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Community ouf of Mission or Mission out of Community?

November 30, 2004

Chris raised a good point in response to a previous post, that it is foolish to assume that if we all just do outreach together, real community will form.  The opposite is also true; outreach doesn’t naturally flow out of community.  All that we are called to as the church has to be done with varying degrees of intention.

However, it is very difficult to instantly start doing all that the church ought.  It takes time and energy to build towards being an authentic body of believers.  Therefore, I would like to make the case that it is better to start with a sense of mission than it is to start with a sense of community.  In other words, I believe community flows out of mission.  Otherwise, all you are left with is affinity.  This idea, that community is formed out of a common mission, is what sociologists call the principle of the "superordinate goal."  A shared overarching goal requires cooperative effort.  And this cooperative effort begins to override people’s differences and creates a new sort of affinity–one shaped by the superordinate goal. 

It is true that this goal doesn’t have to be evangelism…but our most clearly defined superordinate goal is the Great Commission (whether you look at the one in Matthew, Mark, John, or Acts).  Some churches have "authentic community" or "reconcilliation" as a sort of unstated (or stated) superordinate goal.  But I think the most effective superordinate goals for a church are ones that are missional…ones that develop their shared ethos around a shared outward goal.  But by no means should we assume that real community will happen automatically if we share the same goal.  But the building blocks will be much more available than if we didn’t start with a shared goal at all. 

Doing Evangelism by Being a Church

November 29, 2004

I’m reading through Seek the Peace of the City.
At this point, I need to mention that when I say "I’m reading a book,"
I don’t mean that I am reading every word in said book.  Many people
who know me assume that I spend hours each day reading.  All the signs
are there: I have lots of books, I reference books all the time in
conversation, and I mentions books on missionThink often.  But it is rare for me to read a book in its entirety.  What I often do, as is the case with Seek the Peace of the City,
is to read the introduction, and page through the rest of the book,
making sure to take the time to focus in on information that is
currently applicable.  I don’t buy books to "read" them…I buy them as
resources for future use. 

Anyways, I’m am currently looking through Seek the Peace of the City by Eldin Villafane.  It is a pretty good book on urban ministry.  On page 25, Villafane quotes Orlando Costas’ "The Integrity of Mission."  I’d like to bring that quote to your attention:

Therefore, the church, which is not the Kingdom, is nevertheless its most visable expression and its most faithful interpreter in our age…as the community of believers from all times and places, the church both embodies the Kingdom and its life and witnesses to its presence and future in its mission.

It is this understanding of the church as both expression and interpreter, embodiment and witness, that underlies Villafane’s
understanding of mission, and therefore urban mission.  There has been
a renewal of talk in the church and academy regarding the Kingdom of
God in recent years.  And while many would agree with the quote I just
referenced, the sad reality is that few of us have dared to risk our
comfort and "do" church in such a way. 

Many churches (at least the ones with which I am most familiar) tend to emphasize witness to the exclusion of embodiment.  Such
churches sacrifice the messy things involved with embodying the Kingdom
(like ethnic diversity, economic justice, etc.) in the name of
increasing their capacity for witness.  The thing is, doing church in
such a way that embodies the values of the Kingdom is controversial.
We’d rather just tell people how to have eternal life.  But the thing
is, the Church is anemic without embodiment.  We have to embody the
Kingdom as well as proclaim it.  We have to embody a bit of heaven, not
only tell people how to go to heaven when they die. 

We cannot
be enslaved to utility; if someone isn’t willing to buy our Gospel if
it requires them to rub shoulders with people different than them, then
they aren’t ready for the Gospel.  If people want to embody the
Kingdom, but only with other upper-middle-class-wasps, then they don’t
understand what it means to "be church."  It is never ok to fudge on the Sermon on the Mount in order to make it easier for people to be in a faith community. 

Ultimately,
I believe that we will be the most effective in our witness when we are
ardent in our embodiment.  The world longs for a church that lives what
it proclaims.  The world needs a church that shows them who Jesus is
before it tells them who He is.  Perhaps the most effective means of
evangelism is simply BEING the church–in all of the controversial and provocative ways that Jesus envisions.

Tis the Season

November 29, 2004

Amount the average American will spend on Christmas presents this year (not including food, decoration, and travel expenses): $730 (according to Gallup)

Per capita income of someone in Sierra Leone or Somalia: $500

So, while Americans spend a total of over $200 Billion on Christmas shopping, think about how far $200 Billion would go towards meeting real needs.  

Merry Christmas.

Too Much Focus on “The Gathering”

November 26, 2004

Check out the latest post, Too Much Focus on "the Gathering" by Roger at House Church Blog.  He raises a great question: How does a church keep its identity as a people mobilized by Christ instead of a gathering (a church that is identified as a meeting at a house is little better than a church that is identified as a meeting in a "sanctuary").  Roger writes:

We are
not seeking to just set up a different way to "do" church, i.e., a
different way to gather. I long to see the whole church just going and
being, taking the presence of Christ everywhere and letting the
gatherings be truly secondary. They will take care of themselves quite
naturally and powerfully when the church is being itself–the glory of
Christ–in the world.

The primary reason that I seek simple expressions for church
gatherings is so that we do not expend all of our time, energy, and
resources on these gatherings and miss the point of who we really are
and how we are to go and be in the world!

How do we primarily identify ourselves as a people who take "the presence of Christ everywhere" instead of primarily as a meeting or a set of meetings?  Changing our vocabulary to reflect a better ecclesiology is a good start, but where do we go from there? 

The Limit of Theodicy

November 24, 2004

I’ve been delving a bit into theodicy (that field of study that seeks to explain how to reconcile God and the presence of evil).  I’ve also been reading up on the doctrine of the Trinity.  Interestingly enough, I found a chapter on theodicy in Paul Fiddes’ Participation in God, which is one of the best books on the Doctrine of the Trinity out there.  I highly recommend it; it is both theologically rich, as well as pastorally focused.  So, while studying the Trinity, I found something helpful in my studies in theodicy.  This sums up Fiddes’ take on theodicy, a take in which I generally agree:

There can be no complete theodicy.  There can be no completely rational defense of God in a world of pain.  If there could be, it would justify suffering on the one hand, and destroy faith on the other.  In argument we may talk of the risk that God took in creation, and the way God shares the risk in suffering.  Rational theodicy is thus not divorced from practical theodicy: they are both concerned with a suffering that ‘befalls’ God or ‘happens’ to God.  But it still remains open to decide whether God’s creative decision that set all this off is worth the cost.

In Dostoyevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov, one of the characters (Ivan) asks the question: ‘Is the whole universe worth the tears of one tortured child?’ He has in mind the story of a rich landowner who threw a peasant child to his hunting dogs to be torn apart because the child had thrown a stone and broken a dog’s leg.  Is it all worth the tears of one child, let alone the millions in Auschwitz?  Even if God suffers, is it worth it?  Ivan thinks not, and says that he is ‘returning his entrance ticket to God with the polite observation that the price is too steep.’

The belief that God suffers with us may help us to say that the making of persons is worth all the tears.  But only faith can answer the question, ‘is it worth it?’ after all reasonable arguments have fallen silent.

Usury

November 24, 2004

Thank to emergent like slime for pointing out this article from the UTNE Reader on usury. It is short, so check it out.  Here’s a sample:

By far the greatest moral
evil of our time is what the Bible calls the sin of usury. It is the
very basis of the capitalist system. It has made debt slaves of not
only the entire Third World, but also most of the First World, where
consumers eagerly seek to encumber themselves with debt through credit
cards and mortgages. At one time the church called usury "the queen of
sins" and refused the sacrament to its practitioners. Though it has
never officially abandoned this moral position, very few Christians
outside of the Catholic Worker movement have any idea that such a
teaching even exists.

What is usury?  Usury is lending someone money and charging them interest.  Throughout much of church history, usury was considered sinful.  IT seems that protestants in general have failed to treat usury with much seriousness, leaving it to catholics and neo-catholics like C.S. Lewis to address the matter. 

Here’s some biblical references to usury (this is just a quick cross-section):

Exodus 22:25 If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest.

Leviticus 25:36-37
Do not take interest of any kind from him, but fear your God, so that your countryman may continue to live among you. You must not lend him money at interest or sell him food at a profit.

Deuteronomy 23:19-20 Do not charge your brother interest, whether on money or food or anything else that may earn interest. You may charge a foreigner interest, but not a brother Israelite, so that the LORD your God may bless you in everything you put your hand to in the land you are entering to possess.

Nehemiah 5:6-11 When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, "You are exacting usury from your own countrymen!" So I called together a large meeting to deal with them and said: "As far as possible, we have bought back our Jewish brothers who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your brothers, only for them to be sold back to us!" They kept quiet, because they could find nothing to say.
So I continued, "What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies? I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain. But let the exacting of usury stop! Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the usury you are charging them-the hundredth part of the money, grain, new wine and oil."

Psalm 15

LORD , who may dwell in your sanctuary?
Who may live on your holy hill?

He whose walk is blameless
and who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from his heart
  and has no slander on his tongue,
who does his neighbor no wrong
and casts no slur on his fellowman,
  who despises a vile man
but honors those who fear the LORD ,
who keeps his oath
even when it hurts,
  who lends his money without usury
and does not accept a bribe against the innocent.

He who does these things
will never be shaken.

Ezekiel 16:5-8

"Suppose there is a righteous man
who does what is just and right.
He does not eat at the mountain shrines
or look to the idols of the house of Israel.
He does not defile his neighbor’s wife
or lie with a woman during her period.
He does not oppress anyone,
but returns what he took in pledge for a loan.
He does not commit robbery
but gives his food to the hungry
and provides clothing for the naked.
He does not lend at usury
or take excessive interest.
He withholds his hand from doing wrong
and judges fairly between man and man.

Can anyone tell me a good reason why Christians practice usury?  It seems that most people assume that capitalism is a good, and since it depends upon things like usury, we shouldn’t be critical of usury.  Though the passages above are dealing with Israel, it seems, at the very least, Christians shouldn’t charge interest to one another.  I would also argue that we shouldn’t charge interest for others.  It is an oppressive system that the church should alleviate.  Some churches that have started credit unions.  Some churches help people buy homes or pay for college with no interest loans.  But the Church should no longer blindly accept a practice that is clearly non-Christian.

Tis the Season

November 24, 2004

Check out Buy Nothing Christmas. They describe themselves as

a national initiative started by Canadian Mennonites who offer a prophetic "no" to the patterns of over-consumption of middle-class North Americans. They are inviting Christians (and others) all over Canada to join a movement to de-commercialize Christmas and re-design a Christian lifestyle that is richer in meaning, smaller in impact upon the earth, and greater in giving to people less-privileged.

An Open Letter to Evangelical Christians

November 23, 2004

Today my friend Jeff posted an Open Letter to Evangelical Christians.  It is well worthy your perusal.  In his open letter, Jeff challenges evangelical Christians to embrace the fullness of the Gospel.  Here’s a sample:

We have loved sacrifice instead of mercy. We have believed what is
right instead of done what is right. We have thought more highly of
ourselves than we should. We have exchanged biblical Christianity for
white-American-upper-middle-class-male Christianity. And for what
purposes have we done this? So that we might have the biggest churches?
The most churches? The most famous churches?

Fellow Christians, we
have exchanged the subversive Story of God for three palatable points.
We have robbed people of the struggle of believing, the joy of
unknowing and the magnificence of paradox. We have marketed our God
like the latest-and-greatest self-help program or get-rich-quick
scheme, instead of the God who showers favor on the wicked and
righteous alike. And why have we done this? So that we might have the
best people? The most people? The most famous people?

Read the post.  The only push-back I would offer is that we remind ourselves that there is hope.  Every tradition neglects the Gospel on some points.  American Evangelicals aren’t unique in this.  However, we are unique in our level of resources–both academic and economic.  Our movement is diverse enough to foster the sort of evangelicalism we need.  There are some signs of hopeful, discontented people moving towards the sort of Christianity Jeff longs for. 

Emergent in the Twin Cities

November 22, 2004

David Opderbeck (who I just added to my blogroll) asked me why the Twin Cities seems to be actively involved in the emergent/missional dialogue.  I think we have much more influence than our population would warrant.  Here are my thoughts about why we are such fertile soil for missional/emergent discussion:

  1. We have a high number of academic institutions for our relatively small metropolitan  area.  The academic flavor spills over into how we “do” church.

  2. Bethel and Luther Seminaries are both factors. Bethel has some contribution to the emergent side of things (Erwin McManus is a adjunct with Bethel). Luther contributes to the missional side of things (Craig Van Gelder is a part of the Gospel and Our Culture Network and is a professor at Luther).
  3. We have the highest per-capita number of mega churches in the country.  I think that as people get disillusioned with this, they move towards alternative forms.  Since we have more mega-churches to disillusion us, it seems logical that we?d have more emergent churches born out of that disillusionment.
  4. We are a “blue” state.  Our urban areas are very progressive, but with the backdrop of Midwestern cultural values.  This means that we?ll value church, but we?ll do it in a progressive way.  Traditionally, that has meant a high number of liberal mainline churches, however, many are opting for emergent ways of doing church.
  5. Doug Paggitt was a pioneer in the emergent movement, and he happens to be a loca boy.  Besides Solomon’s Porch, we have had very early examples of emergent churches, like Spirit Garage and House of Mercy.

These are just a few speculations.  Anyone care to add and/or challenge this list?

Read more

Google Scholar!

November 19, 2004

A new offering from Google. Google Scholar.  Check it out.

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