Friday, May 28, 2010

Woe to the church?

Read Matthew 23.

In Matthew 23 Jesus blasts 7 "woes" to the Pharisees and teachers of the Law. Jesus' lament wasn't that the Pharisees were not religious in their action. It was that their religion was doing little to help them or other to do God's will.

The seven woes are:
  1. They created a false religion that actually kept people away from the Kingdom of God.
  2. They created disciples who were committed to dead religious practices.
  3. They devalued the things of God (i.e., the Temple and alter of God) to increase the value of their own work (i.e., offerings and gold).
  4. They ignored the purpose of the Law (i.e., justice, mercy and faithfulness).
  5. They used ceremonial cleanliness to hide the sins of their hearts.
  6. They maintained a religious appearance that masked their spiritual deadness.
  7. They lifted up the memories of spiritual giants but displayed attitudes of those who martyred the prophets and righteous.

It is easy to be religious, but what might we in the church today be doing that detracts from doing what God values the most?

I'm going to guess that many will start listing things like we aren't strong enough of sin or we don't preach hell enough. We might even be encouraged to say that we aren't strong enough on encouraging people to attend our church services or prayer groups. But look again at Jesus' woes. It seems that these are the kinds of things that the Pharisees and Scribes were focused on. Jesus wanted to change the focus all together.

Beware! There are many Pharisees in the American church even today. Many of them might be heroes and symbols of the most religious folks. One of them might be me. It is possible the my religious emphases are a stumbling block for some on the way to the Kingdom of God. It might be that you are one in some aspects of your faith.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Reflection on a strange strike

So the teacher are going on strike. Not walking out, but swearing to only do what they are contracted to do and nothing more.

Two thoughts: First, why the big deal? Can the community really be upset that someone is only doing what they are paid to do? If I go to Applebee's for dinner and my server only seats me, takes my order, brings my food and my check, and takes my payment, should I be upset that the server didn't also make friendly talk with my table? No, I don't have the right to demand that of the server.

On the other hand, a server who is friendly, takes the time to get to know me personally, and remembers my name will encourage both a bigger tip and my loyalty as a customer. That server would have pride in the end of the day that they are doing more than just earning a paycheck.

So, to the people in the school district just south of me, take heart. Your children's teachers are doing exactly what you (as taxpayers and voters) have asked them to do. You teachers in the same district, is that really enough? Can you really be pleased with your work when you allow an organization to dictate to you that you shouldn't go the extra step to feel good about your day?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

How contemporary is my traditional church?

I was looking through my book selves and found this quote:
There are only two options to the church today: one is to struggle to patch up the contemporary church, retaining all we can of traditional forms and patterns of live, resisting with all our might the forces that demand change (until the whole edifice crumbles as a new generation rejecting empty form and seeing no meaning, abandons our churches--leaving them to die as gracefully as possible). The other option is to accept the challenge of change, and to channel it--to seek to build together a church which will be a true expression of The Church, yet uniquely suited to our 21st century world.
This statement is quite appropriate as we talk about the church in 2010. There is a battle between doing church the old way and or changing our methods to make sense in a changing culture. Interestingly, I found this quote on the cover of A New Face for the Church, written in 1970 by Lawrence O. Richards. Not much has changed in 40 years. In fact, the only thing that I can see that has changed is the methods that the old church calls sacred.

Friday, May 14, 2010

When it's tradition verse culture, Truth should win

I just heard an insightful sermon on traditions in the church. Mark Foreman, pastor of North Coast Calvary Chapel in Carlsbad, California spoke on Matthew 15:1-20. I would highly recommend giving it a listen.

Here are some things that I learned about traditions from Jesus’ encounter with the Pharisees. These ideas reflect what Mark Foreman said, but I’ll say them in my own words.
  1. We all have traditions. Even if you think the things you are doing are tradition-less, you have a tradition. For me, my traditions tend to be to stubbornly dig in my heels at the first sniff of any tradition.
  2. Traditions are not bad on their own. They can be valuable tools for conveying truth.
  3. Traditions become our culture and as our culture, they can blind us from the truth. Because we are so enveloped in our culture, we can loose the language and skills we need to discern when a tradition has become an idol.
  4. While we ought not substitute our traditions (i.e., Christian culture) for truth, we cannot let our culture (i.e., worldly habits) lean in to define truth. The Word of God is our final guide on truth.
  5. When we are angry at a Christian brother or sister, we need to evaluate if the source of our anger is really truth of it is actually a conflict of traditions.
  6. Traditions that tear the church apart need to be reevaluated.
  7. “In essentials unity. In nonessentials liberty. In all things love.”
So, in the debate of traditional church verse the culturally relevant church, the truth of the Gospel of Christ should be the only winner.

I'm going to be working on some traditions of my own. What struggles in your life might be coming from a conflict of traditions? What practices does our church have that might be blind obedience to tradition rather than thoughtfully conveying the Gospel of Christ.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The meat of teaching

On occasion I hear someone say that the church should have more meat in its teaching. I ask them what they mean. Interestingly, I seldom get an answer that is thought out ahead of time. They aren't usually sure, they just don't feel the teachers use enough big words, give enough background information, list enough cross references, or are not clear enough on the doctrines of the Church. Certainly all of those things are important. But I think meat is something all together different.
We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Hebrews 5:11-14
Learning the information, the doctrine, the background and the reasons why we do something is what the author of Hebrews calls milk. Solid food (meat) is teaching and doing what God calls us to do. Student who are sitting in classes listening are nursing their faith like a baby nurses from his mother. Every person needs to do that for a season, but that cannot be the on-going form of discipleship. A baby needs less than a year of nursing before it is ready for solid food. I would suggest that disciples become fat on milk if they are not discipling in some manner within a year of their start on the journey.

To really grow in your faith, find situations where you will be challenged to live out your faith and do so with the watchful eye of a mentor helping you along the way.

To really help someone else grow, teach them until they get to the point where they can teach anyone else and be effective, then push them to do just that. Teaching is the highest form of learning. Doing is the meat we are after.

If teaching is discipleship, who are you teaching? Who are you helping to teach another?

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Deep Church review

I have found that with so many changes going on in the church (my church as well as the Western church), I have been drawn to reading books on Ecclesiology. Back in seminary I remember comparing Resident Aliens with Rediscovering Church. It seems that I was the only one in Scott Wenig's Church Administration class who felt more aligned with Hauerwas and Willimon's book (RA) than with the exceedingly popular book by the Hybles. The pragmatic work of the Willow Creek megachurch just seemed too shortsighted to me.

I just worked my way through Deep Church by Jim Belcher (2009, IVP, Kindle Edition). In this book he investigates the debate between traditional and the emergent models of church. This is a raging debate in Christian leadership circles. If you aren't a leader, you might not think you care, but the truth is, the model of church will effect the way, the purpose and the form of your relationship with believers. Belcher talks briefly about the pragmatic movement of the church grow/seeker sensitive movement, but does not analyze it beyond deeming in dead. (Interesting that less than a dozen years ago, most of the students in my class were inline with this movement.)

In the end, Belcher is trying to set up a third way between the traditional church (fundamentalism) and the emergent church. His third way envelopes three elements for defining the body that Christ left for his work on Earth. They are the Bible, traditions and culture. Of course, both the traditional and emergent church believe they are using the Bible in their development, but they see the Bible in very different ways. The traditional camp interprets the Bible based on traditions. The emergent side works from a context of understanding the Bible according to the culture.

In the end, I think that Belcher has presented an excellent option to these Ecclesiologies. He calls this third way the deep church. I struggle a bit with his discussion on politics and worship. While I agree that those in the emergent camp too often focus on arts when talking about culture and agree that Christians need to be involved in all aspects of culture, I think that Christians need to be careful here. Too often we have adopted a worldly political system and named it Christian (whether it be conservative or liberal). We cannot afford to do that and maintain our witness. At this point of very divisive politics, Christians need to be questioning hard both poles of the political spectrum. Belcher hints at this but the warning needs to be stronger.

On my second issue of traditions in worship. I do not disagree that we need to understand and connect with our historical context as we worship as the body of Christ. But that is always going to be difficult. What tradition do we connect to is always going to be a difficult question. A glance at Belcher's Redeemer Presbyterian Church website shows a very western church image. How do we account for which traditions we follow? How do we discount an inappropriate tradition? It would seem that we need to ask these questions or the church will be driven to adopt practices of by-gone cultures which do not draw us closer to the Cross. For example, while the author chose his denomination over (among other things) a strong belief in ordination. The tradition of ordination, of course, came from the same tradition that gave us the totalitarian papacy. At the same time, while hymns are the history of the church that grew up in the west, why do we usually ignore African spirituals or music from eastern cultures?

In the end, I was quite impress and swayed by Deep Church. The issue I have are minor and I like the way that Belcher is working to bring the positive of both extremes in the church debate together. I would love to hear from others as we work out the issues of worship and culture. Do you think Belcher found a reasonable middle point?