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The Cross as…

December 31, 2007

Usually, when people begin a sentence by saying “Jesus died on the Cross…” they end that sentence with: “for my sins” or “for your sins.” That is a fine statement. It is a good and true statement. But, I believe it has become a problematic statement. Here’s why: The statement is often like the Trojan Horse–inside is a hidden army of unquestioned assumptions, particularly the assumption that salvation is primarily an individual matter. Jesus died on the Cross for my sins.

Sometimes people use the statement in a reductionistic way. Many believe that Jesus death only has to do with personal sin. In other words, we believe that Jesus Christ came and died to clean up my personal sin problem so that I can go to heaven when I die. Many, if nailed down, will concede that there are other reasons for Jesus’ death on the Cross. But when pressed, I’ve found that most of them can’t think of anything.

So, I’d like to begin a series on what Jesus accomplished on the Cross…and I am inviting you all to submit contributions to the series.

Tomorrow, I’ll begin with the Cross as Political Jujitsu.

New Christian Legislation–A Return to our Roots

December 31, 2007

There is much news on the new legislation created by Christian Congressman Phuny Guy. Guy ran on a conservative platform in his home state of Texas, and now is a leading member in trying to get distinctly Christian legislation through the house.

“There has been much talk about Lions escaping from zoo cages lately,” the congressman noted yesterday on Capitol Hill. “It has reminded us that we need to get back to the roots of Christianity.”

What are these roots that the congressman is talking about?

“Back in the good ol’ days,” the congressman continued. “Christians and Jews were fed to lions, and we just think that with all these debates on how to begin revival in the church, we should think about getting back to our roots. I am passionately campaigning for new legislation that would allow again for Christians to be fed to the lions at all of our local zoos.”

And the congressman is dead serious. Not only does he admit that we can save the zoo some money on lion foot, but he is gung-ho for what he calls old-fashioned “lion legislation.”

“I mean, c’mon,” he yelled at a conference with the Moral Majority. “What good has come since Constantine? We witnessed the dark ages, we fought crusades, and now we have a Christian president who has gotten us into Iraq. As a political leader, I am calling out Christians like George Bush. Would you be willing to go back to the way things were?”

The congressman also notes the great good that this will do for the church.

“Back home in Texas, most Christians think of Christianity as a ‘Sunday thing.’ All I want to do is make Christianity an everyday thing. That is why, according to the proposed bill, anyone claiming to be a Christian can be arrested immediately, sent to prison, and then, if he does not deny his faith, fed to the lions. It would surely root out back-sliding and half-hearted commitments to Christ.”

But not everyone is happy about the congressman’s audacity. An anonymous Christian university president in Valencia, CA is furious about the claim.

“He is trying to add works to salvation!” the anonymous Christian president said militantly. “Salvation comes through faith in Christ Jesus alone, not whether he is able to stand up for Christ in times of adversity! Works have no part in Christianity! Like Paul said so long ago, I think this man is accursed for what he believes.”

“I think it’s a great idea,” said atheist Jim in New York. “I’m tired of hearing about all this Christian crap. This ought to get rid of them for sure. I hope they start the hunt with George Bush.”

“This is horrible,” say Christian Iluvgod Rogers of Massachusetts. “Didn’t they do that in the dark ages? Christianity shouldn’t be treated like some secret society. If they do this, they’d better know that I will take up my right to bear arms and kill anyone who arrests me based on my religion. We have freedom of religion in this country!”

Despite such opposition, the congressman is continuing to go around the country gaining support for such a bill to go through congress. Even the presidential candidates are talking about it.

“We don’t need more legislation,” said Barack Obama earlier today. “We need more people willing to believe in hope for the future. I am that hope for the future! I have the audacity to believe that hope is the answer!”

“I am outraged,” said presidential hopeful Rudy Guliani. “We are fighting a war on terror, and this congressman wants to waste our money on domestic issues. This just goes to show how important the war on terror is.”

When the reporter noted that he was not asking about the war on terror, but whether or not he thought the legislation was well thought out, Guliani turned around and kept reminding the audience that he was mayor of New York City when 9/11 happened.

Ron Paul had a different answer.

“I am the champion of the constitution,” Ron Paul argued. “And the constitution doesn’t say anything about Christianity, so neither do I. In fact, I think all legislation should be done away with and we should NOT return to the roots of Christianity, but the roots of America. This is an American nation. Not a Christian nation.”

Whatever side you are on, we must admit that congressman Phuny Guy is drawing quite a stir in the political arena.

Author Bio:: Danny is a senior at Azusa Pacific University studying social science, with a minor in youth ministry and Biblical studies. He keeps a blog at: www.coldfire.wordpress.com

A New Year’s Revolution!

December 30, 2007

Jesus makes me uncomfortable. And one of his most disquieting “diatribes” is found in Matthew 25:31-46, which is incidentally the lectionary passage for New Year’s Day.

What kind of sicko chooses Matthew 25:31-46 for the New Year’s Day lectionary passage? I want an inspiring passage of new beginnings (like the story of Zacchaeus)! But in their disturbing wisdom, the minds that shaped the Revised Common Lectionary draw our attention to the hopeful-yet-dark words of Matthew 25:31-46. This is the parable of the sheep and the goats. This is that nifty bit of Scripture that informs us that whatever we do (or don’t do) for the least-of-these, we do (or don’t do) for Jesus–the former being heavenly-sheep, the latter being hellish-goats.

What better place, really, to begin the year? In Matthew’s gospel, this is the last formal teaching of Jesus before his last supper; this is his closing statement. And I’m convinced that if every church and every cluster of Christians throughout this vast land were to grapple with this passage and put a little of it into practice, we would see a revival. We would see transformation. We would not only look more like Jesus, but understand the heart of Jesus in ways we never expected.

And so that is what I’m shooting for in 2008: to encourage Christians everywhere to dive into Matthew 25 and embrace–if only a little–the practice of hospitality.

One way that I want to encourage this in 2008 is by putting more energy into Christarchy! Christarchy! is a network of “support groups” for the Jesus Revolution. We are a growing network of people who want to integrate the teachings of Jesus into our lives.

For our January gatherings, we’ll be exploring the practical implications of Matthew 25:31-46. If we take these words of Jesus seriously, we’ll spark a New Year’s Revolution. And we invite you to join us in the Revolution.

New groups are starting up. Our goal for 2008 is to have Christarchy! gatherings in at least 10 new cities. We’ve got several groups in the works in the Minneapolis area. And we’ve got interest in Seattle, Washington and Rochester, Minnesota.

It is easy to start your own group. Visit www.Christarchy.com for more information. You can use that site to register, create a group of your own, invite people to join your group, get ideas for how to do a group, and to communicate with your group.

Why be a part of a Christarchy group? If you’ve ever wanted to go deeper into the practical implications of Jesus’ teachings but have felt alone or unsupported, Christarchy! is for you. Or perhaps you’ve taken some steps, and want to share what you’ve learned. Or maybe you’re curious, but don’t know where to begin?

Let’s begin this year right. Even if you aren’t interested in starting a Christarchy! group, I’d like to challenge you to gather your friends sometime in January simply to look at Matthew 25:31-46 and have a serious talk about how you can support one another to put it into practice in 2008.

And if you’re willing to take the challenge, join Christarchy! and/or drop a note here so that people near you can perhaps join in what you’re doing.

***

By the way, if you aren’t too far away from Minneapolis (or if you were willing to help pay for the costs of long-distance travel), I’d be willing to come help you get a group started.

Political Action and the Kingdom of God

December 27, 2007

The election has already dominated the news for months…but soon we’ll be into primary season. We’ll only hear more and more about the candidates until the elections in November. Meanwhile Christians will struggle over which candidate to vote for–if they intend to vote at all. And in the midst of it all, they’ll wonder how they–and they’re church–can best bring about the sorts of societal changes for which they long. Some radically embrace a candidate in hopes that he or she will bring real and lasting change. Others carefully and skeptically get involved in the political system, knowing that it is a messy, unclean system–but one they cannot ignore.

Others (like me I suppose), wash their hands of the whole mess. Folks like us affirm the sentiment of Dorothy Day when she said: “Don’t vote–it will just encourage them!”

Some folks advocate a strong counter-cultural ethic of direct action to address issues like poverty, racism, etc. Others suggest being active in the American political system. Still others strive for a balance between those two poles. How should we go about “doing” the politics of Jesus?

Exposing Some Political Assumptions

There are at several common assumptions that American Christians make when engaging in politics:

1) Legislation should enforce Christian ethical standards. This assumption is made by people from both sides of the aisle (and among people in the middle). We assume that our ethical standards should be the basis for legislation. In other words, liberals try to pass laws forcing people to care for the poor and conservatives try to pass laws keeping gays from getting married. Liberals attempt to take the high road on this by basing their legislation of morality on humanism or universally beneficial standards. Nevertheless, both liberals and conservatives begin with the assumption that the legislative system is a worthwhile tool in advancing an ethical agenda. Libertarianism is an obvious exception.

2) Words like “freedom” and “liberty” and “justice” mean the same thing in the Kingdom of God as they do in the Declaration of Independence. Many Christians don’t ponder the conflicting meanings of important key-words like “freedom” and “liberty” and “justice” and “peace” and “power.” Because of this, they often pour the Americanized meaning into their reading of the Bible. For example, someone with this assumption may believe that the sort of liberty that Jesus wants for us is precisely the sort of liberty we have in the USA. Or, on the liberal end of things, this assumption manifests as the belief that we cannot really have Christian liberty until poverty is obliterated in America.

3) Words like “freedom” and “liberty” and “justice” mean different things in the Kingdom of God and the Declaration of Independence, because America and the Kingdom of God are two separate realities–one real and one spiritual. The previous assumption lumps Americanism and Christianity into the same sort of civic religion. This assumption is right to make a distinction between the Kingdom of God and the American Empire. But, unlike the previous assumption, it fails to recognize the temporal reality of the Kingdom of God. Someone with this assumption may believe that Jesus only cares about our souls.

Some Background on Christian Social Ethics in America

The subject of Christian social ethics in America has always been America. Instead of asking “how can we truly embody the Gospel in America” the question has more often been “how can we make America conform to our values?” The more that America became the democratic society that the social gospelers so desired, the more difficult it became to do ethics in a theologically candid manner. Chastened by the thinking of theologians like Niebuhr, those trained in ethics no longer sought to “Christianize” the social order. Instead they pursued, in the name of love, a more nearly just political arrangement.
In this mode, Christian social ethics continues, but it is difficult to say what makes it “Christian.”

Many conservatives avoided politics, until after WW2, when fundamentalists increasingly embraced the progressive Christian strategy of political engagement. Regardless of theological persuastion, the assumption for both the right and the left tends to be that the American political system is the primary way to bring about large-scale change. No one really questions the system. American politics is for the big stuff. Christianity is for the personal stuff.

The Yoderian Shift

John Howard Yoder has left his mark on American Christianity. Perhaps best known for his influence on thinkers like Stanley Hauwerwas, Yoder came into the argument from the Anabaptist tradition–a group that traditionally withdrew from society.

Yoder asserted that the most powerful force in human affairs is God, working in and through the Church–that nonviolent community of disciples. If the Christian church in the past made alliances with political rulers, it was because it had lost confidence in this truth.

He named this unholy alliance between Church and State “Constantinianism,” regarding it as a dangerous and constant temptation. Yoder argued that Jesus himself rejected this temptation, even to the point of dying a horrible and cruel death. Resurrecting Jesus from the dead was, in this view, God’s way of vindicating Christ’s obedience.

Yoder argued that the primary aim of the Church is not to promote our values through governmental systems, but to “be the church.” We are called to be an embodied alternative to a society based on violence by centering our shared faith on the life, death, resurrection and teachings of Jesus.

Christianity isn’t, separate, however, from politics. Yoder argued that Christianity is already a political standpoint. Before we can imaginatively explore ways of integrating our Christianity into the American political system, we must first embrace our calling to be the church.

According to William Cavanaugh, “Too often the modern Christian theological imagination has got lost in the stories that sustain modern politics. The Christendom model assumed the legitimacy of the nation state and tried to preserve the established position of the Church in guiding it.” In other words, we have let our thinking be shaped by Americanism and let that Americanism form our understanding of what it means to be the Church.”

There is a tendency here for “extraction” from culture. The issue isn’t that we should opt out of the system, but engage it in a different way—much the same way the ancient Hebrew prophets engaged the Babylonians and the Persians—prophetically speaking the words of God.

QUESTIONS:

1) How should the church bring about addressing issues like poverty? Abortion?

2) How should we engage in challenging those in powers to care about those things that Jesus cares about?

3) When is (or isn’t it) ok to make use of the American political system?

The Case for Communal Living

December 26, 2007

In the recent hullabaloo about the new monasticism “heresy,” there has been some attention given to the uselessness of communal living.  Communal living can be seen as a withdrawal from the world (and indeed it can be).  It also tends to be linked with cults or abusive Christian communities (and indeed it has).

Nevertheless, there are many benefits to living with a group of non-relatives. Here are some of the reasons why my wife and I (and our soon to emerge son, Jonas) live in community with others:

1) Almost every society has embraced multi-family or extended-family living as a norm. America did too until the 1900s. Living with more than just my wife and child can be a healthy corrective to the isolating nature of modern American society.

2) It makes it MUCH easier for real and authentic hospitality. When we take in people who have needs or are in transition, we can all share their burdens together. And hospitality (feeding and clothing and serving the stranger) is VERY biblical.

3) It keeps overall costs down, meaning that people can either work less (to give more time to ministry) or work the same amount and give more.

4) It makes it easier to pray together in community. When you live with members of your church, it can make community spiritual disciplines much easier.

5) It allows you to experiment in mutual-submission.  When you live with people, encouragement and exhortation increase.  It is harder to ignore your own personal problems or avoid issues that need to be dealt with.

Feel free to add to the list…

What Is “The Gospel”?

December 26, 2007

A “gospel,” in the original meaning, was the official announcement that a new Roman Emperor had decided to offer the World (whether or not it wanted) his protection.

This was “Good News” if you were one of the elite who used Roman rule to enrich themselves and protect their ill-gotten gains, less so if you were among the poor, particularly among the peasants whose livelihoods were most at risk under Roman taxation and business practices. And for pious Jews, it was just another reminder that the land of Israel, no doubt for some sin or another, was still consigned to pagan domination.

So “Good News,” in those days, was a public announcement of who was in charge.

The phrase still had that meaning when the Christians took it up. The first occasion of that would have been when Jesus, after John the Baptist’s arrest, “came into Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God: ‘The time has come; the Reign of God is upon you; repent and believe the Gospel.’ ”

“The Gospel”?–The announcement of Who, in fact, actually rules the World. Whose kingdom?–God’s. [As I read the story, Jesus has already been anointed king of Israel by John at his “baptism”, where the words quoted (particularly in early manuscripts of Luke) hint at Psalm 2.7 (’a royal psalm, composed for a coronation’): “He said to me, ‘You are my son, today I have begotten you.!’” So Jesus’ identity as Messiah (the king approved by Israel’s true owner: God) was in fact part of the message, but in view of Roman political domination of the region, necessarily a tacit part.)

Nothing there about Substitutionary Atonement (Jesus wasn’t even dead yet!), Eternal Life, Personal Saviors, any of that. I’m not saying that all the theology later interpreters have added hasn’t helped some people navigate their lives a little better, but I do say that much of it comes from human reason run amok.

Since then, when someone talks about preaching “the Gospel,” he normally means one or another of those human theological constructs. George Fox, who tended to find his doctrines in highly spiritual interpretations of New Testament letters, took “The Gospel is the Power of God” almost as a definition. That is, he would not accept any doctrine as being “the Gospel,” because to him nothing could be “the Gospel” short of God’s actual power to save human beings, present and palpably at work among us!

But you can’t define or expound that kind of Gospel; you can only, by closely following the Spirit’s leadings, cooperate in making opportunities for it to proclaim itself! And so Quakers like myself have gone through considerable perplexity about: What is it we do or should mean by “the Gospel”?

I myself return to that original meaning. Who’s in charge, here? Satan still claims authority over the nations and their rulers, as all their ways continue to demonstrate. But the Gospel says that God, despite appearances, 1) rules in actual fact and 2) matches Jesus’s description of our Father. Not condemning us, but doing all He can to help us, despite our misconceptions, misdeeds, and mistrust. So God has told me; so I have found.

Classic JM: Crisis in Generica

December 24, 2007

This was originally posted on July 19, 2006:

As Emergent has emerged, as the missional engage in mission, an already popular sentiment has been growing more popular: the suburbs suck.

I used to agree. Its not that I enjoy the burbs more than I used to (my own pet name for the burbs is “generica”–that vast land of sameness which exists all accross the nation in every metro area.

But I now look at Generica with compassion. After all, Generica is in crisis. America is at the peak of its empire. And few enjoy the fruit from the imperial bounty as much as the residents of Generica. But whatever ailments come from the American Dream have been doubly visited upon the Genericans. They are twice as isolated, twice as empty, twice as fractured, twice as enslaved to consumerism, etc. There is a spiritual hunger–a hunger for freedom and joy and wholeness, and healing–in Generica.

In the aftermath of WWII, families fractured and the “nuclear family” rose to dominance. Instead of families living together. Mom, Dad, and the kids (and their dog spot) moved into their generic suburban homes. Home was no longer the center of community. Now it was a sanctuary, a refuge, from extended family, work, and oftentime neighbors. One now needed a car to go to work, to buy groceries, to visit friends. Suburbia reinforced the growing isolation.

These days, when we think of Genericans, we think of vacuous, vapid, consumers. Lonely plastic-people who pretend that everything is all right. Urban folk, and rural folk, both are suspicious of such plastic people. In our cities and towns the problems are obvious. The poor folk aren’t hidden. Our lives are lived in public. When we go to the streets of Generica (those streets with deceptively pretty names), everything looks the same…the pleasant exteriors betray the brokenness of their residents.

And in response, the Suburban church–the Church of Generica seeks to save these people by catering to their broken impulses. We feed the individualism by giving them individualized sermons (David Fitch can detail this phenomenon much better than I can). We try to attack the isolation by introducing small groups (which are usually pretty anemic and unoffensive…being centered on things like the Purpose Driven Life). And so the Generican Church tends to have the same ailments as the Generican people–and all their blessings as well (like resources and a value of excellence).
A spiritual crisis is growin in Generica. The people are dying there. They have money, but it has secured their sense of disillusionment. Materialism grows, but the people cry out for substance. They moved out to the burbs to find sanctuary, but they crave relationship.

But as missional pioneers emerge–those uniquely envisioned folks that can utter prophetic voice to their brothers and sisters in Generica–they flee to the cities with their obvious problems. Urban has its own challenges, to be sure, but it is easier to be missional in the city, in many ways, than it is to be missional in the burbs. Generica needs missional leaders. Missional leaders who reject the homogeneous unit principle (the idea that folks don’t like crossing cultural boundaries so we should do church in a way that appeals to particular cultures rather than being mulit-ethnic in our approach), who reject consumerism and materialism, who embrace authentic community, who care about the poor and the marginalized should come back to the suburbs and minister there. Generica is growing in its diversity. Generia has its poor. And most of the churches in Generica tend to assume that issues of race and poverty and crime are urban issues. But new churches must come to Generica.

Churches that value social justice.

Churches that cross cultural boundaries.

Churches that challenge consumerism.

Churches that build authentic community amidst fracture.

Who will respond to the cries for healing in the broken land of Generica?

Classic JM: Psalm 1, the Law, and the Missional Church

December 24, 2007

The following was originally posted on February 25, 2005.

Today in my Old Testament class, we analyzed Psalm 1. Our analysis showed that Psalm 1 is a chiasm, which contrasts the righteous and the wicked. Every verse has a parallel in the psalm, except verse 2, which is the key point of the psalm. Verse two shows us that the difference between the righteous and the wicked is that the righteous man delights in the Law of the Lord. The Psalms talk a great deal about delighting in the Law. The Law is important to the life of justice and righteousness.

When the modern Christian reads the Psalms, and they come accross Psalm 1:2, what do they think of?

 Blessed are those
who do not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,

but who delight in the law of the LORD
and meditate on his law day and night.

Most of us would interpret this passage to say that “blessed is the person who delights in the Scriptures,” right? I think this misinterprets the role that the Law played and plays. The New Covenant equivalent to the Law is not the books of the New Testament. It isn’t the Gospels or the Epistles, or even the Sermon on the Mount–at least not directly.

For the Christian, the Spirit fulfills the role played by the Law in the Old Covenant. This isn’t to denigrade the role of the Scriptures for the believer, but to put it in the proper perspective. Our churches must read and iterpret the Scriptures. But the Scripture is not authoritative in the life of the Believer. The Spirit is. This isn’t to say that the truth in Scripture isn’t authoritative…but to say that the truth within Scripture isn’t accesible apart from the constituting, guiding presence of the Spirit.

Let me be clear: I am not saying that we don’t need the Bible, nor am I saying that the sort of revelation the Spirit gives you while you are in prayer is as authoritative as the revelation of Scripture. By no means. However, the Bible isn’t revelation unless it is illuminated by the Spirit. The Bible is useless without the Church, just as the Church is crippled without the Bible.

All this is to say that the Spirit MUST take a center role in our understanding of ourselves as the Body of Christ. There is no church apart from the Spirit. Scripture is worthless apart from the Spirit. We must be a people constituted by the Spirit, guided by the Spirit, and empowered by the Spirit.

Classic JM: Christian Identity and Consumer Choice

December 24, 2007

The following was originally posted on February 13, 2007:

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has an excellent news service that I read daily. Today they shared an excellent article on how religious identity is no longer a given. Instead, Americans are increasingly exercising their freedom of choice to switch their religious identity. Gone are the days when ethnic identity or religious heritage determined one’s own spiritual path.

According to the pew study, 8% of Americans had no religious identity at all in 1990. By 2001, that number had risen to 14%. During that time, twice as many Americans left Catholicism as joined, and three times as many people joined “evangelical” Christianity as left.

The article states:

While religious switching may bring satisfaction to individual seekers, the phenomenon can be unnerving for religious leaders, who are vying for “customers” ever more aware of new options, according to Kosmin.

“We have a supply-side religious market with more competing firms each year,” he wrote in an e-mail interview. Megachurches are successful in part because they actively reach out to “potential” members, of which there are many in high-mobility suburbs and exurbs, Kosmin wrote.

But success in attracting new members doesn’t necessarily translate into success at keeping them, according to Daniel Olson, a sociologist at Indiana University South Bend who studies religious competition.

“There is a strong relationship between rates of leaving and rates of joining, both for congregations and whole denominations,” Olson wrote in an e-mail response to questions. The 2001 survey found, for example, that while the Mormons welcomed a relatively large number of converts, an equal number left the faith. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Buddhists displayed similarly high levels of turnover.

If things continue to move in this direction…with each individual shopping for his/her own faith, what does it mean for the Church in America. Obviously, many who read this article are drooling…for example, the seeker church crowd stands to gain by this trend. Mainliners are probably upset by this article, because their strength has come from ethnic and regional ties.

This is happening to congregations as well. Within the Baptist General Conference there has been talk of “rebranding”–clearly motivated by the bad baggage of the word “Baptist.” The BGC is clearly trying to identify itself more and more as a movement of seeker churches rather than a Baptist denomination. This push is part of the larger trend of trying to trade in an old religious identity for a new one.

This is also happening with congregations…I hear stories of many churches leaving their denomination to become non-denominational or to opt into a different denomination. My church, Missio Dei, is trying to opt into the Mennonite Church USA (though we aren’t going to break ties with our existing denomination).

The trend disturbs me, as a whole, because there doesn’t seem to be a lot of theological reflection or any sort of spiritual “revival” pushing the trend. Instead, we see people easily breaking ties with their past (which seems like a flighty consumer thing to do) to jump in bed with a new church–usually one that spends a lot of money or energy marketing to them (whether it is the marketing campaign of the mega-church or the evangelistic tactics of the Mormons). In other words, the church has pretty much conformed to free-market capitalism. The products that are being bought are the ones that are being heavily marketed.

And all the while, religious identity is becoming almost purely a matter of individual choice, rather than something formed in a community with a tradition and a way of understanding the world. This growing phenomenon is the big reason I don’t buy it when folks say that postmodernism has emerged and people are looking for a community in which to belong and find identity. American Consumer Capitalism is too seductive as a metanarrative, and everyone from Somali refugees to suburban goth kids are begining to see themselves, their world, and their faith through the lense given to them by Consumer Capitalism.

The BIG question is: What do we do about it? We can either 1) jump into the fray and start marketing to religious consumers (evangelical seeker church 2.0), 2) bitch about the phenomenon but do nothing (the Mainline approach), or 3) try to foster deeper Christian identity with the Christians we know (the monastic impulse).

Thoughts?

Classic JM: Subversive Math

December 23, 2007

Editor’s Note: Jesus Manifesto is going on holiday. We won’t be posting new content until Wednesday, December 26th. However, we thought you might enjoy some classic Jesus Manifesto articles. The first is from March 3, 2006:

IF we define the church simply as:

  • “Where the word of God is preached and the sacraments rightly administered.”

or

  • “A weekly event where I hear biblical preaching and join with others in musical worship.”

And if our our primary concerns are:

  • converting as many people to a gospel that can be communicated within a half hour

and

  • having Christians grow in their understanding of the faith, which will in turn, make them better disciples

Then, there is no reason why we shouldn’t have things like satellite churches. There also isn’t any reason why we shouldn’t try to grow as large as possible. If one agrees with the above, and believes that their church is doing a good job, why not try to gather as large a crowd as possible? Sure, there may be some things that condition how we understand the above…we might want to do it in a multicultural way, if that is a value of ours. Or we may wish to do it in a liturgical way, if that is a value of ours.

I think many churches see things the way I’ve laid out. That is why we have so many churches that are intentionally trying to “grow” their Sunday services and are trying to find ways of making things even bigger. They are being consistent with their ecclesiology. In their ecclesiology, numbers are very important. But so is biblical truth. But these two things are kept in tension. Some churches that want to attract a larger crowd will avoid the more provocative or heady parts of our faith. They will address is down the road in their small group programming or adult education programming. These folks may be accused of neglecting “biblical preaching” but they merely temper it a bit their desire for conversion. Other folks may have stronger preaching, believing that true seekers will still come, and that the congregation will be better equipped to go out and share their faith. They may be accused of neglecting seekers, but they merely temper their heart for seekers with a passion for biblical preaching. Other groups may hold these in tension with a commitment to the liturgy, or to some other core value, but it still makes sense to try to gather as big of a crowd as possible and perhaps even do such things as launching satellite congregations or building bigger sanctuaries. Such a move is faithful to their ecclesiology, which focuses a great deal on the worship service and the sermon. Most of the church budget for most churches is tied up in the weekly event–cost of a building for worship services, the cost of production each week, the pastor’s salary (who spends much, if not most, of his/her time preparing for the sermon), etc.

We shouldn’t get mad at people because their church is bigger or because they are starting satellite services or if they are building a larger building, or if they are always sending out mailers to reach out to more and more people. We shouldn’t be frustrated about how much these churches focus on numbers as a sign of success. If we define church the same way they do, then we have no reason to be upset. Everything is in keeping with their ecclesiology…

But I think their ecclesiology is wrong. I don’t simply think it is wrong for our postmodern times…as though it were good in the 80s but the wrong strategy for today. I think it is bad ecclesiology today…and I suspect that it was bad in the 80s. It has always been bad ecclesiology. Church shouldn’t be centered around an event.

Worship is a way of life, not just a 30 minute music set. The Gospel can’t be adequately communicated in 30 minutes (unless, perhaps, the person already understands a lot about Christianity). And, while preaching is important, it lacks the fundamental “one-another-ness” that we read about throughout the New Testament.

Many Christians will agree with what I am saying, but at the same time will do the “church as event” approach. If you think church isn’t about numbers, then stop counting.

If you think worship is about lifestyle, then don’t overvalue singing.

If you think church is a place to explore truth, then start discussing, rather than spend so much of your time listening to a sanctified lecture each week.

If you think church is a family of faith, then spend time in relationship rather than treating church as a 2 hour long weekly commitment.

If you agree that church is people, not a building, then stop saying “I’m GOING to church.”

We spend so much time attracting people to hear the “gospel” when we need to spend more much more energy in understanding how we can best embody and articulate the Gospel. We need, more than ever, to start developing the QUALITY of the church, and stop paying so much attention to QUANTITY. We need to use subversive math. Where we stop counting, and figure out what counts.

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