Archives For Church Leaders

Whose Fault???

March 20, 2014 — 1 Comment

I will admit here that I got a first time comment today that I immediately sent to the trash because I don’t have the energy to deal with it on a serious level right now. It goes like this. “I will ignore the needs of the 99 in order to prevent the 100th one from getting something he doesn’t deserve”. This comment also declared that social justice as he sees it is nothing but communism.

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard comments like this. But the truly sad thing is that it frequently comes from someone who declares themselves a fundamentalist Christian. A major premise of that version of Christianity is that we are all nothing but pitiful sinners and don’t deserve anything but Jesus died for us anyway. To turn around and not pass even a miniscule amount of the mercy that they received on to others quite simply makes me sick. But even the sadder part of this is that I’m sure the people who make these types of comments really believe them and just don’t see the correlation between giving and receiving grace. Whose fault is that?

The above words are mine. They were a response I gave a commentor about my post on Social Justice over at RJsCorner.

As mentioned I have gotten this type of reply frequently when I post about giving people second, and yes even sometimes third, chances. I have had a few days to think about that final question and for what it is worth here is my answer.  I believe this very flawed logic is the fault of many of our church’s current spiritual leaders. They, like those who Jesus chastised so much in his day, have lost the true meaning of what being a follower of Jesus Christ.

Instead of looking at Jesus’ messages of love and grace they are fixated on guarding their version of God. In Jesus’ day much of the Pharisees attention was on dietary requirement and rules for Jewish living. Today it seems that “below the belt” issues overwhelm almost everything else in some Christian circles.  That and defending things found in the Bible that have little or nothing to do with living today but are sacrosanct on justifying their paranoid belief of biblical inerrancy.

To one degree or another almost all Christian sects are guilty of subverting the Message of Jesus. They seem to concentrate more on “tithing” requirements and building more monoliths to God than they are about being our brother’s keepers. They have mortally wounded Christian faith by aligning it with radical right political themes.  It seems like we need another “upturning of the money changer’s table” in the twenty-first century church. We need some group to take back the message of Christ to love God and to love each other.  We need to get off the feeling that God has special love for that suburban middle class crystal palace with the U.S. flag prominently displayed behind the lavish altar than he does for starving kids in third world countries.

Jesus was a person of second chances. He even told us to forgive our brothers many time more than that. This message seems to be lost in many who call themselves Christians and I believe the fault of that, like in Christ’s day land on the current religious establishment.  They seem to be just too afraid that if they make following Jesus too difficult no one will come. They need a serious table upturning….

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“I’m Sorry”?

January 21, 2014 — Leave a comment

Sorry

Christians mistakenly believe that apologizing discredits everything they’ve ever said. As if saying “we’re sorry” will somehow negate the fact that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead. In reality, apologizing promotes honesty, transparency, authenticity and humility, things all Christians should exhibit throughout their lives. When Christians apologize, it adds integrity and legitimacy to their words and actions…

Maybe this is why Christians rarely hear sermons or teachings about apologizing to non-Christians. Mainstream Christian culture teaches the opposite: believers are always right. The inner-circle perception is that Christians don’t make mistakes—only non-Christians do.

SOURCE: Stephen Mattson: Can Christianity Learn to Say, “I’m Sorry”? | Red Letter Christians.

Saying I’m sorry is not something that I shy away from. I, like everyone else in this world have made some pretty stupid mistakes. Anyone who has studied much in the way of church history know that the church has also made some pretty serious errors. Like silently sat back during the 1950s and watched church after church in African-American neighborhoods be burned. They sat stoically in the background while basic civil rights were denied a large portion of the population. In fact many so-called Christians were fervent members of the KKK performing these atrocities!  Before that there was WWII. How many Christians stood by while the Nazi regime annihilated millions of people because of their religious affiliation?

Christian leaders have persecuted many as heretics only for them to later be deemed as saints.  Galileo spent the last part of his life in-house arrest because the church, which was the very dominant world power at the time,  called him a heretic for saying the earth revolved around the sun. Joan of Arc was burned and later made a saint. Mistakes have been made throughout the church’s history.

Shunning is one of the saddest parts of the current day church. When someone has been deemed a heretic by a local clergyman most of the church’s members basically write them off as friends. I have first hand knowledge of this fact. After eight years of sitting side-by-side with people I considered good friends  and after literally hundreds of hours of volunteer work to build most of the cabinets and shelves for the new church building I found how deep those friendships really were.  When I was told I didn’t have the “right” beliefs and therefore was no longer considered a member of the church without exception all of my “friends” fell away. I have been maybe not officially shunned but shunned just the same. I think, or at least hope, that some of that is just fear of association. They are afraid they might be next it they continue to associate with a heretic.

Getting back to the topic at hand the church certainly has much to say they are sorry for. It has been a pleasant surprise to see that Pope Francis has been saying, at least figuratively if not literally, he is  sorry about many different things the Catholic church has done. The Protestant church on the other hand continues in their ways of insisting they are perfect in all their words and actions. This arrogance, along with each denomination’s insistence that they are the only ones to have it right, is one of the saddest parts about the church today. All 39,000+ versions of it…

There is no “right way” to have church, but there is a wrong way.
Scripture gives us very little instruction for church. We are told to “gather together” (Hebrews 10:24), we have the example of the Eucharist set by Christ (Luke 22:19), and we have a command to address the needs around us (Acts 4:32-35, 20:35, Hebrews 13:16, James 1:27), we are told to be orderly and not chaotic (1 Cor 14:40), and we are told to recognize and use the gift and talents of one another (Romans 12:3-13). That’s it, everything else is left to our own discernment. We should be free to change and adapt church to needs, times, and places. In fact, we are being foolish and obstinate not to.
SOURCE:  Yaholo Hoyt: 8 Good Reasons to Change Modern Church Service | Red Letter Christians.

8 Good Reasons to Change Modern Church Service

We spent the last two posts reviewing an article entitled “The Six Worst Things About American Christianity” from RedLetterChristians by Steven Mattson. Now that I have had a few days to digest these words I want to turn the article’s six points around to imagine them as lessons we U.S. Christians should learn. Here they are:

1) We must realize that no one has an exclusive connection with God  —  Much of what we know about early Christianity is the result of  a scribe writing down Christian stories that had been passed down from generation to generation for hundreds of years and even those original manuscripts have been lost to us. What we have now are copies of copies. Men throughout the ages have been penning their interpretations of what those original messages might have been.  This almost infinite list of opinions spreads from King Constantine and his council and Augustine in the fourth century to Luther and the other reformers in the 16th century all the way down to thousands of theologians at work today.

We must realize that none of these various man-made beliefs about God are without error. They might have been inspired by God but they were without question, even to the literalist, penned by men. The best thing that could happen to U.S. Christianity is that we would finally quit our “us” vs. “them” mentality of the various opinions of Christianity. We need to go back to kindergarten and learn to play nice with others. We need a little less bravado and a lot more humility.

2) We must not confuse our dedications to Jesus’ teachings and our political affiliations. — Neither U.S. political party at its roots are Christian. They are both mainly power based organization currently just wanting to force their worldviews on each other. The early Christians were very aware that God’s kingdom is not of this world. We need to re-learn those lessons. Don’t allow your Christianity to be hijacked for political purposes.

3) Christianity is counter-cultural — Christianity is not like the latest fad that is determined by our current cultural trends. We in the U.S. live in very shallow lifestyles. The teachings of Jesus are often very counter to what we endear in this country.

4) We don’t hold a “special” status with God — We in the U.S. have got to get it out of our minds that somehow God loves us more than he does others. God has agape love for all of his creation and by definition that is an infinite amount for each of us. How can some of us have more than and infinite amount of God’s love?  We may be the current biggest military and industrial force in the world and therefore have more than our say in what goes on in the world but that does NOT infer special status with God.

5) Remember, we Christians are meant to “march to the beat of a different drummer”.  — Jesus clearly told us again and again “don’t cling to your stuff”.  We in the U.S. are totally obsessed with consumerism. That is clearly not where Jesus wants us to be.

6) There is no such thing as a “power-hungry” Christian. — Jesus told us to have a servant mentality, not a master; that is very different from the U.S. culture teaches us. For us Christians it should never be about control or influence but instead about loving and caring.

RedLetterChristians LogoThis is the conclusion of a post over at RedLetter Christians by Stephen Mattson  that I want to feature. (Click here to see the original post in it entirety).  As I said before it puts the major problems with our current version of American Christianity into an almost perfect shell. Today we will look at the last four things and next time I will give some personal thoughts about all six observations in this list.

3) Speed and Shallowness — Our fast-paced culture of celebrity, noise and entertainment has trumped our ability to patiently meditate, pray and reflect. 

The most popular theologians and pastors now have their own web platforms, and we expect them to engage in every newsworthy event—no matter how significant (or insignificant) it may be. A Christian author may spend years of exhaustive work and research in order to write a book, but we’ll manage to ruthlessly and publicly tear it apart within minutes of publication.

Mistakes are made, statements are shouted, relationships are ended, and it’s often too late to retrace our steps and retract our sins. We sacrifice contentment, care and thoughtfulness in order to quench our insatiable desire for social interaction and cheap entertainment.

4) We’re Privileged — Change is hard to accept when things are working in your favor. As the common expression goes: “Why is change a good thing?” Any theology, idea or sermon that challenges people to sacrifice or reach beyond their comfort zones isn’t easily accepted.

Many American Christians defend their position so passionately because the greatest beneficiaries of their worldview are themselves. But when people are persecuted, abandoned, ignored or powerless, their perspective changes and they become open to different paradigms. These new paradigms are invisible and seem illogical to those that live comfortably.

5) Consumerism — We have turned our faith into a set of costs, and it’s becoming increasingly costly to maintain the Christian status quo. In John 2, the Bible tells the riveting story of Jesus entering the Temple and becoming furious at what He sees: vendors who have turned something holy into a commercial marketplace. Jesus is irate, and he basically tears the place apart because of their sin. But how different are our churches today?

The message of Christ should be available for free, to everyone. The best worship, pastors, teachers, ideas, inspiration and resources should not be reserved for only those who can afford to pay for the latest albums and books, buy tickets to conferences, pay tuition for Seminary, or submit a fee for retreats—you get the picture. As Christians, we need to be intentional about fighting our cultural habit of commercializing everything, and be willing to generously offer our gifts and resources freely to everyone—with no strings (or charges) attached.

6) Obsessed with Power — Power-hungry Christians view their faith as a battle, a series of wins and losses. Control and influence is valued above all else, and Christianity’s success is measured by research, statistics, attendance and the success of church-supported laws at the state and federal level. Success is hardly gauged by the fruits of the Spirit or by how well we’re following Christ’s example.

A thirst for power results in Christians who prefer political might over spiritual strength, legal enforcement over personal choice, conscription over evangelism, punishment over grace, fear over hope, and control over love. In extreme cases, even violence and aggression is viewed as a necessary means of gaining power.

But “Christianity” in America is no longer an institutionalized tradition that people automatically do on Sunday mornings— this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It forces us to care less about power and more about the gospel of Christ. Jesus routinely sacrificed worldly power for humble service and love. Is selfless love something that American Christians are ready for? We’ll soon find out. 

RedLetterChristians LogoMy friends over at RedLetter Christians have done it again. They have put the major problems with our current version of American Christianity into an almost perfect shell. The words below were some of the thoughts penned by Stephen Mattson. See all the complete text by clicking here. I see no reason to add any additional words. I will be using the next two posts to bring their message forward and then a third one to talk about them from a personal veiwpoint. In order to keep the posts around my self-imposed 500 word or so limit I have done some slight editing.

America is wonderful! We have religious freedom to express our beliefs and worship according to our preferences, but there are also very distinct problems associated with American Christianity. Here are some of the main ones:

1) Infighting — Instead of unifying believers, Christ has become a symbol of discontentment and divisiveness. Theologians publicly humiliate each other, pastors hatefully condemn those they disagree with, denominations split over minor differences, Facebook is used as a platform to spread hurtful comments and derogatory memes, Twitter accounts are used as vicious tools of attacks, and people spew degrading opinions and gossip—often without provocation. Disdain reaches hyperbolic proportions, and accusations of being a “heretic” and “false prophet” are freely given to various individuals who simply have new, bold or different ideas.

American Christians have forgotten how to dialogue and respectfully disagree. We’ve abandoned concepts like grace, humility and love and have devolved into critics instead of encouragers, instigators instead of peacemakers, debaters instead of friends, and reactionists instead of innovators.

We crave independence and avoid teamwork, and prefer communities who share similar theological, political and social beliefs. Exclusiveness is preferred over acceptance, and we religiously bolster our personal ideologies instead of readily listen to others. Meanwhile, the rest of the world watches as we destroy ourselves and the gospel we represent.

2) Unfair and Inaccurate Associations — American Christianity is obsessed with labels. We ascribe names, descriptors and titles for various theologies, denominations, movements, political ideas and social ideologies.

We judge individuals based on the flimsiest of associations in order to fulfill our superficial stereotypes. Therefore, someone who likes Rob Bell must be a “Liberal Universalist,” while someone who admires John Piper must be a “Calvinist.” Mystery and ambiguity is mistakenly perceived as ignorance, and so we categorize everyone—including ourselves.

We live in an age where the term “Christian” means a million different things to a million different people. To make matters worse, non-Christians have their own associations—often warranted. Therefore, an individual claiming to be Christian can be misinterpreted as being Homophobic, Conservative, Anti-Science and Sexist, even though those descriptions may be completely inaccurate.

Christian groups and organizations reinforce negative perceptions through campaigns, lobbying efforts, institutionalized doctrines, public comments and actions, making it harder to break down preconceived stereotypes that our popular culture and media continue to associate with Jesus.

For believers, the term “Christian” is just the beginning label, a generic description meant to be broken down and dissected. What type of Christian are they? A moderate? Liberal? Egalitarian? Lutheran? Charismatic? What style of worship do they prefer? What translation of the Bible do they use? The classifications could go on forever.

American Christianity is a complex and diverse array of beliefs and ideologies, and every individual is unique, but we prefer to reduce everything through labels, forfeiting truth for the sake of compartmentalization and simplification.

Next time I will present the final four…

Living The Message….

April 30, 2013 — 2 Comments

Emergent congregations are especially well equipped to live creatively in the newly post-Western Christianity. They are careful not to confuse the life and message of Jesus with the “Western” elements in which it has been packaged. They try to assign equal weight to both the message and the context so that a new version of the old story can take shape. They strongly underline “living the message” rather than simply proclaiming it. They experiment with settings, like cafes, in which two-way exchange rather than one-way preaching is possible

The Future of Faith (Cox, Harvey)

The words above are one of the reasons I have such hope for the emergent movement currently taking place in Jesus’ church throughout the world. After studying the history of the church it has become obvious to me just how much of Jesus’ message has been twisted into man’s messages.  We need to strip away the worldly cultural part of the message so that its true heart can once again be glorified.

I am part Native-American and have read what the Christian missionaries did to that population. To me it was abominable how they tried to force their culture on the native population in this country at the same time strip their native culture away from them. It just wasn’t good enough to these early american missionaries to try to meld the two cultures together. They shamefully deemed their culture superior and determined to eradicate the other.

The message of Jesus Christ is what it is all about; the context from which the message is communicated is secondary in nature. Why didn’t these early missionaries understand that? But even how the message is delivered is not as important as living it in your life. If you don’t do that then you are rightly proclaimed to be a hypocrite.

“Doing church” is something that I have often been critical of in this blog because I believe it is often the same as putting the context above the message. I still quite clearly remember when I suggested that the Lutheran church where I was a very active member do a second different format service on Sundays. I remember the immediate and adamant opposition to the very idea coming from the clergyman and many of the long time members.  That was maybe the beginning of my separation from that group.

I admire many emergent churches for trying different setting for “doing church”. Cafes, two-way exchanges in place one-way preaching and thousand year old liturgy, just might be a better way to present Jesus to a new generation. Why are so many resistant to that idea. When the method of delivery becomes more important than the message of Jesus it is time to step back and take a thoughtful look at how you are doing church.

They had turned the way of Jesus, I felt, into the club of the Pharisees, and they didn’t speak for me, even though their spokesmen dominated the dialogue night after night on cable TV. The terms “Evangelical” and even “Christian” had become like discredited brands through their energetic but misguided work.

I increasingly understood why more and more of my friends winced when the name “Jesus” was mentioned in public. It wasn’t due to a loss of respect for Jesus, but for those who most used his name. In spite of all this, few of my fellow pastors and leaders had the courage to speak out for fear of losing members or their contributions. For a while, I’m ashamed to say, I was among their silent number.

A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith (McLaren, Brian D.)

The above words are one of the things that anger me about today’s church. The ones who seem to have it right just will not take a stand against those who are polluting the name of Jesus!!

I know that the author of the words above is considered a “liberal” by many of the  fundamentalist evangelicals and therefore is not to be trusted with God’s word (their words not mine). Here is a little about what Wikipedia says about him.

Many of the books that McLaren has written, including the “A New Kind of Christian” trilogy, deal with Christianity in the context of the cultural shift towards postmodernism. McLaren believes this theology enables him to approach faith from what he considers a more Jewish perspective which allows faith to exist without objective, propositional truth to believe. He has also challenged traditional evangelicals’ emphasis on individual salvation, end-times theology and the prosperity gospel. He also creates an antithesis between personal trust in God and belief in his propositions:

“I believe people are saved not by objective truth, but by Jesus. Their faith isn’t in their knowledge, but in God.” – Brian McLaren

It takes courage to strike out against those who pollute the name of Jesus and there are many out there that do just that. They want to put one form of selfish message on Jesus to tell you that he wants everyone to be millionaires or other such things.

I was certain if I could preach the perfect sermon the altar would fill with people overcome by God’s grace. Now I realize there are many hindrances to experiencing the fullness of God’s grace—confusion, fear, prejudice, ignorance, and pride, to name a few. The removal of these obstacles ought to be the primary purpose of the Church.

Unfortunately, the Church has often erected more barriers than we’ve removed. Too many have entered our doors, only to experience condemnation rather than welcome. We’ve acted less like Jesus and more like his opponents.

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-03-17). If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (Plus) (pp. 14-15). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

It is indeed hard to comprehend the fullness of God’s grace. Man puts many obstacles in the way of it and unfortunately as the above quote says the church which should be about removing obstacles seems instead puts many of them there. Many versions of church tell us that God can’t stand to look at us because we are just too sinful. They tell us that God sees us as no more than a piece of snot. Each individual version of church almost always tells us that they alone know the heart of God; everyone else just has it wrong in one manner or another.

They tell us that if we really want to be saved from God’s wrath then we must jump through all the hoops they put in front of us. If we dare to skip one or two or question why the hoop is there in the first place then we are told that we are not good enough to be with them.  Of course all these hoops and barriers are man-made; they are not from God.

When Martin Luther, a lowly monk, dared to question the practices of the church of his time the hammer came down hard. He was severely chastised and eventually kicked out.  The rules/hoops of those times mandated that you must pay indulgences in order to get your departed loved ones into heaven.  Martin Luther said no to that hoop.  You might think that he would have learned a lesson from this but that was not to be the case.

Luther decided to put his own conditions on church membership. For you to belong to his church you had to believe that the only way God can communicate with you is through the man-made document of the fourth century. You had to believe that everything in that document compiled under the eyes of a Roman emperor is literally true (or at least according to Luther’s understanding of literally true) and without the possibility of any error. If you don’t jump through this hoop then you were not good enough to be a part of his newly formed church. When Luther limited God’s communications with us to only a 1200 year old document he put in place a condition that was perhaps more harmful than the one he rebelled against.

It appears that I am picking on one particular denomination of the 39,000 different versions of church around today. For this post that may be the case but in reality the only thing that is different between most of the rest are the hoops themselves.

Confusion, fear, prejudice, ignorance, and especially pride get in the way of experiencing God’s grace.  All of these conditions are man-made, especially the last one. The church should be about getting rid of these obstacles. That should be its primary purpose.  Sadly that is not yet the case…..

Gracae Book CoverI’ve never experienced a God of wrath. I’ve heard such a God preached. I’ve read of such a God. I’ve encountered wrathful people who claimed to be acting on God’s behalf. I’ve even allowed such sentiments to tarnish my view of God. Yet, in the midst of all these distortions, I never experienced a wrathful God.

The God I’ve experienced is the God of Jesus—a God of unlimited patience, infinite love, and eternal faithfulness. Jesus described a God who waits long through the night, with the light lit and the door open, confident his most defiant child will one day realize his love and turn toward home. Jesus revealed a God who loves the unlovable, touches the untouchable, and redeems those thought beyond redemption. He said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you” (John 15:9). My earliest experiences were with the love of Jesus.

I want to start off this mini-serious around the book by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland entitled If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person with a quote from the beginning pages. Being I buy most of my books from Amazon I can review a few pages to decide whether I want to purchase the book.  When I read these words I knew this was a book I wanted to learn more from.

I must admit that most of my church experiences have not aligned with the assumption that God will eventually reconcile all souls back to him. Especially from my Protestant years, I was taught  that I was to fear a wrathful God who would send me to an eternity of pain and suffering if I didn’t do what the church leaders told me to do. I was told to fear the power and wrath of God or risk eternal damnation. I was told that God only viewed me as worth no more than a piece of snot but he loved me anyway.

I was told that all the bad things that have happened in my life was probably just God getting back at me for things I had done in my life. It was his retribution for not being perfect. But even with all this rhetoric about a vengeful God I, like the quote above,  can’t say that I have ever really experienced a God of wrath.  I have encountered wrathful people inside and outside the churches I have attended over the years. They insisted on telling me week after week that people like us, that is those who made a declaration of faith in the beliefs they espoused and attended their particular version of church were saved from God’s wrath but just about everyone else would not make the cut.

When I dared to go off on my own and study the words of Jesus without those fearful words being chanted in my ears I discovered a different God. Now I will admit that there are some words attributed to Jesus that I can’t yet understand (I will have to do another series on that topic) but the vast majority that I do presently understand is about a God of love. One who has an agape, that is unconditional and infinite, love for me and all those he created.  With this new view of God I am beginning to align with Mr. Gulley’s notion that God will save every person.  How he is going to do that is not up to me and my petty understanding of him.  I just know that he is an all powerful God and if he loves us as the Bible proclaims then he will eventually bring us all back to his fold.

Much more about this and the book in the following posts.