Archives For Future of the Church

Conformity….

April 3, 2014 — 1 Comment

I’ve seen the light go out in people’s eyes when they decide it’s safer to embrace a doctrine or a policy that their gut tells them is wrong than it is to challenge those who say it’s right.

I’ve watched open minds close and tender hearts harden.

I’ve seen people pretend to believe things they don’t actually believe and do things they don’t actually want to do, all in the name of conformity to God’s will, all in the name of sacrifice and submission.

Fundamentalism erases people. It erases their joy, their compassion, their instincts, their curiosity, their passion, their selves. And then it celebrates this ghosting, this nulling and numbing, as a glorious “dying to the self,” just like Jesus demanded.

SOURCE: Hearts of Flesh.

These are some powerful words from Rachel Held Evans who is a young and popular Christian author and lecturer. She seldom parses words when it comes to her spirituality.  She also seems to be very aligned with the latest statistics of the Millennial generation when it comes to shedding much of the dogma of the current “church”.

I truly believe that the conformity that many churches demand is a primary factor for why even those raised in it are leaving in droves. They see things that directly contradict what they believe to be simple knowledge. They see their church speaking so viciously about those who are different from them.  What they see is not “conformity to God’s will” but to some minded hardened hearts.  They see a fixated emphasis on below the belt issues when Jesus said almost nothing about that topic.

Young people, or at least many young people, are still in the mode of questioning things. They are still forming their own personal opinions on what will be important in their coming life. They will not allow someone to tell them what is moral when it is obviously not to them.

During my lifetime fundamentalism, even though it started with trying to bring the message of Jesus Christ to the world, has for the most part morphed into something completely different. It is now primarily about what you are supposed to hate rather than what Jesus told you to love. It has become the dark side of Christianity in many respects.

2014-03-25_16-33-02It is encouraging to see that the force is no longer with the fundamentalists but instead beginning to meld into what is now called the Great Emergence as described by Harvey Cox in his book entitled The Future Of Faith.  As explained in the book the emergent church is more about moving on to the next stage of Christianity rather than tearing down the current one. It is about shedding all those man-made rules and replacing them with the messages of its founder. If you are becoming discouraged with the direction that many in the church are taking maybe it is time you took up the book and read it with an open mind. It just might just change your idea some of the basic things you are told you must believe in order to see God.

This is one of the most fundemental things I have learned from the now ending five year study…

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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

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.

What matters to those who look to history for important lessons is that something was lost in the fourth century that permanently changed the nature of Christianity. If we do not recover that spirit of loyalty to the ethic of the Sermon on the Mount as opposed to saluting the Nicene Creed, the decline of the church will continue. If we persist in arguing across our theological divides in a perishing world, then the church deserves its fate. If we cannot reverse the move away from praxis and toward doctrine that was sealed by Constantine, the church will become, and deserves to become, the relic of another age.
It was post-Constantine theologians who gave us the doctrine of original sin (an inherited disease for which the institution that makes the diagnosis also claims to have the only cure) and the blood atonement, the belief that Jesus came to earth solely for the purpose of dying for our sins, a doctrine not fully developed in the church until the tenth century.
Are we born bad and must be saved, as conservatives assert, or are we born good, as liberals maintain, but have forgotten where we came from, where we are going, and to whom we belong? Was the death of Jesus on the cross necessary for the salvation of the world, or is this the ultimate form of Child abuse?

The words above are from a book entitled The Underground Church by Robin Meyers. I must admit that this book along with the book by Harvey Cox entitled The Age of Faith have fundamentally changed my perception of what the church should be. The words above were an “aha” moment for me. When I discovered that much of what I thought was from Jesus but in reality came many years later from man it changed my perception of what being a follower of Jesus really meant.

When I took the time to study early church history it opened my eyes to some truths that were hidden from me and from so many others today.  When I realized that for the majority of its history Christianity has been in a constant conflict about its theology it made me realize that some of what I am told to just take as truth may actually just be the version that won out in a previous church conflict.

As the quote above states a major shift happened in the Church when Constantine changed it from being groups throughout the empire who followed the words of Jesus to a State mandated religion it changed the church in a very basic way. The power that came along with this dictate was corrosive to the church leaders and thinkers.   In order to rescue the church from the mistakes made during these periods we must get back to the pre-Constantine  church.  Simply parroting the doctrine of past theologians will no longer hack it with many who are looking for a more spiritual foundation for their faith.

The emergent movement that is taking place today within the church says that it is ok to believe that some of the things from past leaders could have been wrong hearted. It is ok to say we don’t fully understand the heart of God. In other words it is ok to say that we and all those who preceded us are human beings with human foibles and weaknesses and just may have gotten some of it wrong. That inevitably include the past leaders and theologians. Yes, even the popes.  I’m sure even Martin Luther would agree with that last part….

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.

I am going to spend the next few posts giving you some more info about the emergent church movement now taking place around the world. The source for these posts is a book by Tony Jones entitled The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier. Tony is one of the original leaders of this movement so his words have an insight into the beginning thoughts about just what is the emergent church today.  I am not going to give you a front-to-back look at this book but instead will be jumping around to fit the theme I have chosen for each post. There are a lot of highlighted quotes in the book that give more depth to it so I will also be letting you see some of them.

Lets start out with some fundamental reasons behind this new way of looking at church.

Emergent

More than one emergent reported sentiments similar to one young man who said, “This emergent church is my last attempt at church. If this doesn’t work, I’m out. I don’t think I’ll ever give up on God, but I’m on the verge of giving up on the notion that human beings can form organizations that faithfully represent God in the world.”…..

In an emergent church, you’re likely to hear a phrase like “Our calling as a church is to partner with God in the work that God is already doing in the world-to cooperate in the building of God’s Kingdom.” Many theological assumptions lie behind this statement, not least of which is a robust faith in God’s presence and ongoing activity in the world. Further, the idea that human beings can “cooperate” with God is particularly galling to conservative Calvinists, who generally deny the human ability to participate with God’s work. This posture, however, is too passive for most emergents, who see the Bible as a call for us to contribute to God’s purposes.

The first quote here is very much where I once was in relation to “doing church”. The more I studied the Bible and the more I was exposed to current church practices the more discouraged I became. I was very much attuned to the reality that human beings seemed unable to form organizations to faithfully represent what the words of Jesus were telling me.

The second quote strikes at the heart of my concerns.  Much of current day church establishments especially those of a conservative nature just don’t seem to see the same words that I did when studying the red letters. Calvinists in particular say God has it all planned out. He knows before you are born whether he is going to allow you to come to him or just summarily cast you into an eternal torment. Calvinists might be the extreme end of this spectrum but they are not alone in those basic thoughts.

I know in a Lutheran church that I once attended I sat in the pew week after week with the minister telling me that as far as God is concerned I am nothing more than a worthless piece of snot but he loves me anyway and he doesn’t expect anything from me. There was almost never a mention of actually doing anything to help “God’s kingdom come to earth as it is in heaven”. I was told that my only duties were to thank God for his grace and maybe help bring some more members to our local congregation. We like most small congregations needed the money.  I was also frequently told to watch out for that “big bad world” out there as it wants to take my faith away.

The emergent church is almost a counter-church to the ones I have been exposed to.  They tell me that I am to partner with God in the work that he is doing. They tell me that I am very much part of the team that God has assembled to build His kingdom on earth. They tell me that church is not focused on “me” but about loving” others”… That is the message I have sought for much of my life.

Today I want to look at some words from Brian D. McLaren in his book A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith

Our faith is vain and self-centered if it only brings blessing for us or to us. It also must result in blessing that flows through us to the world…..

If we locate Jesus primarily in light of the story that has unfolded since his time on earth, we will understand him in one way. But if we see him emerging from within a story that had been unfolding through his ancestors, and if we primarily locate him in that story, we might understand him in a very different way. Once I had acknowledged (albeit roughly and crudely) these two very different ways of understanding Jesus, and once I acknowledged that nobody in the Hebrew Scriptures ever talked about original sin, total depravity, “the Fall,” or eternal conscious torment in hell, a suspicion began to grow in me about where the six-lined narrative might possibly have come from. I was able to articulate it a few months later in a conversation with a friend, as I recounted my little exercise in setting up the backward and frontward lines of sight to see Jesus: “What we call the biblical story line isn’t the shape of the story of Adam, Abraham, and their Jewish descendants. It’s the shape of the Greek philosophical narrative that Plato taught! That’s the descent into Plato’s cave of illusion and the ascent into philosophical enlightenment.” 

More and more people are coming to realize that the person of Jesus who we thought we knew was actually made up by others who came many years after him. I have not yet studied much about the thoughts of Plato but I do know that they had a profound affect on Augustine and that Augustine had a profound affect on shaping the fourth century church.  As pointed above when we look at  Hebrew Scripture which was the foundations for our Old Testament we don’t find many of the things that some now consider to be foundational to Christianity. That fact and knowing that Jesus didn’t actually say anything about them causes me to come to one conclusion and that is they are actually derived from human thoughts after the fact.

Yes, I do think that God continues to give us personal revelation even today so why can’t I just believe that all the things that man invented after Jesus was given to them by revelation?  The main reason I can’t is because much of it has nothing to do with the messages Jesus gave us while he was on the earth and they have little or nothing to do with the messages he did give us. I am totally convinced that much of the history of the church was definitely not from Jesus. This includes the Constantine era when the church leaders were corrupted by worldly power. It includes the pre-Reformation period when grace was being sold to build bigger and bigger cathedrals.  It also includes periods like the Inquisition, the Crusades, and the burning of heretics. These action were certainly a result of the lust of power by the people of the times. They were not from Christ.

As Mr. McLaren points out in the book above the emergent church movement is attempting to go back to those things that Jesus did teach and to discard much of the past baggage loaded on the church by succeeding generations. We do not owe allegiance to our ancestors but instead only to Jesus himself. It is time to come to realize the difference between the two.

Finally it is also time to heed the first sentence in the quote above. Our faith should not result in vain and self-centered thoughts focused on self. Our faith must result in blessings that flow through us to the world…

 

The primary reason there are 39,000+ Christian denominations is that each are trying to maintain “purity” of beliefs. Here is how that logic usually plays out:

” If we allow differences of opinions among us then we will soon reach a slippery slope where we will slide into heresy. For that reason we must be on the constant watch to exclude anyone among us who asks the ‘wrong’ questions or dares to disagree any of our creeds or beliefs.”

I have personally felt the stink of one of these churches. But what these church authorities espousing this view overlook is that they are looking at Jesus through the lens of many others who came before them. Things like their recent stubborn insistence that every word in the Bible came directly from God is putting themselves into a straight-jacket that is almost impossible to wear, and very uninviting to those outside their clique.

Of course institutional purity is not new to the twenty-first century. It has been going on since the time of Constantine in the fourth century and probably even before that. Here are some words from Harvey Cox in his book The Future of Faith:

 During the ensuing “Constantinian era,” Christianity, at least in its official version, froze into a system of mandatory precepts that were codified into creeds and strictly monitored by a powerful hierarchy and imperial decrees. Heresy became treason, and treason became heresy. The year 385 CE marked a particularly grim turning point. A synod of bishops condemned a man named Priscillian of Avila for heresy, and by order of the emperor Maximus he and six of his followers were beheaded in Treves. Christian fundamentalism had claimed its first victim. Today Priscillian’s alleged theological errors hardly seem to warrant the death penalty. He urged his followers to avoid meat and wine, advocated the careful study of scripture…

There are countless similar stories from the years following. One historian estimates that in the two and a half centuries after Constantine, Christian imperial authorities put twenty-five thousand to death for their lack of creedal correctness.  And of course we all know that in 1431 Joan of Arc was burned as a heretic. In the twentieth century she became a saint.

Here are some additional words by Philip Gulley in his book The Evolution of Faith about trying to maintain institutional purity:

Some Christians have thus concluded that we are our own worst enemies, that our best option for a viable future lies in our determination to embrace a rigid faith in order to stave off the adulterating influences of other cultures and religions. But I would contend that this has been tried repeatedly throughout our long history and always ends the same suspicion, intolerance, exclusion, division, and, finally, war. No, if the church has a future indeed if our world has a future it will rest in the church’s ability to honor and assimilate the best of each religious tradition,  just as Jesus found virtue in Samaritans, publicans, centurions, and Gentiles. How this good man came to be the focus of a creedalism that ultimately excludes others is a mystery for the ages. The incorporation of other traditions into our own will undoubtedly change us, but for the better, for it will lead us toward one another, which is also and always a movement toward the Divine Presence and the universal grace that Presence represents. 

Inspiring words indeed! We should not be locking and bolting the church door against others beliefs but instead should be embracing them if they celebrate the Divine Presence of Jesus Christ. In other words we should do as he did.  And that is what I hope the coming emergent church will bring about.

I have often said on this blog that maybe we should give up our stained glass churches and move them to strip malls, abandoned buildings, or other less costly surroundings. For many churches today paying the mortgage and utilities is a the second biggest drain on a small congregation (the biggest drain is usually the pastor’s salary).  That is why there is some validity to the claim that churches are more like clubhouses than anything else. Many spend the vast majority of their money on themselves.

For small churches, and most churches are small, these two areas of expense take up the lion’s share of congregational giving. There is usually very little money left for any other activity. If we could somehow reduce those major expenses we could get back to practicing “hospitality” as they did in the early Christian church. Hospitality basically meant “being your brother’s keeper” to the early Christians.

This article in Sojourner November issue is about Rev. Deborah Little who is doing just that. She should be an example to all of us Christians in how to “be” a Christian instead of a litany of proclaimed “beliefs”.

Source:  Sojourners November 1012 —Word on the Street by Charles Howard

This is Common Cathedral, an outdoor “street church”. Each Sunday at 1 p.m., in sunshine, rain, or snow people gather, 50 to 100 strong, next to Brewer Fountain on Boston Common. There, they witness love in a church without walls….

Reverend Little had a very unique history in fulfilling her calling. Here are the words from the above article relaying her story:

“the living bread appeared to me as a homeless woman. She was sitting on the steps of my apartment building. In an instant, I knew I was to make my home with her and others who lived on the streets”. It took Little around six years to answer that call, but finally she quit her job as the director of communications for Harvard Law School, went to the seminary, and got ordained. “I did this so I could take the church outdoors to the people who cannot or are not welcome to come inside”….

Over time Common Cathedral has grown from just a weekly service to a broad-reaching ministry with Bible studies, an arts program, a film screen program, legal and medical counsel, a hospital visitation program and more. 

It is hard for any of us to imagine giving up a lucrative job at Harvard Law School to go to the seminary and eventually making your life calling making  a church without walls for the homeless! Wow!! If her example is not an inspiration for all of us I don’t think anything could be.

It turns out that the Common Cathedral was an inspiration for others. In fact there are several other outdoor churches in major cities in the U.S. and the world.  Rev. Little’s simple idea grew beyond expectations. That is usually what happens when you get God’s attention 🙂 .

I am so glad to celebrate this success story.

Of course all Christians recognize the phrase the kingdom of God from the Lord’s prayer. But the interpretation of that phrase seems to vary considerably depending on what version of Christianity you follow. Here is what Martin Luther said about it in his small catechism:

Your Kingdom Come on earth as it is in heaven:

What does this mean? 
The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also.

How does God’s kingdom come? God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.

Luther being a firm believer in a passive form of Christianity stripped any reference to our responsibilities in helping kingdom come to earth. I believe this comes from his belief in the  total worthlessness of all humans.  This epiphany  came when he discovered one particular verse in Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians: It is by grace that you are saved not be works…. Luther gave this one sentence in the Bible total priority over all the others, including even Jesus’ words and many have continued to do that since that time.

There are many today that take these words very differently. They believe that the Kingdom will come by the hands of those faithful who work for a better world. That Jesus’ commands to feed the hungry and clothe the needy are the kingdom to which he was referring. In other words they take these words as a call to action and not something to sit back and wait for. This interpretation is not new, some of the early church fathers believed it and to one degree the Catholic church still aligns with it.

The emergent movement that is now experiencing exponential growth is another of those groups. They firmly believe that Jesus’ commands are to be taken literally and as he said and I am paraphrasing here: Becoming a follower of Jesus changes everything.  Here is a quote from his book entitled A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren about the kingdom of God and its significance to the emergent movement.

Similarly, we’re discovering that the more we let Jesus’s message of the kingdom of God sink in, the more it begins to unsettle all our existing understandings and categories. It changes everything. Before this realization, we are like lawyers trying to save an old contract, adding more and more fine print on page after page, until the provisos are weightier than the original contract. (This is good work, I suppose, and must be done for a generation or two, but it is not the work to which I feel called.) At some point, though, more and more of us will finally decide that it would make more sense to go back and revise the contract from scratch. And that process has begun. It is nowhere near complete, but the cat is out of the bag; imaginations are sizzling, and exciting theological work is being done—by theologians, yes, but, equally important, by pastors, preachers, songwriters, screenwriters, producers, poets, dramatists, sculptors, photographers, painters, architects, youth leaders, community organizers, moms and dads, and thoughtful readers like you.

In the coming years all those who are currently disheartened by the legalistic and creed based versions of Christianity will discover that there is a movement emerging that takes the kingdom of God to a whole new level and gives it back its literal meaning. It changes Christianity from a “sit back and wait” religion to a an action oriented one  based on Jesus’ words.