Tag Archives: the-church

Give Me Simplicity

There are many times during the course of my immersion into the realms of science fiction and fantasy, whether it be reading books, watching shows or movies, etc., when I wish that I could experience aspects of those cultures first-hand. For instance, in the short-lived show _Firefly_, two cultures merged into one when humanity abandoned Earth. The predominant world superpowers at that time were the United States and China. So, when new worlds were terraformed and then populated by Earth’s refugees, it wasn’t long before most inhabitants of this new solar system were bi-lingual, speaking English primarily but switching over to Mandarin in moments of high emotion.

In Stephen Lawhead’s Pendragon cycle, the culture of Britain in the early days after Jesu left his mark on the world was rich with history, symbolism, and faith. The mere image of the cross was enough to spark strong emotional and behavioral reactions in the followers of the Great Light, of the one True God. You can believe that nothing in their faith was taken for granted.

What it comes down to is this – I see in many Americans a shallowness that borders on being depressing. I don’t believe it always used to be this way. Early on in our nation’s history, national pride was treasured, cherished. It was important to be known as an American, important enough to die for, as many did. Today it seems that so many of our citizens are almost ashamed to be called Americans, thinking that to claim such is to be pretentious and arrogant in the eyes of the world. We are becoming American in name only, with so many having no concept of the pride that goes with being called such.

So, too, in our churches and in our faith. We are becoming Christian in name only, and that often only barely. Cultural shallowness has begun to penetrate our minds, our hearts, our churches so that our ministries become less effective, less robust. As both Americans and as Christians, we are losing our culture, those elements that root us in what we are and in what we believe. The cross of Christ has become less of an integral, necessary part of our belief system and more of a digitized placeholder of faith whereupon we look and remark in a distracted manner about how important it is to our faith.

A recent email conversation among some friends has addressed this topic from the perspective of the church’s affluence. The problem posed at the outset of the discussion is that of the presence of “fancy buildings… sound systems, and the musical instruments, and the hundreds of different colors of papers, and the power point programs, and twenty children’s programs and all associated materials.” These are all things that most of our churches today seem to think they require in order to function and minister effectively. We seem to require that our auditoriums be air conditioned and that crying children be removed from the service, that the drums not be played too loudly (or at all) and that the pastor have the appropriate level of pious humility if we are to be expected to worship at all. ((Email correspondence))

There are several things that I believe have contributed to the current state of affairs in our churches. The first is that the increased development of technology has pushed the pace of culture into hypersonic speeds. Information and data travel at a breakneck rate nowadays, and most of us have noticed that life has moved into not just the fast lane but into the ultra-fast lane. We have less time now than we ever did, and what free time we have we fill with activities that are, essentially, needless. We are constantly inundated with more and more information that we must sort through and process, and as a result we have become detached from those things that are truly important, things like God, faith, and family. This is contributor number one to the shallowness of culture.

The second contributor is the shift toward post-modern philosophy. Truth is no longer what it once was. It has become an ethereal entity that cannot be grasped. Indeed, truth has become little more than a vapor, a thing that is seen – and then only just barely – before it is caught up by the wind and blown away. We try to clasp it in our hands so that we may know it, yet it slips through our fingers and goes on its merry way, leaving us wondering if it was ever real to begin with. This is the way popular culture sees truth today, as an insubstantial, ever-changing entity that is unique to each individual. Truth has many faces, so that it may look different to each individual who views it, even changing in form to a single person depending on the circumstances surrounding its pursuit. We are continually losing the notion that truth is, in fact, static and stable, never-changing, steady throughout the ages. The Enemy attacks the idea of absolute truth because those who do not believe in it are merely sheep to be led to the slaughter. The disappearance of absolute truth has contributed to the shallowness of culture and the loss of those things which are most important. Now what is most important is determined by each person privately and may look vastly different from what is most important to the next person.

The third contributor has already been mentioned – the affluence of culture. As another contributor to the conversation stated, it seems that “the more STUFF we have around us, the more FAITH we need.” I do not believe that this is just limited to material possessions, either. I have watched as men fill their heads with more and more knowledge and ‘facts’, information that they learn and catalogue. In so doing they see less and less of God’s presence in the world and in creation and less need for something outside of themselves to provide truth and to make sense of those things that happen that we simply cannot explain. We are an affluent culture, both in the things we _own_ and in the things we _know_. The more things we have, the more we become distracted by them and the less we see a need for God. It is the _things_ that then become important because we must maintain them, maintain a certain way of life, maintain traditions that we have become comfortable with and that continue to make us comfortable. The things take a place of higher precedence, usurping God and pushing faith into the background. We continue to believe that we have faith, but all we are really left with is a dependency upon things that, when taken from us, cause us to come crashing down because, in pushing faith aside, we have struck our own foundation out from under ourselves. The acquisition and collection of things contributes to a shallow culture and a faith that is sorely taken for granted. Things are temporal; faith is not, yet we seem to have gotten the two in reverse.

I find myself yearning after some of the things I read in my fiction, not as a substitute for my faith but as a return to a simpler way of doing things, a way that eliminates so many of our distractions and restores a richness to culture and to faith that has been lost in today’s hustle and bustle of activity. I think perhaps what most appeals to me about Chinese culture, in some ways, is the richness of it, the legacy of history that inspires millions to both national pride and devotion (though even that is being lost as Western culture invades the Chinese borders). There is a power within a national legacy that the cultures of both America and American Christianity seem to lack. We have become shallow people, abhoring and rejecting that which is most important in favor of pursuing those things that are most important to _us_, our selfish and narcissistic ideals. That is what our culture has told us is important, to what and to seek out that which _we_ want, rather than what our Creator God deems important.

A return to simplicity is needed, I think, in order to return us to our roots, so that we may find again the awe of our faith and the power of God in our lives. I believe that the icons of our faith can once again become powerful, no longer taken for granted as just another pretty picture on a wall or a decorative item to be viewed and then dismissed. I also think that simplicity can be communicable, a contagion that can spread through the Church and returning it to a place where the important things are remembered and the unimportant set aside and forgotten.

Yet, I think in order for that to happen, simplicity must first take place within each one of us separately, as we extract those things in our lives that prevent us making the most of the time we have here in this life – the possessions that demand our interest, the activities that require our time, the pursuit of more knowledge and facts that only serve to distract from serving our Lord. It is in the doing and living that makes the most impact on others, that demonstrates that we do not, in actuality, require most of the things we cling to with such ferocity, that we can really be happy and content with less. It is not, and will not, be an easy process, no. But I think more and more that it is a necessary one if we as a Church in America wish to again be salt and light in our culture. We do not yet see that we need less because we are blinded by our own affluence, but there are Christians in many other countries who pray that Christians in America will face the persecution that strips away all the unnecessary things so that we will once again remember Who it is we serve and remember again what business it is we are to be about.

Less is more. Jesus knew this. It is why he taught time and again that for any man to follow Him, he must first give up all he had and then follow Him. Would that we should remember that.

It’ll Kill Ya’!

Complacency. It’s the thing that the emergent church is trying to get away from and it’s the thing that stagnant churches don’t realize they have a problem with. What I see here are two ends of an extreme – one end loud with their proclamations that the church is outdated and needs to undergo a top-to-bottom overhaul, and the other even louder in their silence. What I see are new and continuing divisions as more and more Christians break away from fellowship. What I see are arguments and conflicts and problems with Christian relationships.

Where are the voices of those in the middle, people like me who see what the emergent church is striving for and who also see the perspective of those on the other side? People who recognize that many of our churches have problems but that _just as many_ do not? People who recognize that many Christians in America have become complacent and are content to stagnate right where they are, being fat and happy, while other Christians are rebelling against that mindset and seeking a more living, vibrant relationship with our God? Where are those voices?

I think most of them are probably doing much of what I have been – sitting back and watching as the emergents struggle to figure out whatever it is they are figuring out while quietly working within our established churches to urge people _out_ of their complacency. I don’t pretend to have it all figured out – I think that a lot of the things the emergent folks are doing are good ideas, even though I don’t agree with all of their philosophies. I also think that the church structure, when applied biblically, is a _very_ good thing and works exceptionally well, and thus the church structure should not be discarded out of hand.

I’m frustrated with the emergent folks who insist that the modern church as it stands today will die and cease to exist within the next 100 years, being replaced some a postmodern church (ironically enough, one that will have a structure all its own). But I’m also frustrated with the church folks who insist that the emergents are all wet and should be criticized harshly at every opportunity.

Essentially, it’s the same complaint I always have – no one really wants to listen to anyone else. No one wants to admit that they might be wrong, so they ignore and dismiss every other argument with casual disdain and disinterest. Why can’t we all just work together to revive the church? I don’t believe the church is outdated or outmoded, but neither do I think it is living up to its full service potential for Christ. I think we can all learn a thing or three from each other, if only we would just listen.

Here ends my ranting and complaining. It’s been a long week….

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.

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.

Embrace the Outcasts

I’m not entirely sure I understand the problem. Isn’t the Church supposed to be the epitomy of grace, love, and understanding? Then, why are there so “many”:http://scatteredwords.com/ who are so alienated from Christians, who “feel”:http://willfulgrace.blogspot.com/2005/10/my-blog.html as though they have to keep their struggles secret? Aren’t we supposed to be the _first_ ones to reach out to those in need so that we may provide support, aid, and comfort? Yet, one of the biggest areas of ministry is being ignored and overlooked in so many of our churches. Tim Wilkins, founder and CEO of “Cross Ministry”:http://www.crossministry.org/index.htm and a former homosexual has devoted his life to reaching out to the homosexual community. One of the most important pieces of wisdom he provides is that the opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality, but righteousness. The reason that this is so key is that most Christians seem to think that the way to bring a homosexual to God is by turning them into heterosexuals. Unfortunately, this approach has never worked, but apparently few ever realize this. This creates a certain level of pressure on the struggling homosexual, who is already wrestling with unwanted attractions to members of his or her own gender. Coupled with the discomfort of heterosexual Christians who are not sure how to relate to and interact with the homosexual, this generates a lot of tension, further alienating the homosexual who finds it easier to stay away than to continue interacting with ineffective Christians.

Most unbelievers are quick to “accuse”:http://btalbot.blogspot.com/2004/06/fear-and-self-loathing-in-dc-is-topic.html Christians who are wrestling to overcome homosexuality of being fakes, frauds, and pawns of the ex-gay movement. They simply “do not understand”:http://www.deeperwants.com/cul1/homeworlds/journal/archives/002784.html that homosexuality is wrong, that God has something better in mind, that it _is_ actually possible to overcome homosexuality and live a life of righteousness. Tim Wilkins is a prime example of what God’s power can do in a person’s life.

As a result of Christian impotency in ministry to the homosexual (as well as those who respond with “condemnation”:http://dyinginchrist.blogspot.com/2005/12/homosexual-agenda-most-americans-do.html and “anger”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/index.php/archives/64/) and the ridicule that originates from the unbelieving community, the struggling homosexual is left with no support group. He is rejected at every front, and so the only solace is to hide his ‘secret’ from everyone but God and himself. It is so refreshing and encouraging to “hear”:http://scatteredwords.com/d/2005/12/light_years.php about good groups of Christians who are willing to come alongside the struggling homosexual and embrace him — physically, as well as emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically — accepting him as he is and helping him to work through his struggle. So few Christians are able to overcome their own discomfort (a product, I believe, of the lackadaisical society in which we live) to reach out to the homosexual, and that is why I support and approve of organizations like Cross Ministry, who work to jostle people out of their complacency and provide teaching and encouragement and a summons to righteous living. They take a lot of flak from every side, sadly, and theirs is a difficult job, but they provide a model for us all by which we should live.

We as Christians need to make a concerted effort to ignore our discomfitures and model ourselves more after Christ by reaching out to those whom we may consider undesirable but who are in such a state of need and support and encouragement and to whom Christ has mandated we reach out. God loves them. Shouldn’t we also?

“Hey, I think you’ve got something in your eye…”

A response to this blog entry:

Christ calls us to be in the world, yet not of it. The difficult part of this directive is that by being in the world, we are subject to its influences. In this case, infidelity, divorce, and sexual promiscuity are becoming ever more accepted and commonplace in our culture. Such practices also appeal to our sinful desires, even as believers, thus making it that much more difficult to resist. I am afraid that the failure of the church in America to defend marriage and sex as holy is due, in large part, to the failure of the church to live righteously through the development of a strong relationship with God and to develop unity among itself. We have become so divided, and we have become so lackadaisical in this culture where we have plenty that we have forgotten what it means to rely on God for our everything, and as such, we have then allowed sinful practices to creep into our churches and into our worship, tainting and spoiling our testimonies and what influence we could have on our culture. Ultimately, if we wish to defeat this monster and set it in its place, we have to first get back to our place of right relationship with God and with each other, shunning sin, no matter what the cost, and embracing that which is holy. This begins in our churches and in our families and in our personal, daily walks with Christ. If the church cannot live righteously, how can we expect anyone else to do so?

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.