostolic writings, it is noted that God’s people are his swelling place, and are the sweet aroma of Christ unto God. This life of Christ, by his Spirit, is demonstrated by a radical new life-style which not only by a radical kindness, but by such a love of all humankind, of joy, peace, faithfulness, gentleness, of kindness, of goodness, … a whole radically new kind of life, i.e. the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

In the context of abusive talk, homeless poor people those struggling to survive, those victim of injustice, leaders of dubious ethics, … Jesus calls his people to such a radical new lifestyle, kindness and all the rest. That could make this questionable scene into a “beautiful day in the neighborhood.”

Peace.

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BLOG 11/22/19. WHAT IS THE CHURCH’S LIFESTYLE?

BLOG 11/22/19. ECCLESIOLOGY: WHAT IS THE CHURCH’S LIFESTYLE?

Continuing these Blogs on the nature and mission of the church, there are lots of high flown theological definitions of the church, but we always need to come back to a basic concept that somehow the church is the flesh and blood community of God’s new creation/new humanity in Christ, the age to come, by which he is now invading this present age. It is the more interesting that in this quest of ours, that as Matthew records the life and ministry, he preaches the gospel of the kingdom (new creation) and seems intent on spelling out the practical dimensions of this kingdom in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).

What is the more interesting is that he introduces this sermon, not with some abstract formula, but rather with the in terms of the lifestyle of the kingdom, and hence the lifestyle of the community of the kingdom of God, the purpose of that lifestyle (as he explains, at the conclusion of these specific dimensions of the lifestyle, —the Beatitudes) is so that men may see the good works of God’s kingdom people and give glory to God.

Jesus launches right in with these very specific and existentially realistic lifestyle dimensions. He teaches how incredibly wonderful is the news, that those, who with him:

  • Are the poor, or who identify with plight and needs of the poor are those whose is the kingdom of heaven/God.
  • Those who mourn for the brokenness with which they are engaged, for they will be comforted.
  • The meek, (the little people? the nobodies?) for they shall inherit the earth.
  • Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness/justice, for they shall be satisfied.
  • The merciful, for they shall receive mercy themselves,
  • The pure in heart, for they will see God.
  • The peacemakers, for they shall be called God’s children.
  • Those who are persecuted for pursuing what is right for the kingdom of heaven/God belongs to them.
  • Those who are reviled, persecuted, and against whom all kinds of slander is uttered falsely. They are to rejoice and even be glad because their reward in heaven will be great.

Visible discipleship. No rose-colored glasses here. To be part of God new creation in Christ, his kingdom of Light, is to be in missionary confrontation with the kingdom of darkness in which we operate. No ‘comfort-zone Christianity’ here. Rather, the church (the ek-klesia) is to faithfully demonstrate before the watching world what it means to be God’s new creation/new humanity in Christ, … and it comes at a price, but ultimately is God’s incredible good news.

At the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, we are told that it is those who faithfully hold to these teaching of Christ who build their lives on a secure foundation which can withstand the storms of life. So, when we’re asking what the church looks like, it looks like ordinary people living out God’s mew creation design in communities of God’s new humanity.

Conversely, to have a handsome building, an eloquent preacher with a theological degree preaching inspiring sermons, and a remarkable good choir, plus compatible church-going friends, … may have nothing at all to do with God’s design for communities of his new creation people (alas!) as described in these Beatitudes, … which is what outsiders are meant to see when they see the church, God’s kingdom people. And when they see ostensible churches demonstrating the opposite of these beatitudes, it is no wonder they are confused. (to be continued)

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ECCLESIOLOGY:THE STUDY OF THE CHURCH

BLOG 11.19.19. ECCLESIOLOGY: THE STUDY OF THE CHURCH

Recent news articles have noted the decline in the percentage of persons identifying themselves as ‘Christian’ along with the significant decline in church attendance overall. I think, maybe, it’s time to take a step back and reclaim the study on the nature and mission of the church. The Greek word ekklesia (called out) is translated into English as ‘church.’ In the Greek is not necessarily a Christian term, but refers to any public assembly called together for some purpose. Thus, the church uses the term ecclesiology to refer to the study of the nature of the church in its God-given purpose, and missiology as referring to the study of the mission of God for his church.

I want to spend a few blogs attempting to, perhaps, helping us see more the essence of the church more clearly, with the purpose of removing any sense that a follower of Christ can be passive in his/her participation in the church and its worship times.[1] The times of worship are meant to refocus, refresh, re-evangelize, and encourage God’s people for their 24/7 engagement as “the missionary arm of the Holy Trinity. Both pastors and worshippers need to be keenly focused on this equipping by refocusing on God in adoration. It also refocuses all of us in our ministry to one another.

It is no wonder that Christian identification and church attendance are down. In the institutional church’s heyday in this country we had the ‘Blue Laws’ in force on Sundays by which all businesses, and much other were closed in honor of the Christian Sabbath. There really wasn’t much other to do, or place to socialize, other than the church gatherings. When those Blue Laws were suspended, Sunday became a day to sleep late, or go shopping, or join a running or bicycle club, … or whatever. Church and worship, at the same time, regained much integrity.

At the same time, that event provoked many new forms of the church that came into being to accomplish the authentic essence of God’s ecclesia and to be participants in its mission, and to do it very creatively. I will attempt in future blogs to work us through some basic ecclesiastical and missional basics, … just to refresh our minds and stir us to creative obedience. That’s a big order. Stand by.


[1] I have written extensively on this subject in books beginning with Enchanted Community, then Refounding the Church From the Underside, and then, The Church and the. Relentless Darkness. They are available from Amazon, or from Wipf and Stock Publishers over my name: Robert Thornton Henderson.

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BLOG 11.15.19. THERE ARE NO ORDINARY PEOPLE

BLOG 11.15.19. “THERE ARE NO ORDINARY PEOPLE”

I want to continue to focus on the reality that the Christ’s primary encounter with the community of men and women whom he came to seek and to save is through people such as you and me, in our daily places of occupation and daily routines. If the Spirit of Jesus lives in us, then his love and compassion for the bewildered, lost, happy pagans, “publicans and sinners”, … along with all the difficult and hostile persons we meet along the way … is present to them in you and me.

It is one thing for scores/hundreds of us to sit in a Sunday worship service and hear reports from our missionary partners across the globe, … and to fail to compute the reality that each of us is in daily confrontation with a mission field that is huge. If we are sensitive, listening, caring, and incarnating Christ’s love, it is through the church that the Holy Trinity encounters the world Jesus came to seek and to save. It is often in unexpected conversations (in what I call curbstone evangelism, or coffee cup evangelism) that we become agents of the love and gentleness of Jesus Christ.

This possibility reminds me of an essay by the noted British author, C. S. Lewis, entitled: “There Are No Ordinary People; You Have Never Talked to a Mere Mortal” which I share below:

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you 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 other of these destinations.

It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.

There are no ordinary people.”

_____

… to be continued in future Blogs. Pass the word along if you find these encouraging.

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BLOG 11.12.19

BLOG 11.12.19. “A FUTURE AND A HOPE’

In one of the darkest moments of ancient Israel’s history, they were captive to the Babylonian Empire as a huge colony of exiles. It was to the exiles in all of their despair and hopelessness that God spoke to them through the prophet Jeremiah, these words: “I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, … a future and a hope, …” (Jeremiah 29:11).

It was said by a wonderful Christian writer that we need to understand that the tragic is at the heart of our human experience because of our rebellion against God. Yet, even in the midst of that tragic and hopelessness there comes this note of grace. All of us within the family of God are called ‘aliens and exiles,’ and live in the context of the very evident brokenness and often hopelessness of this present sojourn. The evidences are everywhere: 78 million refugees, homelessness, world hunger, injustices in many forms, from hopeless poverty to obscene wealth, racial prejudice, vast humanitarian violations, environmental exploitation, global warming, all kinds of questionable political shenanigans, homelessness, and lurking hopelessness in so many forms.

But the promises of God from the outset are that God has a plan, a hopeful and redemptive plan, which will unfold over the ages (promises to Abraham, and to David, and the prophets). In the midst of so much that defied hope there was always that note that God would inaugurate a whole new creation through the agency of his anointed Son/Messiah. Thus, the huge note of hope in the forthcoming Advent/Christmas celebration. In Christ, the already-but-not-yet Kingdom of God would be inaugurated, and would ultimately be manifested to every nation.

Yet, you may protest, the tragic still persists. Yes, but not without hope. Jesus reconciles us to God by his blood, gives us new life by the Spirit, and encourages us and fills us with hope which hope will be consummated when Jesus has put all his enemies under his feet at the end of the age. Meanwhile, each of us is called to live our daily lives as stewards, or of the incarnation of God’s new humanity in Christ, to be light in the darkness, to be agents of God’s future and the great hope which that brings with it, practitioners of God’s new creation in the whole new lifestyle and ethic of that new creation.

“The God of hope fills us with all joy and peace in believing, hope by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13) And that hope will consummate as God’s future more invades our present.

… for starts (and expressed all to inadequately I confess.

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