Why the Church

This reflection from Alister McGrath gives good insight into the importance of the Church.

We have our imperfections. We have our deep flaws. We also have the ability to reflect the astonishing beauty of our Savior. We must know the HEAD of the Church loves the BODY. 

I began to see the church as a place that helps Christians straddle the two worlds of faith—where we are now and where we shall finally be. It’s like an oasis in a desert, equipping us to work and serve in the world while fostering and safeguarding our distinctiveness as Christians.

I began to realize that the church was an imperfect yet important anticipation of heaven, whose worship and ethos were integral to my faith. The church was a community gathered around the public reading of God’s Word, its interpretation and application through preaching, and its enactment in worship and prayer.

Cyprian was bold, but his statement is one I am coming to embrace, even as a Pentecostal: “He can no longer have God for his Father who has not the church for his mother.”

Isn’t it time to grow up?

I have had a couple of significant conversations in the past few weeks with people reaching out to me, thankfully, about being hurt by a church, or disillusioned.

Read enough on the internet and all we hear is angst. The ultimate goal of angst-filled writers is to be quoted on Huffington Post, I think. It’s the Super Bowl of angst-filled believers.

We’ve let spiritual maturity sit on the back burner so long, the pot is blackened and there’s nothing left. We need a fresh start.

For those “disillusioned” I want to longingly say, “Please, visit US!” But I know that’s asking a lot.

This interview on CT’s site has some good thoughts.

Here is a quote that caught me:

We tend to think that maturity means perfection. But the New Testament clearly teaches that spiritual maturity is different from heavenly perfection. Spiritual maturity is presented (in passages like Heb. 5, Eph. 4, and 1 Cor. 3) as foundational in the Christian life. But our popular theology says things like, “We’re all just sinners saved by grace.” True enough, but that can start to sound like what Dallas Willard called “miserable sinner Christianity”: that no progress can be expected in this life.

Or consider the slogan, “The only difference between Christians and non-Christians is that Christians are forgiven.” Well, that’s simply not biblical. What is the new birth if not something new? We are always tempted to think we can earn salvation, or that God can’t forgive me again. So we need to emphasize salvation by grace, but not at the expense of pursuing maturity. That’s why I love Philippians 3. Paul says we must cling to the free gift of salvation, but goes on to claim that this gift frees and motivates him to run hard after Christ.

Let us press on to MATURITY.

We get torn apart by our terminology

Richard Stearns, head of World Vision, wrote a response on a perceived attack on the term “radical Christians.”

This was in response to a Christianity Today piece on the “new radicals.”

Stearns’s response is basic: “Yep, we’re radical, and we’re not radical enough!”

It’s gone back and forth in a way that reminds me of the days when my “tribe” (Pentecostals) were battling the “Name It, Claim It” crowd. Pentecostals believe in healing and pray for healing. But the “faith healers” had taken it to another place and by the time Pentecostals were finished bashing away at the “faith healers” it was almost like we didn’t believe in healing!

It’s starting to sound a bit like that in this argument, and I think it’s a bit silly.

Radicals can be perceived as saying, “If you’re not selling everything you have and going to some unreached part of the world, you’re not serving God!” (And I understand some DO say that, and I find it harmful in that extreme.)

But what comes back in response is, “I have my comfortable life and I WANT this comfortable life, so don’t make me feel guilty for having this comfortable life.” (And that is an extreme, but that’s what it’s beginning to sound like.)

If I want “radical” I turn to the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus turns my thinking on its ear and then I’m left to ponder what that means for my life.

We are to be salt and light. If we lose our flavor and our ability to shed light in darkness, we just aren’t Kingdom any more. THAT is radical.

It then boils down to the fight we currently have: “What does that mean?”

Can I have a middle class income (or better) and still live for Jesus?

If I sell all I have and immediately head for the Arab Peninsula to plant a church, am I truly following Jesus?

Those are the kinds of questions that need answering, but if we answer them too quickly, we may find ourselves in trouble. We can quickly dismiss the idea of going somewhere in mission and settle in and think, “This is what God has for me.”

We can obviously pull the trigger too quickly on going overseas to plant a church without realizing the costs, the culture shock, the language barriers, the hardships, etc.

It is in the deliberation we find better answers for each of our lives. This is why the entire Sermon on the Mount is vital. Jesus doesn’t just make a radical statement and leave it. He walks us through how to find the strength of the Kingdom and then hear the voice of the Spirit to act. 

Quite frankly, I have met incredibly solid believers who make great money, live in nice houses, and… wait for it… love Jesus. 

Shocking. I know.

They also look for strategic ways to invest their dollars into mission and ministry. They are incredibly generous people.

Certainly there are those who are comfortable and don’t care to be bothered. But every income bracket has that.

The key is hearing God. 

We can clearly hear God to be in a great career, give our talents in a way that contributes as salt and light in a different way to our culture, and live radically as a follower of Christ. You don’t need to shed nice clothes or start up a funky hair-do to be “radical.”

We can clearly hear God to leave this country and spend the rest of our lives in another place. One of my heroes has given 40 years to the Philippines. He clearly belongs there. When he comes home, he does not begrudge anyone their current situation. He tells the stories of what God is doing in the Philippines, and then gets back there as soon as he can.

My plea here is that we give up the notion of tearing each other apart. We are so good at that in Christianity and somehow I think the Sermon on the Mount points us in a different direction. Namely, we can do better than that. 

Let us hear God. Let us hear God for our situation. And let us be OBEDIENT to God in OUR situation.

The Bland Gospel

For some reason there needs to be an attack “radical” Christianity. We want to be radically normal. God bless us all.

Whether we are headed to the most unreached people group of the world, or out the door to coach our kids’ baseball team, I think I really want to ask, “How do we see JESUS?”
Mark Labberton’s piece in Christianity Today calls us to consider the power of Christ and his message.

Why does the gospel look to so many like a bowl of lima beans?

For those who find the grace and truth of Jesus Christ convincing and compelling, such a question may seem absurd, if not blasphemous. But compared to the spiciness of the cultural concoctions that swirl around us in our globalized world, Jesus can seem like bland fare. Many have the impression that the gospel is small, smooth, and tasteless. They have a culturally conditioned disdain for any homogeneous answer to a heterogeneous world. And they have seen too little evidence to the contrary.

How could it be, some believers might balk, that “the hope of the world,” the One given “the name above every name,” could ever seem bland? Well, because often the church is bland. Pale. Gullible. Pasty. Just there. The fruit of this vine appears to be lima beans. If bland is the flavor of the church, then it is presumed to be the flavor of the One the church calls Lord.

 

 
Somehow, we don’t want to seem to take the claims of Christ too seriously.

 

I don’t want to excuse myself. I don’t want to over-stress myself, either. If I haven’t won thousands to Christ by the end of my life, have I failed?
My goal is to be consumed by the beauty of Christ and show his beauty to those around me. Jesus is not bland. While I may LOOK bland, my passion for Christ must be much more. That is what I want people to see, whether it’s a lost tribe in North Africa or my neighbor across the street.

Was Jesus Controversial?

This article makes the argument that while Jesus was controversial, he wasn’t really controversial for the sake of being a stand out due to a conflict. He stood for truth, which would cause controversy no matter where he went. 

Here is the really interesting part: when truth comes in, no group of people at any time is left unscathed. As others have observed, since the redemption of Christ is a story for all cultures and all times, then no one culture at any point will encounter the Bible’s message without being challenged by it. If any group of people matched Scripture’s teaching perfectly, their culture wouldn’t need it. In other words, if Christian faith doesn’t produce awkward cultural moments, beware.

Too often we are very strategic in being “controversial.” We calculate carefully when we may get a few jeers, but we also know those will get out-shouted by the cheers we so lovingly crave.

Living in truth is just plain enough controversy.

Living in the power of the Kingdom is far beyond one or two issues, and certainly beyond a symbol I can put on my blog or on my Facebook status.

Kingdom living is power. It will bring LIFE… but it will at times also stir up “controversy.”

It’s tough enough to just live Kingdom, without the headache of calculating when I think I might get enough “likes” over some particular “controversy.”

We must cling to truth, understanding that truth is captivating to every culture. It can be trusted because it does not bend with time and place.

Let’s try the truth of the Kingdom and the power of our King. Let controversy just not be the big deal in our lives.

Why Truly Pastoring Is Vital, and Why You Need to Belong to MY Church

New statistics are out. We LOVE statistics. And our survey says

Fewer people are going to church and more people are not “affiliating” with a religion.

Shocking.

We can wring our hands and declare the loss of the culture or the backslidden state of the Church…

OR, we could equip the people we have to live as light in the darkness and be salt in the world.

We could teach them to love other ethnic people in the name of Jesus.

We could equip them with solid teaching on how to develop a biblical worldview.

In other words, you could be a part of our church. It’s how we roll.

And Yet Again, What of Evangelicals?

We have been decrying the decline of the “liberals.” Alternately, there has been the call for the end of “conservatives.” All in the Church. Not even in politics!

Now, John Ortberg has us wringing our hands about evangelicals again. Not really. I just wanted to be sensational in my headline.

This is a well-thought out column. We need to realize just how divided we are and actually fall to our knees asking the Shepherd of the Church for forgivness. We are so bent on taking each other down, or hoping the “other” goes down, or not caring if the “other” goes down, we’re left with very little as a vibrant witness to a culture that desperately needs salt.

Some of Ortberg’s thoughts:

The social capital of evangelical leadership is getting thinner each year. The desire for a pope might be as misguided as Israel’s desire for a king, but our current strategy of “each did what was right in his own eyes” is not working that hot either. There is an increasing sense of fiefdoms and competing coalitions. There is a certain kind of mindset that almost seems to rejoice in “outing” someone who has questionable evangelical credentials in the eyes of the “outer.” This is not healthy for the evangelical community, and is repellent to those who are truly on the outside.

C.S. Lewis (another well-digger) said that one of his reasons for writing about what he called Mere Christianity (“the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times”) was that when we publicly focus on intra-mural divisions it “has no tendency at all to bring an outsider into the Christian fold.”

We have been blessed with some wonderful voices in our own time—I think of Rich Mouw, Neal Plantinga, N.T. Wright, Scott McKnight, and Dallas Willard. I hope we listen to our best voices, not just the loudest ones.

I hope conviction-filled civility triumphs.

I hope we spend more time digging wells than building fences.

 

The Essence of Christianity — Orthodox Style

The interview in Christianity Today with Bishop Kallistos Ware is an interesting read. Here is the bishop’s take (in a Q&A format) on the essence of Christianity:

If I were to meet you on a train and ask you, “What is the center of the Christian message?,” how would you succinctly put that?

I would answer, “I believe in a God who loves humankind so intensely, so totally, that he chose himself to become human. Therefore, I believe in Jesus Christ as fully and truly God, but also totally and unreservedly one of us, fully human.” And I would say to you, “The love of God is so great that Christ died for us on the cross. But love is stronger than death, and so the death of Jesus was followed by his resurrection. I am a Christian because I believe in the great love of God that led him to become incarnate, to die, and to rise again.” That’s my faith. All of this is made immediate to us through the continuing action of the Holy Spirit.

 

Evangelism — Orthodox and “Evangelical”

I have not been a fan of using church services alone to “evangelize.” A worship service is for…well… worship. It’s FOR Christ. Not us. But that’s just me. Obviously. 😉

This interview with Bishop Kallistos Ware (bishop of the Orthodox Church in England) is a good read. I like this exchange on “evangelism”:

To draw in the unchurched, evangelical churches often strip away things that might be mysterious or strange. But when you invite someone into an Orthodox liturgy, you hit them full-on with strange symbolism and unfamiliar words.

Yes, and let them understand what God gives them to understand. Throw them in at the deep end of the swimming pool and see what happens. That is very much our Orthodox approach. I would not want to offer a watered-down version of Orthodoxy.

The basic rules of Christianity, our relation to Christ, are very simple. Because they are simple they are also often difficult to understand.

On the other hand, we should not be content with a bare minimum. We should offer people the fullness of the faith in all its diversity and depth. I would wish people, when they come to the Orthodox liturgy, not to think that they understand everything the first time. I hope, rather, that they have an experience of mystery, a sense of awe and wonder. If we lose that from our worship, we have lost something very precious.