Sin won’t go away

We want to rename it, ignore it, ridicule the thought of “sin,” but the fact of it just won’t go away.

We do our best to ignore it, though. Bill Arnold in his commentary on 1-2 Samuel in the NIV Application Commentary noted this:

Once “sin” is no longer in the church’s vocabulary, there is no longer a need for words such as “forgiveness” or “grace.” Sin really has taken up residence in our hearts and found expressions in less offensive ways. (p. 547)

The church is the hope of the world

Ben Witherington interviews Scot McKnight on McKnight’s new book, A Fellowship of Differents. The interviews I’ve read sound great. This interview in particular draws out a connection between Christ and his Church I think we keep wanting to lose in our American culture.

We have too much of this, “I love Jesus, but can’t stand his Church” kind of mentality. Quite frankly, and this is as honest as I’ve been on this, that is GARBAGE thinking. 

We like a head without a body? Get real.

McKnight says this in the interview:

The church, a local church, is the Body of Christ, a local Body of Christ. I cannot emphasize enough that Christ and his Body are in union and one can’t love the Bridegroom without loving his Bride, the church.

Most importantly, modernity and postmodernity have wreaked havoc in the church with individualism and the notion that each of us is captain of our own soul. Yes, but there’s danger lurking there. Each of us accountable to God as a person but God is at work building the church and not simply individual Christians.

The body needs to express the beauty of Christ better. I won’t argue that. But to say we love a head without a body is just… well… creepy.

22 God put everything under Christ’s feet and made him head of everything in the church, 23 which is his body. His body, the church, is the fullness of Christ, who fills everything in every way. (Eph. 1:22-23)

I will confess my love for Christ AND his Church. He is perfect, and he is perfecting his body. We do this together.

Why I won’t leave the church

For all the angst out there about evangelicals “leaving church,” and there are good reasons to get disappointed (so don’t get me wrong), Scot McKnight hits another home run in an interview regarding his latest book. When asked about evangelicals “leaving the church” he says this:

…as divorce is easy so leaving church is easy. The rugged commitment to one another that ought to shape a person’s commitment to a church has been transcended today by seeing church as a place to go to hear a sermon and get something, and if the sermon isn’t good enough or if the person is not getting enough out of it, they pack up and move on. This denies the fundamental commitment to one another in the New Testament church as a fellowship. Leaving a church needs to be experienced more like a divorce than a change of scenery.

For all the problems of the evangelical church, if I leave and don’t work on being better in my own faith, how can I demand something else “get better?” If I am in it to help things “get better” there are greater opportunities for flourishing again in the Body of Christ. Truth be told, if I leave this “disappointment” for greener pastures… I’ll find disappointment over there as well. To further Scot’s divorce analogy, the first divorce makes it a bit easier to bolt the second marriage as well…

I am committed to the Church. The particular expression I work and worship in is where I have the deepest roots. I also have the deepest problems here as well. But I love the full expression of the Body of Christ as well. I love my city where Lutherans, Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians gather for Good Friday. It’s where each of us as pastors gather monthly and love each other. We learn to love the greater expressions of the Body of Christ.

Let’s resist the temptation to pack up and move on. Let’s work harder and loving one another, challenging one another, and having the opportunity to possibly grow up rather than spin in perpetual toddler cycle.

Let’s at least get to the table to talk

What I long for is the honest conversation in the church. I want to drop my misconceptions and just invite a conversation. It’s incredibly difficult. For one, I can’t get those things completely out of my head. I have to work harder at simple listening.

For another, when people see me, they see my labels. So, because I’m Pentecostal… or “evangelical”… or white… or male… somehow there is not a conversation to be had. Misconceptions run both ways.

I won’t be labeled automatically. Not if I can help it. I know it will happen, but that’s not on me. It’s up to me to make sure I’m not letting labels get quickly in the way so it blocks a conversation with someone else.

But let’s at least get to the table to talk.

Scot McKnight has some powerful questions on the “success” of a church. I like some of these challenging questions!

Asked as a question, Who is invisible in your church?

To the degree folks are invisible, we don’t have the right view of the church or the right view of the Christian life.

Here are some examples:

Widows
Children
Poor
Ethnically different
Women
Faith strugglers

Then…. BOOM:

What about gays and lesbians? Let’s ignore the debates about what the Bible teaches and ask this question: Are they able to be honest about their sexual orientation? Or do they catch the message the gospel is not for them? Does your church want redemption or exclusion?

For me, I want to at least get to the table to have the conversation. As uncomfortable as it is, I long for those deep moments where something real is possible.

The devaluing of human life

Usually when it comes to war and use of force, especially use of troops, media sources like The New York Times are fairly pacifist. (Depending on the president in office at the time and their political party, of course.) Generally speaking, many media outlets back off the calling for use of force.

But this editorial in The New York Times was strident.

They want force against ISIS. NOW. Tough words are laid down in this piece:

Will the world do nothing to stop extremist groups…

And this:

But the United Nations says it is largely powerless to deal with the threat, and Western governments claim they have more urgent military objectives.

This is dangerously wrong.

And this:

Why hasn’t the international community responded?

I’ve certainly asked questions like this of the media before. Where IS your outrage?

The difference is this: I am burdened over the loss of life. There is a systematic persecution raging in many part of the world against Christians. Thousands displaced. Thousands killed. Slaughter every week that should shock us. Al-Shabaab killed 148 Christians in Kenya last week. Targeted them in a university and shot them.

The outrage The Times has over ISIS? National treasure… STUFF… is being destroyed. It took the destruction of artifacts for the paper to shout, “Why aren’t we nuking these people???”

Not one word in this piece about the extreme loss of human life. It’s not even that they’re silent on Christians being slaughtered. It’s any religious group. The silence, as they say, is deafening.

It is the height of hypocrisy and it is revealing of a soul all at the same time. I could call it an “elitist” attitude or a “liberal” attitude, but that’s just too narrow. What it is… is scary. People of influence, people of means, people of persuasion who sit back and say nothing about the loss of human life… and if they do they will hesitate to show the loss is due to religious affiliation… but destroy a painting and they are ready to call for nuclear war.

This is the world they want. A world without religion in the public square. They don’t want people going “all moral” on them about the value of human life. This is a world where “freedom of religion” is about the “individual” and their right to keep their religion to themselves… just don’t drag it out there for the public to see.

This isn’t about conservative or liberal theology, or conservative or liberal Christianity. This is about a deep desire in those spouting off a false belief in the “progressive improvement” of humanity without religion getting their ultimate way. The value system is warped, and it’s on full display in this ridiculous opinion piece. Center stage.

Religion at its core isn’t the problem. It’s the insistence on not having religion in the public square adding to the debate that is the problem. Without religion in the public square, there is the false belief that humanity will only get “better and better” and if there are problems in this world, it is religion that is at fault.

It is not religion. It is human. Humanity has a problem. At our core, we want to be the little gods. We want to be in ultimate control. And left to our own devices… we don’t improve ourselves very well. We tend to start world wars and find more ways to destroy people than ever before. That’s not religion. That’s humanity.

But a world with less religion, and by that if it means fewer religious people, so be it, is a GOOD thing… in their view. Just save the artwork!

Imagine: A New Day

In his book, Simply Good News, NT Wright defines Christian spirituality:

Christian spirituality — an awareness of the loving and guiding presence of God, sorrow for sin and gratitude for forgiveness, the possibility and challenge of prayer, a love for God and for our neighbors, the desire for holiness and the hard moral work it requires, the gradual or sudden emergence of particular vocations, a lively hope for God’s eventual new creation — is generated by the good news of what HAS happened in the past and what WILL happen in the future. All this and much, much more is what is meant by the good news in the present.

It’s a new day. It’s resurrection. It’s the Kingdom. It’s time to live it.

Politics and the Kingdom of God

It is good timing that has me reading NT Wright’s Surprised by Scripture the same week the news is exploding from a new Indiana law regarding discrimination and religious rights.

Wright’s chapter, “Our Politics Are Too Small” is powerful. Some thoughts:

“…martyrdom (which is what happens when the church bears witness to God’s call to the rulers and the rulers shoot the messenger) is an inalienable part of political theology. You can have as high a theology of the God-given calling of rulers you like, as long as your theology of the church’s witness and martyrdom matches it stride for stride.”

It is realizing that no matter who is in control politicallly at any given time, the final say will ultimately rest with King Jesus. “Thus the church, in its biblical commitment to ‘doing God in public,’ is called to learn how to collaborate without compromise… and to criticize without dualism.”

The church needs to criticize even current forms if democracy. In Wright’s view our current glorification of democracy arises out of the Enlightenment dualism that banished God from the public square Andes elevated “the voice of the people.” We need to hold powerful (democratic) governments to account. We, as the church, also need to be held to a high standard.

“Our culture is moving in all kinds of ways toward a post-post-modernism that has yet to be shaped but for which our public world longs as it lurches from boredom and trivia to dangerous and dehumanizing behavior.”

We need a serious biblical witness to God in public. We need a sound grounding in the Word to display a full wisdom in the world again. We have the shrill voices of fundamentalism, the shrill denials of secularism, and the nihilism of the world. We need a solid representation of Christ in the public square for holistic good.

“Doing business with God in public is always complicated, but it is never dull.”