Archives For February 2013

Unclean Spirits….

February 28, 2013 — Leave a comment

A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech.  Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid….

When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit.“You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

Mark 9:17 – 18,

There are many places in the Bible that talk about unclean spirits in people’s bodies. Are we to take these words literally? I think not.  To me this was just a way to give an explanation for something that was currently unexplainable. Listening to the symptoms above it seems pretty obvious to us in the twenty-first century that the boy had a severe case of epilepsy and some form of hearing impairment. We in no way associate them with some spiritual being invading the body. Those conditions were just not something that first century people understood.

Being deaf this story and one similar to it in a previous chapter of Mark gets my attention. I’m sure if I lived in these times they would be trying to drive out the evil spirit that was causing me to be deaf. I am also sure that in a couple of hundred years from now they will be startled to hear that I went through the last half of my life without being able to hear since curing my condition will be a simple procedure by then.

Those who insist on taking everything in the Bible as being literal are denying themselves the real messages contained within. They insist that an evil being was present in the above story. By doing that they have to explain how suddenly those spirits disappeared and then become merely health issues. They stubbornly insist on looking at these types of stories with first instead of twenty-first century eyes. God continues to give us revelations about the world daily. One of the most dramatic of current times is DNA.  The literalist are commonly known by their basic opposition to almost anything of science but by doing that they are ignoring God’s current messages .. How sad is that?????

Except God Alone….

February 26, 2013 — Leave a comment

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered.“No one is good—except God alone. 

Mark 10:17-18

These words have always troubled me to one extent or another. Let me explain why.  The story which they came from was about the rich man and the kingdom of God.  It is a well known and often cited story to indicate that God’s grace is a gift and impossible to earn but when the words above are isolated from that story they suggest a truth that goes counter to many current Christian beliefs. the primary belief being the concept of the Trinity.

Before I delve into why these words are troubling to me let’s look at the history of the concept of the Trinity. The concept of the Holy Trinity was made into Christian doctrine more than three hundred years after Jesus. Terms like “the father, the son, and the holy spirit” were used much before that time.  Ignatius of Antioch was perhaps one of the first theologians to coin this phrase. Jesus did of course mention God the father and the Holy Spirit but without a codifying statement about any relationship.

When we talk about things like the Trinity it is very easy to get bogged down in “church speak”. That is using special words to describe the varying conflicts that were present in the early church leaders. I try to avoid that as much as possible in this blog. Instead I will give you some simple words I found in Wikipedia that I think describes what went around the discussions of the trinity.

Although there is much debate as to whether the beliefs of the Apostles were merely articulated and explained in the Trinitarian Creeds, or were corrupted and replaced with new beliefs, all scholars recognize that the Creeds themselves were created in reaction to disagreements over the nature of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These controversies, however, were great and many, and took some centuries to be resolved.

When there has been conflict within the church a new creed was usually developed to exclude those who thought differently. The Nicene Creed is the predominant one today that attests to the concept of the Trinity. We are taught that basically the father, the son, and the holy spirit are three equal parts of the same God and cannot be divided but are three in one. This concept is often called “a mystery of christian faith” in that the very concept is difficult for human beings to understand.

Getting back to the original purpose of this post, when I read the words  “Why do you call me good? No one is good—except God alone.”  Jesus seems to be telling us that he is not the equivalent of God and that he was shocked that someone would even make the comparison. Of course the concept of the trinity had no meaning in Jesus’ day among Jews and Jesus was a Jew.

The questioning about the validity of the Holy Trinity is not accepted in many Christian churches. We are told to just accept it on blind faith.  We are told we must pledge our allegiance to that concept. To do otherwise is to risk our membership. To me that is the sad part of the  church today; many seem to unwilling to admit that maybe those involved in the past church history my have developed a man-made concept that is really not critical to being a follower of Jesus Christ.

In Their Shoes…

February 24, 2013 — Leave a comment

canstockphoto6301777Our personal experiences invade all our perceptions of life.  It is who we are and how others see us to be.   I want to spend this post talking about personal experiences and how that relates to Christian outreach. What do our perceptions have to do with religion. Let’s face it we are a product of our experiences.

I just finished watching a program in which a couple of members of the discussion group were a Catholic priest and a nun. I was struck by how differently they view things of the world  than I do.  The discussions were about what they called pelvic issues in the Catholic church. That is priest pedophiles, birth control, homosexuality, sex outside of marriage and those sort of things.  There is no doubt that these issues have taken a toll on the Roman Catholic church in recent times especially when related to pedophilia.  I think that is one of the major reasons we are seeing  the first pope resign in six hundred years.  The clergy guest on this particular show got into how Catholics are supposed to revere and trust their bishops and cardinals as they are ordained by God.  They couldn’t understand why many Catholics don’t do that today. These two participants and much of the clergy as a whole live totally within their religious communities. They seldom look at or experience anything outside their current environment.

I have always found it strange that a big part of a Catholic priest duties is to be a marriage counselor when they themselves have no experiences in those matters. Yes, it is possible to learn the terms and techniques for any subject matter but until you have personal experiences in a subject you will never really understand it or its problems.   It is kind of like someone who has never been in the military counseling soldiers fatigued from battle or of policemen who has had to take a life in the line of duty.

That is one of the things I admire so much about Mother Teresa and Gandhi, they lived in the world that they were witnessing to. A young cleric by the name of Shane Claiborne is presently doing the same thing in inner-city Philadelphia.  When we Christians sit in our pews week after week instead of getting involved in the world we are losing credibility with those who we are trying to teach about Jesus.  They just don’t see how our world or its beliefs relate to theirs.

I know when I went deaf more than twenty-five years ago until I found others who were deaf no one seemed  to help me to cope in my new silent world. The doctors who had been treating me just didn’t have a clue as to what I needed to do.  Until you walk in someones shoes you just can’t understand their problems.  Until we Christians get out into our communities with love for all our brothers the outside world will never fully accept us no matter what our message is.

Merely Human Rules….

February 22, 2013 — Leave a comment

Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’  You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.  You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 

Mark 7:6-9

Jesus spoke these words to the religious establishment of his times. The Pharisees asked him “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”  I don’t think they expected Jesus to call them hypocrites!  I wonder what Jesus would say today to the current religious establishments? I kind of thing it would be in the same vain.

Not only have we now split into 39,000 different versions of Christianity but we probably also have that many or more different “human rules” for being Christians. Being that is the case I’m pretty sure that Jesus would once again say You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 

When asked to sum up what it means to be a follower of Jesus he gave us two simple commands. He knew that we get distracted easily and run off on tangents so he kept it simple.  He said it all boils down to two simple things. Love God and love each other. How did we screw up such a simple command.? How did we end up with so many different versions of his church?

I would also include all the creeds and doctrines generated after Jesus’ death and resurrection as being human rules and traditions.  The church leaders throughout history just can’t seem to see how simple he meant the church to be. They insisted that we also believe hundreds of other things. Just look at the creeds and such they invented. The Nicene Creed is a perfect example.  While I am attuned to many of the statements in that document I  know it is made up of “beliefs” that have little to do with actually being a follower of Jesus is about.

When creeds and such are used as a way to separate the church into different factions, as they often are, they are more destructive than they are helpful. Let’s just concentrate on what Jesus told us to do and love him and each other.  When we honor Jesus with only our words (lips) but not in our hearts (action) then we are worshiping in vain.

I’m not saying that human traditions and belief have no value to us. They help us understand the history of the church and what some of the previous followers thought about God and that is very helpful. But when those traditions and beliefs get in the way of the two loves we must understand that they are not from God but are someone’s meager attempts to describe an indescribable being.

Here are some thoughts from Randy Oftedahl over at QuakerQuaker:

Now I believe there are many paths, and God in His love for human variety has given us an infinate number of ways to follow the Spirit, depending on what best speaks to our condition. But sometimes I think Quakers, perhaps because we have a particular history as a “peculiar people” or more distinctive worship and organizational forms, of for whatever reason, may be prone to a kind of spiritual pride or elitism we would reject if we found it in a fundamentalist or charismatic sect. Have other Friends ever wondered this?….. Can Quakerism become an idol? I suppose as a created thing, it could become an idol as much as any other created thing if we let it. Can we focus too much attention on the path and lose focus of the destination? (I may know this experientially). Since the Spirit of Christ can be just as truly heard in all churches/sects/creeds – or in none – might it be more in keeping with that Spirit to speak of small ‘q’ quakerism and not let our path get out ahead of our Guide?

It seems a given in our current spiritual world for each group to lord it over all the others. Each group/sect/denomination (however you want to split it up) thinks they are superior to all the others. They all have some reason or proof of their claim of superiority. Many use the circular logic of saying their religious documents prove that they are the really spiritualists of the world. Quakers, who I have a personal affinity toward are no exception.

The quote above brings up a serious question within the church of Christ. Can your religious institution become an idol that actually gets in the way of your understanding God and his nature? When we lord it over others because we think we have it right and they are wrong we are indeed doing harm to the body of Christ. When we split over our superior attitudes we do harm.  I see that the Indiana Meeting of Quakers are about to split over differences mostly involving pelvic issues. It saddens me to see even Quakers driving “superior” stakes in the sand. I was hoping that they were somehow above thinking they have religious superiority.

Randy asked the question “can Quakerism become an idol?” I think he really answered his own question and in my mind all religious institutions to one degree or another exhibit this trait. The secret to escaping this superiority condition is to admit that each of us are likely wrong about many things dealing with the nature of God. That is one of the characteristics that has drawn me to the emergent movement.

The emergent movement is not a new denomination threatening to take over but instead a new way to thinking. Here is how Wikipedia describes that concept:

Emergents can be described as Protestant, post-Protestant, Catholic, evangelical, post-evangelical, liberal, post-liberal, conservative, post conservative, anabaptist, adventist, reformed, charismatic, neocharismatic, and post-charismatic…. Some attend local independent churches or house churches while others worship in traditional Christian denominations. Proponents believe the movement transcends such “modernist” labels of “conservative” and “liberal,” calling the movement a “conversation” to emphasize its developing and decentralized nature…

When all of us finally admit that we are just as likely to be wrong about some of the things we believe about the “truths of God” as anyone else, that is a first step to bringing the church back together as Jesus intends.

Churches Are Misleading….

February 18, 2013 — 5 Comments

All of this makes me wonder if pews are misleading in churches. They trick people into thinking that Christians learn best by sitting quietly in rows, listening to lectures, and memorizing ideas about the faith. But churches should not be lecture halls. 

Church PhotoThe above short quote got my attention. It is from a book by Diane Butler Bass entitled Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening.   I came to the same conclusion a couple of years before I read these words.  Churches in general are very misleading of what Jesus expects of us. Yes, I know some of my Christian friends believe that all we are supposed to do is to accept Christ as our savior and then spend the rest of our lives laying back and letting his grace flow over us.  To me, nothing could be further from the truth.

I am not one to have memorized the Bible so I can’t say for sure but I don’t believe that Jesus put much emphasis on us being passive followers. I suspect the folks who are aligned with that belief can quote at least a verse or two that if you twist it just right might infer that we are supposed to be passive.  I know I read the red letters frequently and what I see is Jesus telling me again and again to actively love my brother and to love God.

Getting back to the quote at hand, I think churches in general do trick people into thinking they are following Christ by just spending an hour a week sitting in the air-conditioned churches listening to  lectures and memorizing selected words to back up their static beliefs. To be quite frank, I just can’t understand all the lavish cathedrals built through the ages by the church. I believe in my heart that Jesus never intended that to happen.  I totally agree with Ms. Bass that churches should NOT be lecture halls and that includes lectures by the clergy of your favorite flavor.

If we truly want to reflect the heart and message of Jesus we should shut down our lavish palaces we have constructed in his name and move out into the community as he taught us.  Jesus did spend a few sparing times in the synagogue but he did not live there, or hide there as Christians today seem to do.  As a matter of fact one of the most visible bible stories is about Jesus going into a church to upset the local traditions of the time. He upset a lot of carts in that story and I think we need to do the same for him today.

Let’s quit spending all the money we collect in God’s name on ourselves and instead put it out in the community. Lord knows there are plenty of opportunities for us Christians to make more of a difference in the world today. If we want to be a follower of Jesus we should take his examples to heart and get out their loving the tax collectors, prostitute, poor and destitute in our day as he did in his.

About Those Creeds….

February 16, 2013 — Leave a comment

Source: Deal Or No Deal? Creed Or No Creed? – QuakerQuaker.

“Friends have no creeds.”  We Quakers often say that. We are committed to no human words but rather to following the Holy Spirit. We believe God speaks to us today – speaks to all who still their hearts and listen. “No official words can substitute for a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.” We believe that commitment to creed would be a kind of idolatry.

Most Christian denominations, on the other hand, do have a creed. They have an official statement of faith they use to distinguish their beliefs from the beliefs of other denominations. Those statements of faith often lead to wrangles over precise wording, and sometimes schisms.

The above words by Doug Bennett over at Quaker-Quaker I believe pretty much tell what Quakers think about creeds.  I must admit that when I got down to studied the common creeds in use today I found that almost all of the statements are about our understanding of God. In that vein I can understand the reluctance of my Quaker friends to embrace creeds. Today creeds seem to be mainly used as a tool to separate one group of Christians from another.

I know from personal experience that many of the different flavors of Christianity will tell their congregants that they must believe in the total truth of their particular denomination’s creeds or other statements of belief. I was told that since I believed that the earth is more than 6,000 years old and therefore did not believe in the total literal and inerrant bible that I would no longer have membership in the church I had joined over eight years before.  The new minister called to that congregation believed it was his duty to exclude me and a couple of the more vocal participants in the weekly bible study.

Jesus Christ did not tell us that in order to be his followers we must pledge 100% allegiance to any particular man-made words or even beliefs. He did give us example after example of how he expected us to love God and to love one another. Those two things were what he wrapped his church around not words that were conceived by men many years after his death and resurrection.

I am not as creed averse as my Quaker friends. I believe that many creeds invented over the years, and there are literally thousands of them, have at least some  redeeming merit in their thoughts. It is just that when they are used as a condition of being a follower of Christ that raises my ire. None of us, and I am including every human being who has come after Jesus, totally knows the heart or conscience of God. That is simply an impossible task. We in our meager attempt sometimes get it right but often get it wrong. That does not mean that we shouldn’t try to know what God expects of us but more that we simply can’t assume that we, to the exclusion of others, have it down pat.

One of the primary things that empresses me about the emergent movement is their admittance that they just may be wrong about some of what they currently believe about the heart of God. They believe that being a follower of Jesus is a life long learning experience that no one, and I do mean no one, ever graduates from. That is one belief that I don’t ever envision being wrong.

Away From Me!!!

February 14, 2013 — Leave a comment

I have now spent several posts on the emergent church. It is time to get back to the red letters to see what Jesus wants to teach us.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” Matthew 7:23 – 28

To those of you who have been around this blog for a while know that I am a firm believer that Jesus wants us to do what he says. It seems many today are convinced that to be a Christian all they have to do is make an altar call and profess their beliefs and then go on to live their lives as they please. Yes, I believe in the grace of God but that does not exempt me from obeying his commands.

The verse above which ends the “Sermon on the Mount” is a very direct one to tell us that there will be some, perhaps many, who come to their judgement day and will be surprised by what God says to them.  They will say “didn’t we call you Lord of our lives?  That is what we were told was required to get to heaven.” Unfortunately there are those flavors of Christianity around today that  do tell their congregants that.  “Make an altar can and then just sit back and let Jesus’ grace flow over you. That is all that is required.”  To these folks being a Christian is a very passive calling.  It is a something-for-nothing calling.

But the words above even go further, they include people who might say they made predictions about God and the even drove out demons and did miracles. Sounds like some of the current day televangelists doesn’t it?  Even these folks Jesus tells us will get a surprise. The second paragraph tells us why Jesus made this startling proclamation.  He told us that we must not only hear his words but we must put them into practice. As his brother James told us later “faith (only words) without deeds (putting those words in practice) is a dead faith.

Many of the 39,000 versions of Christianity use the first paragraph above to proclaim that they are the only ones who will get to heaven. But they most often omit the conditions Jesus used to explain this omission.  Lets always remember that being a follower of Jesus Christ is not just saying words it is putting Jesus’ messages into practice as he commanded via these red letters.

I want to close out this series of posts with some unfounded complaints about the emergent movement. This list is mine and therefore might not align with the leaders of this movement.

Emergents don’t have a foundation, they allow their members to believe anything — While it is true that emergents don’t, as most common denominations do, try to prove anyone wrong about their current beliefs they do have fundamental things that guide them.  They believe that Jesus is God and gave us the Great Commandment to love him and to love each other.  They believe that God intends us to work with him to bring the kingdom of God to earth as it is in heaven.  Unlike many Christians they admit that they might be wrong about things they think they know today. Just as much of theology is temporary and local, their thinking about different things related to God may be overturned by future knowledge or revelation.

Emergents are trying to tear the church apart — As the second practice in the previous post states the emergent movement is trying to do the exact opposite from tearing the church apart.  In fact they are about the only group of the 39,000 different flavors of God that are committed to Christianity in all its forms.  They believe that all of them have good points and not so good points. They will not align with one version and discard another. We are all wrong about the nature of God in one form or another.

Emergents are confusing the unchurched by their lack of a specific stand — Standing firm on certain beliefs that were meant to be temporary is actually what is confusing the unchurched. When Christians say, for instance, that the earth is only 6,000 years old and all the scientific proof otherwise is just God tricking us they are “confusing” the unchurched. Emergents have a strong commitment to living in God’s world today. They do not isolate themselves from it but instead firmly believe that Jesus told us to get involved in bringing his kingdom to earth.

Emergents don’t like other Christians. They are just a passing cult —  The most basic belief of emergents is God’s command to love him and to love each other. They are committed to strengthening our shared values and resolve to and encourage other Christians to learn from each other. They value interactions with other Christians. Emergents are not trying to form yet another flavor of God but instead they are trying to get all the current flavors to come together. The emergent movement has a very strong foothold in Africa and South America and is daily becoming stronger in all the rest of the world. They are definitely not a passing cult.

I am very aware of the threat many in Jesus’ church feel toward the emergent movement.  They feel that the things they hold dear will go by the wayside if emergents become dominant in the world. They fear the unknown if they have to admit that they might not have all the answers.  The emergent movement is nothing more that the continuation of the evolution of the church. I find  the emergent movement as the only one out there that are trying to make the church one as Jesus and God the Father are one.

Please don’t feel threatened by this movement. Instead study it and embrace it. Instead of destroying the church it just might save it for future generations….

Tony JonesThis post will be about the commitments of the emergent church as outlined in the book The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier by Tony Jones.  Appendix A: in the book carries the title above.  This list seems in a nutshell to fairly characterize the emergent movement as it now stands in the U.S.  Here is a list of commitments from that text:

 1. COMMITMENT TO GOD IN THE WAY OF JESUS —  We are committed to doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God. In the words of Jesus, we seek to live by the Great Commandment: loving God and loving our neighbors-including those who might be considered “the least of these” or enemies. We understand the gospel to be centered in Jesus and his message of the Kingdom of God, a message offering reconciliation with God, humanity, creation, and self.

 2. COMMITMENT TO THE CHURCH IN ALL ITS FORMS  — We are committed to honor and serve the church in all its forms- Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Pentecostal, Anabaptist. We practice “deep ecclesiology”-rather than favoring some forms of the church and critiquing or rejecting others, we see that every form of the church has both weaknesses and strengths, both liabilities and potential. We believe the rampant injustice and sin in our world requires the sincere, collaborative, and whole-hearted response of all Christians in all denominations, from the most historic and hierarchical, through the mid-range of local and congregational churches, to the most spontaneous and informal expressions. We affirm both the value of strengthening, renewing, and transitioning existing churches and organizations, and the need for planting, resourcing, and coaching new ones of many kinds.

3. COMMITMENT TO GOD’S WORLD — We practice our faith missionally-that is, we do not isolate ourselves from this world, but rather, we follow Christ into the world. We seek to fulfill the mission of God in our generations, and then to pass the baton faithfully to the next generations as well. We believe the church exists for the benefit and blessing of the world at large; we seek therefore not to be blessed to the exclusion of everyone else, but rather for the benefit of everyone else. We see the earth and all it contains as God’s beloved creation, and so we join God in seeking its good, its healing, and its blessing.

4. COMMITMENT TO ONE ANOTHER —  In order to strengthen our shared faith and resolve, and in order to encourage and learn from one another in our diversity through respectful, sacred conversation, we value time and interaction with other friends who share this rule and its practices. We identify ourselves as members of this growing, global, generative, and non-exclusive friendship. We welcome others into this friendship as well. We bring whatever resources we can to enrich this shared faith and resolve.

I am very much aligned with these four commitments of the emergent church. If only the church of Christ as a whole would get down from their individual pedestals and align with them we might be able to make a big change in this world.