Tag Archives: the-body-of-christ

Kind of Like Marriage

Let us not, therefore, be insensible to His kindness. For, were Jesus to reward us according to our works, we should cease to be. Therefore, having become His disciples, let us learn to live according to the principles of Christianity. For whosoever is called by any other name beside this, is not of God. Lay aside, therefore, the evil, the old, the sour leaven, and be ye changed into the new leaven, which is Jesus Christ. -Ignatius of Antioch, one of the early church martyrs (ca. 117 C.E.), Letter to the Magnesians 10

When men are called by any other name they cease to be Christians for they have lost Christ’s name and have clothed themselves in human and foreign titles. -Justin Martyr (ca. 150), Dialogue with Trypho 35

Never at any time did Christian people take their name from their teachers among them, but from the Lord, on whom we rest our faith. Thus, though the blessed Apostles have become our teachers, and have ministered the Savior’s Gospel, yet not from them have we our name, but from Christ we are and are named Christians. -Athanasius of Alexandria (340 AD), Against the Arians 1:2

I dislike calling people onto the carpet, yet sometimes it is a necessary thing to do. The more “I think about”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/?p=310 this issue, the more “analysis”:http://cpsdiscernment.blogspot.com/2006/03/ruminating-on-emergent-church.html I hear about it, the more I read what others write on the subject, the more I have to conclude that the folks who have stopped going to church are wrong in their decision to do so. I don’t like saying this about my brothers and sisters, yet I have no option but to conclude that the church was never meant to be broken up and fractured the way it is now.

Yesterday’s sermon at “my church”:http://www.yourchurch.com hit the subject of unity very hard. One of the things that Pastor Kauffman hit on specifically is that no matter what the problem, no matter what the issue, you do not leave the church. If your leaders are drunk around the communion table, if someone in the church takes you to court and sues you for everything you have, if something occurs that causes strife and conflict in the church, you do not leave the church. It actually occurred to me that it is something much like a marriage. No matter what happens in the marriage, you stay together and work it out, no matter how difficult it is to do. ((This symbolism is, perhaps, why the sanctity of marriage is so important.))

The fellowship of the Body is so very important for the Body functions better and more ably when it is whole. If people split off whenever there is the slightest amount of trouble (or even when there is a great deal of trouble), then the Body itself is broken into small pieces and is rendered impotent.

Titles and denominations are both terribly detrimental to the unity of the Body, as Pastor and Dr. Bebawi have “pointed out”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/?p=315. In giving ourselves titles, in following one teacher over another, we lose our focus on the One we _should_ be following. We forget that it is all about Christ and him alone. It’s not about “labels”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/?p=111 – it’s about being identified with Christ. It’s about joining with the Body, with the Church, and working from the foundation of our faith, that being the Gospel, to reach the rest of the world with the hope that we have. We may disagree on various points of theology along the way, but if we agree on the Trinity, on the depravity of man, on the personhood of Christ and His work on the Cross, on the work of the Holy Spirit, then we can be unified under God and we should work together to further the Gospel, no matter the problems and issues and conflicts that arise in our midst. We need to work through them, no matter how hard it may be to do so, so that the glory of God may shine in us.

Does this mean that God cannot use those times when people go off on their own? Does this mean that God is not present when they ‘do church’ in the coffee shops and private residences of our communities? Does this mean that God does not speak to and grow His children when they are absent from the Body? By no means, but I do think that the goal should be for these people to return to the Church as quickly as possible, for the strengthening of the Body and the edification of the saints. We are made all the stronger when we gather in greater numbers.

The Church is not perfect, that is sure, for it is still composed of as-yet imperfect people. Sometimes, the Church can be downright ugly, when people forget Who it is they represent. But how we the Church grow when those who most desire to do so leave it and turn their backs on it?

I appreciate the voices of those who have left, who have voiced their concerns and have spotted some of the problems within so many of our churches. But I feel that they have made the wrong choice in leaving, in depriving us of their vision and of their hopes. I recognize and realize that they are disillusioned and burned out and hurt, but we need them all the same. If we could give up our titles of Arminian and Calvinist, of Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, and Catholic, I believe we could once again function as a unified Body and turn this world on its head for Christ. This will likely never happen, but it does not mean that we cannot, and should not, work toward that end. We will never be perfect this side of Heaven, but we do have perfection as a goal, and we should be taking steps, however small, toward that end.

So, please return to us, those of you who have left. We need your energy, your vision, your hope of what _could_ be and what _should_ be in our churches and in our Church. We need that inspiration, that continual renewal of vigor, especially where that vision has grown stale and stagnant. More’s the power when you are with us and when we are together as one for the cause of Christ.

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

It’s Not About Christians

It’s always sad when the Body of Christ drives its members away. I’ve written at length in the past about the state of the American church and how we need to strive to refocus it toward the ideals that Christ taught, spurning the lackadaisical attitudes that have become so common in our culture.

But I want to focus on another perspective, that of the “former Christians”:http://deadyouthpastor.blogspot.com/. I understand where people are coming from here. I’ve been there myself — bitter and cynical and tired of the way things are in so many of our churches, among the very people who are supposed to demonstrate a higher calling and a better way of life. And when Christians turn their backs on God and church and begin calling themselves ‘former Christians’, that says one of two things to me — either they were never Christian to begin with, or they have simply allowed the flesh to rule out over the power of Christ to renew and restore, a very easy thing to do, I might add. I hurt for these people because I know what it feels like to be in that place, angry at Christians for being just regular people, for saying they represent a Higher Power but acting like everyone else and for not being different or special.

But it’s not about Christians, and it never has been. It’s always been about Christ, and while it’s extremely easy to focus on the people, that is not where our eyes should be set. I am learning again what it means to set my eyes on things above, what it means to live by the power of God exactly because Christ is my focus and not the people around me. When you focus on people, all you see is failure and shortcomings. When you focus on Christ, all you see if holiness and light and joy and peace. Focusing on people leads to the kind of bitterness and anger that we see so often in people who walk away from church. We see people who should know better and yet who fall into the very behaviors we are called to reject. It is only by focusing personally on Christ that we can find hope again, that we can see other people as Christ sees them, as people in need and worth reaching out to and drawing into the fold. We focus on Christ, and in turn, He grants us His vision to see the world as He sees it, restoring our spirits, restoring our hope, restoring our purpose. By focusing on Christ, we can then reach out to those Christians who have lost their hope and return them to the place that has meaning, restoring them to fellowship with the Body. But it starts with us, it starts with me. I must be focusing on Christ if I ever hope to help another do the same.

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.

Accountability of the Body

It occurs to me this evening that within the Body of Christ, there is less accountability than there ought to be. Everyday I see instances where unbelievers are angry, cynical, and bitter toward Christians because of the general behavior of many they have seen and experienced. It pains me to know that Christians are perceived in such a negative light, but I also realize that those stereotypes and categorizations are justly deserved. Many Christians are sadly some of the more judgmental and hypocritical people I know.

But it also occurs to me that the Body should hold itself accountable. We should be policing ourselves, practicing the Biblical guidelines for loving, compassionate confrontation for the sake of the good of the whole. Anyone who claims to be a disciple of Christ is subject to this accountability, and any brother or sister in Christ should be able to approach any other brother or sister and confront them about sin, hypocrisy, heresy, etc. When notable Christians are in the news and/or are publicly behaving in a way that reflects badly on the Body, other Christians should be making phone calls, writing letters, making personal visits to that individual, expressing their concerns, citing biblical references for why the individual’s actions were wrong, and endeavoring to rectify the situation so as to repair the testimony of the Body as a whole. Yet we shy away from this duty because we are afraid of the confrontation, afraid of being rebuffed and scorned and ridiculed by those same individuals and possibly by others in the Body. But we should do it anyway because it is the right thing to do and because it so damages our testimony and hinders our work and the work of the Holy Spirit.

So, this is my challenge to all of you and to myself — stand up for what is right, seek to reprove, rebuke, and exhort according to the Word of God, and strive for greaty unity, harmony, and communion among the Body. In the long run, we will be stronger, happier, and
healthier for it, and we can really get about doing the work of the Lord.

Sleep Is A Complete Waste of Time

I feel like sleep wastes so much of my time, time that I would much rather spend catching up on my reading, writing down all those thoughts I never quite seem to get to, doing all those things on my to-do list that either need doing or that I want to work on. Do you realize
that you spend about a third of your life catching Zs?

Another thought, another question. I stumbled across another brother’s Xanga this afternoon, someone I’ve not met and yet feel something of a kinship with. How is that we as Christians seem to neglect our duty to keep up with each other’s lives, fail to keep each other accountible, somehow ‘forget’ to ask each other, Hey, how are you doing with _________? And why do we find it so difficult to seek each other out and share our burdens with another? Part of it, I’m sure, is guilt and shame and embarrassment. Part of it, I fear, is a condemnation to the Body of Christ — we are simply afraid of the judgment of our fellow believers. I know I’m guilty of this, on both sides, both in not seeking others out for help and in not seeking others out to help.

So, I guess the question is, what am I going to do about it?