Tag Archives: fellowship

Belligerance

Christians can be so hard-nosed and bull-headed sometimes about returning to fellowship with Christ. I know – I’m one of the worst offenders in this regard. You can see a brother or sister in the faith struggling to win out over temptation and sin or simply walking in it, regardless of the consequences. You can plead and urge and cajole, and still they will not be moved. Their choices, their actions, their decisions can inflict deep pain on those they love and do great damage to the cause of Christ, and still they will not be shaken from their lifestyle of sin. And then one day, it all changes suddenly, and they fall on their face before Almighty God, repent, and return to the fold, leaving those who pleaded with them for so long in confusion as to what finally made the difference.

Part of the answer to this question is that the individual must _want_ to change and must want it enough to be open to answers and to facing their own inward ugliness. It’s one thing to want to change just a little bit, yet still not actually change because you have not yet come to the end of yourself, have not yet completely hit bottom. And it’s one thing to want to change enough to start making changes but then quit when the going gets rough because you are not relying fully (or even partially) on the power of God to work.

I have a theory about another part of this answer, and you can tell me what you think about it. I think that part of this, maybe even the biggest part of it is that some of these people have not yet encountered something that fully meets their need. For instance, say that a particular believer has fallen into habitual sin. This individual desires a life-altering change and has, in fact, attempted to change at several points in the recent past. This individual has been unwilling or unable to completely yield control of their life to God, for whatever reason, and has had trouble letting go of the sinful indulges they have been seeking out. Yet, this individual is miserable and wants something to change. In short, this individual feels stuck, unable to move forward in their spiritual walk. This individual also knows all the Scripture verses that apply to their situation, has heard all the traditional responses by church folk, such as “Give it God,” “Get on your knees and pray for forgiveness and God will rescue you from your sin,” “Get some good biblical counseling; that’ll help,” and countless other bits of wisdom. This individual tries all these things at some point or another and yet sees no change in their heart or their life.

Then this individual encounters something new. Maybe it’s a personal encounter with a friend or a respected elder. It could be a seminar that presents truth in a different light. It could be a song that speaks powerfully into this individual’s situation. Whatever it is, it speaks directly to this individual’s need, to the emptiness in their own heart, to the longing that the individual tried to fulfill in their pursuit of sin. It is the sort of thing that might tell them something they already knew but through an entirely fresh, new, and clean perspective that addresses the longing of their heart exactly and completely. This, then, makes all the difference in the individual’s life. It is like being able to get a cold, crisp drink of water when you have been dying of thirst. It’s like a cool breeze that suddenly springs up on a scorching summer day. It soothes the burning itch, the searing passion, the smoldering need in that individual’s heart that nothing to this point has been able to quench or satisfy. It is, in fact, the Holy Spirit’s arrival via this unique message at exactly the right moment in this individual’s life when they are ready to receive it. It is the combination of the seeker seeking ((and yes, I believe that even Christians can be seekers, albeit of a different kind.)), the heart softening, and the message arriving at the right time and in exactly the right way to meet the innermost need of the individual. It is a wholly beautiful event that brings the lost lamb back into the fold and imbues the lost-now-found one with an excitement, energy, and richness of faith that was once thought lost forever.

Some Christians never experience this, choosing rather to follow their own desires ((at which point one has to question whether or not they were ever truly a follower of Christ to begin with.)) or endlessly pursuing solutions that never fully or completely speak to their need. To some extent I think that the Church’s lackadaisical attitudes these days has contributed to the problem of lost sheep who cannot find their way back to the fold. We have carved out too many cookie-cutter answers that allow us to keep our distance from other people rather than getting intimately involved in the lives of our brothers and sisters and tailoring answers to their needs that speak powerfully to their hearts. I can only hope that we will soon shake ourselves of this indifference and begin to do more to minister into the lives of our brethren than we have in recent days. I cannot do anything about anyone else, but I know that I will strive to shake free of my own indifference and aloofness and allow Christ to speak powerfully through this vessel. May it ever be so.

Fracture

The Society of Serpents and Doves: Ruminating on the Emergent Church

“Dr. Mark Caleb Smith”:http://www.blogger.com/profile/11310269 writes about the emergent church movement, addressing many of the same concerns that I’ve “mentioned before”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/?p=183.

bq. How does one build authentic relationships with those in need by separating from the Body of Christ? If they are correct, then we, the organized church, is in need of change, and the emergents should be “salt” and “light” to the rest of us.

This has been one of my major criticisms of the separation of the emergent folks from the traditional church. Now, I realize that many emergents are still practicing their faith in their local churches, but from what I have been able to ascertain, even many (or most) of them are isolated from the rest of their congregations. ((Whether by their own choice or that of their peers remains unclear to me.)) But many of the emergent folks I have conversed with have stopped attending church, with most of their Christian fellowship taking place in more casual surroundings with smaller groups of people. Indeed, the question that Dr. Smith asks seems to be a valid one. How can the perceived problems and shortcomings in the church be corrected but for those who have identified them to stay and work to repair them?

Another of the blog’s “writers”:http://www.blogger.com/profile/11495817 comments:

bq. More problematic, the emergent alternative is not a return to the authority of Scripture. Often emergents emphasize multiple authorities (community, experience, creative thought or action, Scripture, church tradition, etc.), thus relegating God’s Word to just one among many.

Again, while this certainly does not describe all of those individuals who consider themselves emergent, it _is_ a trend that even I have noticed. It is, I believe, a symptom of this postmodern culture, where our own perceptions, understanding, and knowledge is suspect, where the existence of absolute truth is doubted, and where common experience is often given as much authority as established, verifiable fact. As a result the Bible’s authority is questioned – whether because we doubt its accuracy or source of truthfulness or our ability to understand the information contained therein matters little; the end result is the same – and we find ourselves falling back and relying on our own experiences and philosophical musings in our quest for truth and enlightenment. We hope that we can arrive at the truth simply by talking about it and sifting the chaff from the wheat. I do believe that there is some relevance to this approach, else all our conversations with one another would be for naught, but by relegating the Bible to a place of like authority as our own experiences, we remove any source and hope for discovering absolute truth. We become to ourselves a self-referential source for truth, and secular philosophy has proven time and again that this approach to seeking truth leaves us severely lacking. ((To some extent I almost think that some emergents are becoming more like agnostics in this regard.))

I don’t know how much of the emergent population this describes. That’s part of the problem, I fear – the emergent church is reluctant to establish a definition for itself or goals or a mission statement, since that is part of the very structure and legalism from which they are trying to escape. But I think Dr. Smith again hits the nail right on the head when he says that the emergent church is a further fracture of the Church, something which we all know is a very bad thing.

The Baby and the Bathwater

I admit it — I’m having a hard time coming to terms with the emergent movement. Maybe it’s because I’ve almost always been in churches that have their acts together, that are active both in ministering to the Body and in reaching out to the community, but I honestly don’t see where it helps to trash the structure of the traditional church simply because some churches are _not_ doing what they are called to do. To me, that’s like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I appreciate “Grace’s”:http://emerginggrace.blogspot.com openness and honesty as she struggles and “searches”:http://emerginggrace.blogspot.com/2006/01/bit-by-emerging-bug.html to find an answer to something that has been a source of great heartache for her.

There are some philosophical fundamentals of the emerging church that I tend to agree with and that I understand. I recognize that there is a deep dissatisfaction among many Christians with the traditional church. There are, I believe, many reasons for this. For instance, it is difficult to come to church Sunday after Sunday and watch people who are little more than pew-warmers — content to take their habitual seat, keeping it warm for an hour or two, and then leave, having never been changed or affected by the worship, by the prayer, by the fellowship of the Body, by the power of the Holy Spirit. They come, they sit quietly, and they continue to live their lives as they wish to live them.

Another source of contention that many emergents point out is where the church has a larger building budget than missions budget. The focus is on creating a temple, rather than on reaching souls, touching lives, and meeting needs. For the churches that do this, I have to agree that their priorities are in the wrong place. These are the churches where weekly gatherings are little more than social clubs, where missions and community outreach are rarely mentioned because everyone is too involved planning their next potluck or church event. Not all churches are like this, mind you, but enough of them are that it creates a sense of disquiet and disillusionment for those Christians who want more out of their spiritual walk.

The church has also typically been slow to close the generational gap, though this is, in my opinion, less a problem of the church in particular than of culture in general. The older generation has always had trouble relating to the younger because trends and styles change every year. And with the innovations in technology, culture moves even faster than it did, and hence it tends to change much more quickly. So many churches are either blind to the changes in culture or simply don’t acknowledge a need to address such changes. In either case the generational gap is closed by only a few, not enough to meet the needs of the next generation or answer the questions and issues it faces on a daily basis. Further cause for disillusionment.

One other thing that I view as a major contributor to disillusionment among Christians is a rigid adherence to church beliefs and traditions that are quickly revealed as counter-biblical to any who takes the time to check them. I have watched many believers get hurt by their fellow Christians because of prejudices, attitudes, and behaviors that run completely counter to the teachings of the Bible. Rigid adherence to provable truth is one thing, especially when done in a humble, contrite manner, but rigid adherence to misconceptions and lies is quite another. It is always disappointing to me to watch someone who calls himself Christian demean and destroy another because of flawed beliefs and then refuse to receive correction when a third party attempts to intervene. And what is worse is watching an entire church fall prey to such behaviors and operate in a fashion that I am sure is disappointing to our Savior.

No wonder so many Christians today want to do things differently. I myself have been one to want to distance myself from other Christians, to set out on my own and do things the way I know they should be done, the way the Bible teaches, rather than the way I see so many Christians doing things right now. But always, in such cases, my focus has been on the people, rather than on the Christ, and I find that when I shift my focus back to Him, I recognize anew that the church is, indeed, ordained and meant to be an integral part of the Christian walk.

It is interesting that no description was given as to what the church is to look like, though Paul does give us quite a bit to work from in his letters to the churches. We know that churches need to have a pastor, someone whose focus is on researching the Bible and providing a focus on learning its doctrine, someone to guide and to shepherd, to continually steer his flock toward Christ. The church is to have elders, whose purpose to meet the needs both of the church members and of the members of the community. The church is to look after widows and orphans. It is to meet on a regular basis for the renewing of the saints and the edification of the body. Whether it is to be done in small groups or as one large congregation is never mentioned, though I suspect that, like most things, the form of the gathering and fellowship is dependent upon situation and context. But organized church is definitely something that is a requirement for healthy, vibrant faith.

I believe that the trouble today exists primarily in our lucrative culture. Surrounded by so much wealth, it is easy to lose focus and forget that we are strangers here, that this world is not our home, that what is truly important comes after this life. So, we spend more of our time making sure we have enough, making sure that we are comfortable and happy and content. We forget that so much of our faith lies in having little (or nothing), in discomfort, in pain. We don’t like to think about that and so we convince ourselves that we can have it all and still serve God fully, something which only the rare Christian is actually able to handle.

And so the disillusioned and the hurt move to get away from traditions, to get away from the way the church has done things for so long, seeking instead a new of being Christian, a way that will meet both personal and community needs. My fear is that emerging church is too far on the other extreme. I would love to see both sides come together, recognizing that there are shortcomings in both philosophies and traditions, and make the church into something better than it is now. I hate seeing people throw the baby out, when it is really just the bathwater that needs dumping. The organized church is a good thing, I believe, especially when I see churches like mine that are growing and thriving, adding members faster than we can erect buildings to contain them, spending millions on missions trips and outreach events, and administering programs that touch the needs of our community. When I see churches like this I find it hard to believe that we need to abandon such institutions. Instead, I think we need to bring the goals and desires of the emergents together with established churches, shake people up a little, and blend the Body into an institution that meets everyone’s needs and grows the Kindgom for Christ.

We should have been doing this all along, and in many cases we have been, and we need to make a more concerted effort to continue doing so. Will the church ever be perfect? Not this side of heaven, but there is no reason why we should be allowing hypocrisy and heresy to govern our churches and alienate its members, when the Bible lays out in plain language what we should look like and what we should be doing.

Focus on Christ, and not the people, and tell me how that changes your perspective. It’s made all the difference in my own.

Related links:
“Decompressing Faith: ‘Bit by the Emerging Bug'”:http://decompressingfaith.blogspot.com/2006/01/bit-by-emerging-bug.html
“The Upward Way Press: Virus”:http://www.rmcrob.com/?p=2568
“Christianity Today: The Emergent Mystique”:http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2004/011/12.36.html
“opensourcetheology: What is ’emerging church?'”:http://www.opensourcetheology.net/node/229
“emergingchurch.info: George Lings ‘What is emerging church?'”:http://www.emergingchurch.info/reflection/georgelings/index.htm

Brevity of Verbosity

Have you ever noticed how most people in our culture are uncomfortable with silence? We leave our TVs and radios on, even in rooms that are unoccupied, just so that there is some sort of auditory interest. In conversation gaps and lulls have to be filled with something, even meaningless chatter, just so there aren’t any awkward pauses. We just find ourselves uncomfortable in the quiet.

I am one of those who has experienced such discomfort. I am also one of those who is learning to become comfortable with silence. I am learning that it is usually better, when you have nothing of import to say, to say nothing at all. Back to that whole “simple solution”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/?p=180 thing — simplicity in dialogue is usually better than verbosity. Say it simply, say it plain, and when you’re done, say nothing more unless you need to. This is not to say that there is no place for the casual chatter between friends and acquaintances, but it _is_ to say that there should be no pressure to fill every silence with words, at the risk of rendering that sort of dialogue hollow and meaningless.

I am a man of words. I enjoy discussion, I enjoy writing, and as such I feel an almost inherent pressure to spout such words as come to mind. But often such venting is superfluous, and I find that functionality of communication takes precedence over artistry of communication. My job requires descriptions and explanations to be brief, since what matters are the numbers I produce and since too much written out gets skipped and ignored. Phone conversations and emails are straight to the point because getting the job done is what’s important. But even in casual encounters, I am learning to take comfort in silence. There is no need to talk all the time — just being in the presence of friends is reassuring and refreshing. Fellowship can take place even when not a single word is spoken.

In the Background

Christianity is a faith, I believe, that functions in the background. Or at least it should. The Christian faith is a personal one. It functions as the relationship of individual to Deity, but it is also a function of individual to individual. The most effective dissemination of the Gospel has always been on a one-to-one basis. Granted, God has blessed many great evangelists over the years with widespread ministries, leading hundreds and thousands to Christ at a time. But I think the numbers would show that the greatest spread of the Word has been through personal relationships with each other, with letting the Christian lifestyle speak volumes, with communicating our hope in casual conversation. When Christians take the Gospel to the public arena, particularly the political arena, the message somehow gets tainted and stilted. In that realm emotions like fear flavor the good news in a way that is often harmful because political-religious concerns involve protecting the right to worship. That fear drives that political action, and what starts as a movement to protect freedom of worship almost turns into a blanket action to forcefully establish a state religion, something that the founding fathers were very careful to protect against. (Of course, there are also those who use their beliefs to foster an attitude of superiority, who allow that attitude to breed anger, hatred, and bitterness, but those are the individuals that need to be separated from the whole because they clearly do not aid the Body. They are the cancer that brings the Body down and should removed.)

Christianity is a faith that operates best in the background. Our faith should be visible, but not obnoxiously so. Our faith should be presented with love and compassion but also with patience and understanding, two virtues that I think are all too often forgotten or ignored. No one can be forced to believe in Christ or in God, yet the practice of our faith should be compelling and awe-inspiring. This is why it is so important to develop active relationships with other people — with other Christians for the strengthening of our faith and the renewal of our spirits, and with unbelievers so that we may demonstrate with our lives and testify with our lips the power of the hope that is in us. Let us relate our hope to others and build the Kingdom one life at a time.

Just Like Family

The place where I’m currently working is in the midst of some major transitions. The guy they’ve hired to effect the changes has placed a huge emphasis on improving the quality and quantity of communication within the organization. Since I’m a temporary contractor and since my work consists of doing nothing but data entry and since the terminal at which I sit is right in the middle of the workplace, I have the opportunity to witness more than most individuals might. What I’ve noticed is that this guy is striving to build the employees of this company into a family, in part by improving their overall communication. It has been a fascinating process to
watch, and I have found myself laughing a number of times while I work. (One of the managers has repeatedly been brought out to the floor, bringing all work in the place to a screeching halt, so he can practice his communication skills while his boss, the fellow effecting all these changes, watches and ‘grades’ him. The results have been often amusing.) In effect, the ultimate goal is that, by improving the level of communication in the company, costs will go down and the business will grow.

The application of this readily transfers to the church and the Body of Christ. How often do churches break and split because communication breaks down? How often do Christians hurt one another, not to mention unbelievers, emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically because clear communication could not be accomplished? To some extent, I think we can take some lessons from this guy — good communication is absolutely essential in order for any organization to grow and thrive. This is no less true within the Body. They call it good business sense. We call it fellowship. Either way, the end product is the same — efficiency increases, individuals function as a single unit, and growth and prosperity are nearly guaranteed. In order for this work, though, everyone has to
participate, which means everyone has to have a good attitude and a spirit of mutual cooperation. Honesty really is the best policy. Temper it with openness, understanding, grace, and humility, and positive results are nearly inevitable. So, practice your communication skills, and don’t be surprised when others response positively toward you.

Crossing the Denominational Divide

The quadrennial national Nazarene convention is in Indianapolis this week. Since I am currently driving carriages downtown most nights this week, I frequently take a group of people for a ride who are a part of that convention. Last night, I loaded a group of six, and because space was tight in the carriage itself, one of the gentlemen in the group sat up in the box with me for the duration of the ride. We quickly established a common ground of discussion when I mentioned
that I am a pastor’s kid and he is a pastor. For the next 25 minutes, we had a very enjoyable discussion about all manner of things Christian.

Once I dropped them off and began my next ride of the evening, I noticed a curious phenomenon — I actually felt both energized and hopeful for the first time in a very long time. It was the first time I had left the presence of Christians (who are not part of my inner social group) feeling refreshed at the fellowship shared and hopeful about the state of the Body. And then I chuckled when I remembered that the group I had just fellowshipped with was Nazarene. While I do have some theological differings from the Nazarene Church, I was overjoyed to rediscover that it is possible to cross the denominational divide and enjoy good, Christian
fellowship anyhow. Sometimes, I think we in the Body can get so wrapped up in the idea that “so-and-so is part of that denomination, so I can’t fellowship with him” that we miss out on some of the greatest blessings of fellowship. Personally, I would love to see more people putting aside or ignoring the denominational divide and spending more time urging the Body to work together in fellowship and unity. Ultimately, I think it would benefit the Church as a whole
and might undo some of the damage done by the extremes that always seem to make the news and give Christians as a whole such a bad name.