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Morf Morford considers himself a free-range Christian who is convinced that God expects far more of us than we can ever imagine, but somehow thinks God knows more than we do…..

As he’s getting older, he finds himself less tolerant of pettiness and dairy products.

SOURCE:  Morf Morford: It’s NOT the economy, stupid | Red Letter Christians.

I am going to do a rare cross post here between two of my blogs. I am doing so because I think this post has a spiritual as well as general message.

While the referenced source above is about life being more than just money, this post is actually just about the description of the author.  Besides having a very interesting name the author of this post over at Red Letter Christians has very interesting look on life. I am proud to say I share his views of God and getting older. But I guess I am luckier than hs is in one regard. I still drink lots of milk. They tell me it is good for my osteoporosis. 🙂

I too am currently a free-range Christian and have been for a few years now.  I am no longer instructed weekly in what I am supposed to believe. Instead I now tend to look at the Lord’s word from a more personal, some might say naive, view. From what I can glean from the Christian Bible I also agree that God expects more from us than almost any of us can imagine or at least willing to put forward.

One of the things that pushed me out of the last church I was in (that is beside being nudged out the door because I did not tow the denominational line closely enough and was asking too many question in adult bible classes) was their stubborn insistence  that they have it all figured out and everyone else is just wrong in one thing or another.  In that regard, I also proudly share the belief that  God knows more than they do, or everyone else for that matter.

One of the things that prompted me to start my blog over at RedLetterLiving more than five years ago was that I just grew less tolerant to pettiness of some mainstream beliefs of the current version of church. In these five years I have learned that I am by no means alone in those feelings.

Thanks Morf for reminding me what it is all about….

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Bass BookI have been studying the history of the church to try an understand how we got to where we are today. An important book in that investigation is entitled “A People’s History of Christianity, The Other Side of the Story” by Diana Butler Bass. This is not the first book I have read by this author and it certainly won’t be the last. With this post I am starting another book review series around this book. Here is a little about what Wikipedia says about her:

Diana Butler Bass is a historian focusing on the history of Christianity and the author of six books on American religion, three of which have won research or writing awards. She earned a Ph.D. in religious studies from Duke University in 1991, with an emphasis on American church history where she studied under George Marsden. From 1995–2000, she wrote a weekly column on religion and culture for the New York Times Syndicate that appeared in more than seventy newspapers nationwide. Currently, she is a blogger for the God’s Politics blog with Jim Wallis at Beliefnet [1] and is a Red-Letter Christian.

Being a U.S. history buff, when I see a title that starts with “A People’s History” I assume that it is more about what happened to the common people rather than the dominant leaders of those time. Many times the two are very different. A history of the depression as seen from the eyes of Roosevelt or any of the Washingtonians is very different from the history as seen by a dust bowl farmer or someone out of work for a long time. That is what I expected when I started this book and I was not disappointed with what I found.

The history of the church most often is around the predominant saints and theologians of the times. Or maybe it is about some of the shakers such as Luther, or a pope. What happens in the rank-and-file of the people often is unreported. There is an old saying that “history belongs to the victors” and the church is certainly not immune from that concept. Very little seems to still exist about those who had different views than the ones who won the individual battles.

Mrs. Bass spent I think three years researching this book. I personally have tried to study some of the early church writings but quite frankly they are difficult to understand given the different use of language of the periods. This book is well written and to the point.  Most of the posts in this series wills start out with a given idea and a quote, or quotes, from the book. I will then add my personal observations and thoughts.

The posts will not be in a chronological order, nor will they be complete. I would highly encourage anyone looking for that depth to get a copy of the book and read it in its entirety. Since this review is being written as it is posted I don’t know exactly how many posts will be involved but I imagine it will be more than ten but less than twenty.  For those who really want to understand how we got to where we are it is important to realize that there has never been a totally homogeneous period in the church where differing opinions were lacking.

Are You Saved???

April 10, 2013 — Leave a comment

If Grace is trueOccasionally people knock on my door or hand me a tract on a street corner or strike up a conversation with the aim of asking, “Are you saved?” Even before I believed in the salvation of every person, I always answered with an enthusiastic yes. Often, rather than sharing my elation, my inquisitors would look me up and down with a dubious eye and ask another question. The second question varied depending on the person. Many asked, “Have you repented of your sins and accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior?” Some asked, “Do you belong to a Bible-believing church?” Others asked if I’d been fully immersed or baptized in the name of Jesus or filled with the Holy Spirit and spoken in tongues. My salvation hinged on how I answered their second query. Those most aggressive about determining my salvation were also most certain what it meant to be saved. They knew the sole formula. Claiming to be a Christian was never enough. I had to subscribe to their specific explanation for the human condition, the activity of God, the means and purpose of salvation. If not, I faced damnation.

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-03-17). If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (Plus) (p. 155). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

We humans, and that includes everyone who is or has ever been in the church, put so many conditions on God’s grace where he seem to have put none. Putting an emergent twist on this topic, this has been the case for most of the church’s history. One theologian believes “X” and another believes “Y”. If they aren’t overpowered as a heretic then the church’s belief becomes “X+Y”. Over the ages this has resulted in a belief code that is almost as long at the U.S. tax code.  Much about the church has become what to believe rather than what to do.

I spent several years trying to sort all of this out. There are literally hundreds of published theologians around today and I studied many of them. In some ways they are kind of like expert witnesses at trials.  If you just look enough you can find one who will testify as the the truthfulness of whatever you want to believe. During those years of study I became overwhelmingly frustrated in trying to discern what God was really like. It was not until I heard a whisper telling me to not be concerned about what the theologians said  but instead to listen with my heart and soul.

At that point I learned a valuable lesson and that is that God just can’t be defined by human logic or understanding. Mine or anyone else’s. The theologians throughout the ages are simply men like you or I who have an opinion which they hope will garner them some authority with the body of Christ and praise from men.  They like everyone else want to leave a legacy behind so they make up this or that rule or belief to add to all the others before them.  Do they do this with a belligerent intent? For the most part I don’t imagine so.

As a result we, as one of the 39,000 different versions of church, have piled belief and rules one upon the other where God had put only two. As the quote above inferred every version of Jesus’ church they have the sole formula for salvation. God in the person of Jesus made it pretty simple and that is to love God with everything you have and to love your fellowman. It couldn’t be simpler than that.  Why have we allowed so many since Jesus’ time to pile on so many other things?

Am I saved? If I believe in the agape love and grace of God then I can give you an emphatic yes as an answer. If I live by the piles of accumulated beliefs that answer is not so simple. I think I will choose Jesus’ simple words instead of man’s complicated ones.

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…..

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.

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.

This is a cross post from one of my other blogs at RJ’s Corner. I thought it appropriate for RLL also.

It is terrible to think what the churches do to men. But if one imagines oneself in the position of the men who constitute the Church, we see they could not act differently. The churches are placed in a dilemma: the Sermon on the Mount or the Nicene Creed–the one excludes the other. If a man sincerely believes in the Sermon on the Mount, the Nicene Creed must inevitably lose all meaning and significance for him, and the Church and its representatives together with it. If a man believes in the Nicene Creed, that is, in the Church, that is, in those who call themselves its representatives, the Sermon on the Mount becomes superfluous for him. And therefore the churches cannot but make every possible effort to obscure the meaning of the Sermon on the Mount, and to attract men to themselves. It is only due to the intense zeal of the churches in this direction that the influence of the churches has lasted hitherto.

The quote above seems pretty radical!  It must be from one of those new age thinkers!  Guess again. It was from the Author of War and Peace Leo Tolstoy in 1894. Although he says it much more bluntly than I ever would I can’t say I disagree with most of it.

The Nicene Creed which was authored under the Roman ruler Constantine is mostly what we are supposed to believe about Jesus Christ. The Sermon on the Mount is what Jesus himself told us how we are supposed act if we are his followers. Tolstoy saw that the church even during his time put much more energy in maintaining man-made beliefs about Jesus rather than just following Him. Not a lot has changed in that regard. I think almost all clergy are well-meaning men who have simply bought into a tilted system based on beliefs about Jesus instead of lessons from Jesus.

Tony Jones a hundred years later also speaks of this in his book The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier

 In the twenty-first century, it’s not God who’s dead. It’s the church. Or at least conventional forms of church. Dead? you say. Isn’t that overstating the case a bit? Indeed, churches still abound. So do pay phones. You can still find pay phones around, in airports and train stations and shopping malls-there are plenty of working pay phones. But look around your local airport and you’ll likely see the sad remnants where pay phones used to hang-the strange row of rectangles on the wall and the empty slot where a phone book used to sit. There are under a million pay phones in the United States today. In 1997, there were over two million. Of course, the death of the pay phone doesn’t mean that we don’t make phone calls anymore. In fact, we make far more calls than ever before, but we make them differently. Now we make phone calls from home or on the mobile device clasped to our belt or through our computers. Phone calls aren’t obsolete, but the pay phone is-or at least it’s quickly becoming so. 

Churches are like pay-phones? That is a very interesting analogy. God is not dead. It is only the man-made institution built in his name that is on life support. I have hopes that this new emergent movement will prove to be a worthy substitute for fast dwindling church structures of today. We have to return to doing what Jesus says….

I know in the introduction to this study I said I would not be following a timeline but instead be giving you a mosaic. But after thinking about it for a while now I have decided to do the timeline approach. In addition to a time line I have decided to try to interweave it with the history of the Roman Empire. I know this is a very ambitious undertaking and right now I just don’t know how successful I will be but I am never one to shrink from a challenge.

Two things make me change direction here. One is that I really have never studied just what happened to the mighty Roman Empire. I know it, like the U.S. today was the superpower of its day. But I am really not versed in how the rise to power happened or  how the decline came about so quickly. I have prided myself on my diligent lifelong study of U.S. history but have never delved much beyond our shores.  This is a unique opportunity to widen my historical horizons.  There seems to be many analogies between what happened to Rome and what we as a country are currently going through. It will be interesting to try to discover those parallels as well.

The second reason for this change of heart is that I am critically aware of  the links between Christianity and the Rome. It will be interesting to see just what was going on in the empire when significant event occurred in the church.  I don’t think you can really understand one history without understanding the other. I will be on the lookout for these types of links as we study this dual path of history. In order to accomplish this I will need to do a number of posts on Roman history before we actually get into the Christianity aspect of the study.  I think this is proper in order to try to understand how the Roman Empire got to where they were as that little rag-tag group later called Christians came on the scene.

I hope that you are not disappointed with the dual approach. Since I am doing posts only about a week or two before they are put on-line I really don’t have a good idea right now just when different time periods will be covered. I will talk about each period until I am satisfied that we know enough about it to see the links between the Roman State and the Christian church. For a number of years I know they are very intrinsically linked. Way too much so for my tastes. This makes for a more ambitious study than I originally intended but as I said at the beginning of this post I feel I am up to the challenge.

So, come back soon for the next phase of this study. I think it will be very interesting to me and I hope you will enjoy it also. This new approach might throw my usual Monday and Thursday posts out of whack for a little while. I will decide that as I go….

I want to state up front that I most likely don’t have a complete picture of church history and I’m sure some of my conclusions will go contrary to many of today’s theologians. Especially those with very narrow agendas. I also want to tell you that since there are now 39,000+ different versions of the church of Christ I believe that the church is severely fractured if not broken. But that does not mean that I have given up hope as I definitely see a possibility for great healing.

I come into this study with a strong emphasis on the words of Jesus and on being active in following his examples. I am just not a couch potato Christian.  I believe this is consistent with the early Christians but not so much for the current day church. For me the main crux of this study is to find out when and how the Jesus focus was lost. I am sure there are those who don’t believe that their church denomination ever lost the focus. In some cases that might be true so when it is I apologize in advance for painting with too broad a brush.

Some times, maybe many times, I will drift off subject when I see something in the current media that shows the view of the church from those outside its walls. I think it is vital to see these types of stories if nothing more than to understand why the church has lost so much credibility among the general population of the world.

I am doing this study mainly for my own benefit so that I can understand where the church drifted away from its foundation. I am posting here to keep my thoughts organized and to let others who may have some of the same questions see at least one other layman’s view. Sometimes it seems that we are alone in our feelings about some important  issues. I want to let you know that you are not alone in this area.

I invite your comments on anything I say but I will not get into arguments about a different view. I certainly could be wrong about much of what I write but I hope you realize that you could also be wrong about some of the things you believe. I realize that for those biblical literalists out there that I am going to offend you on a regular basis. I just will not check my intelligence at the door when discussing religious issues.

Finally I want to apologize in advance for having to approve each comment you make before it appears here. This is necessary due to some unfortunate “stalking” problems in the past on this blog.

Until then I wish you peace…..

A Right of Passage….

December 4, 2010 — 1 Comment

Here I am a senior citizen so I thought I had completed all of life’s rights-of-passage. But I was recently proven wrong. Because of my stand, here and elsewhere, that I  believe that the earth is more than 6,000 years old I have been asked to refrain from some worship activities at my current church! It seems I am not allowed to believe the age of the earth according to God’s laws of nature; instead I must believe that the Bible is literal and absolutely true in every respect.  I am not allowed to believe that the story of Jonah and the whale was a fable to teach us a lesson; instead I must believe that he did indeed spend three days in the intestines of a whale.

The church pastor has basically said because I believe things I am not allowed to believe that I am now only welcomed as a guest in the church as I am  no longer a member of that club. Obviously my beliefs in the validity of God given science confirming that the earth is millions of years old and that dinosaurs are not a myth but reality go contrary to what I am allowed to believe. I guess if I had not made such a public stand by saying so on this blog maybe they could have continued to ignore our differences but I chose to go public with this belief and I am glad that I did. More on that later.

The threat of being expelled from my church was probably  intended to shock me in to refuting these “faulty” science based beliefs but in reality it came as more of a relief. It will allow me to no longer have to publicly pit God given scientific discoveries like DNA and carbon dating against their view on an inerrant and literal bible. The all or nothing attitude of  this church when it came to be Bible has been something I have been struggling with for a number of years. I thought that since we are in total agreement on the foundations issues such as the means of grace, salvation, and the deity of Jesus that would be enough. But I guess this secondary stuff is just as important to them.  As I mentioned many times before I am just naturally a person who has questions. I am just a person constantly seeking the truth. I have always known that this church is not one that willing accepts many questions, especially about their traditions. I should have seen this coming before now.

I really don’t know why I have stayed there as long as I have. I think mainly it is because my wife, even though she like me was not attending church during her middle thirty years, considers herself a life long member of that strain of Christianity. For her sake I have tried to downplay my differences with them.   Stepping back now,I am amazed I lasted as long as I did there.

It is refreshing to finally not have to pretend to anyone that the Bible is the say-all and end-all for God. Jesus clearly told us that the Holy Spirit would give us more info when we were ready for it. I can now say that loud and clear without facing any further retribution! God’s revelations did not abruptly end when Constantine assembled our Bible. God continues to this day to give us both general and personal revelations. They can come to some at a personal level as I have witnessed a few times or they can come through things like scientific discoveries he allow us to make. For instance, while knowledge of DNA would have been totally worthless to the first century inhabitants it will soon prove to be life changing for us in the twenty-first century. Thank you Lord for giving us this revelation.

So, here I am churchless. But I must admit that I am the second one in recent weeks to be excluded. I don’t know if or how many others are on the list for this action.  Maybe they are trying to purge the  perceived dissidents from the congregation. Things go much easier if no one is asking any serious questions.

I will probably stay away from doing church for a while. I need to decompress some.  I need to listen for the Holy Spirit and consider my options. I probably should have moved on myself some time ago but I was just too comfortable where I was. Good friends made over an eight year period are hard to leave. Especially at this point in my life. I also know that my wife will probably suffer the brunt of the consequences as a result of this action. She was much more embedded there than I was. I sincerely apologize to her for that fact.

Instead of treating this event as a negative one I choose to treat it as a right of passage to the next level of my journey with Christ.