January was a much needed Sabbatical @E4Unity

I don’t know if you missed me, but I sure missed posting for you. I have been busy refilling the tank, as they say, by reading a lot of blogs and tweets and adding new friends.

from phoenixmasonry.org

So now I think we’re ready to get back to blogging about humankind and the universal conditions we’re all faced with in the new year. To start us off, with an eye to the Lenten season coming up fast and the present situation in Egypt and the mid-east, I hope this will interest you. Comments from the Letter to the Hebrews:

The preacher finds in these antitheses the basic truth of the matter. His weakness in dying defined his power in ruling. With all other New Testament witnesses he was obsessed with the paradox of the passion story. It was by sharing in flesh and blood that Jesus became a faithful and merciful high priest; it was by being tempted that “he is able to help those who are tempted” (2:18). The devil had tempted him to fear death and thus to become enslaved to the devil; but by resisting this temptation Jesus had received power to free men from that fear, that bondage. So, in the sequence of images by which the preacher gave tribute to Jesus’ glory in 1:1-4, we must give full weight to the mention of the “purification for sins”. This action of expiation explains Jesus’ power to uphold the universe, his work in the creation of the world, his appointment as heir of all things.

Paul S.Minear writing in “God’s Glory in Man’s Story”.

 

 

Be Ready for Every Good Work

3:1 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. election-2

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. ( Saint Paul,letter to Titus)

This is just one of many scriptures that would make an excellent “exit poll” evaluation for Christians in America to do a little self-evaluation in light of this campaign which comes to an end today. I found it most humbling in light of our calling to be light and salt in the midst of just such a situation.

 

What is “Scriptural” Church Growth ?

Years ago as I was just entering the gospel ministry, I was drawn to the principles of the Christian & Missionary Alliance in relation to the world mission task facing the churches. One of those principles insisted on by Dr. A.B. Simpson from the very begining, was that of “doing God’s work, in God’s way”. This seems to be a perennial lesson the churches must constantly strive to maintain as their priority if their work is to be found pleasing to God and of eternal value (see I Cor.3:8-14).

The New Temple, which Christ himself builds calling us to be co-workers with him, must be done God’s way just as the temporary temple of the Old Covenant was erected in all it’s details “according to the pattern shown in the Mount”. The two most obvious reasons why this is so, seems to be in order that God alone receives the glory, and, that the Gospel of Jesus Christ have it’s God ordained fruit in the lives of His redeemed ones.

J.I. Packer, writing an introductory essay almost fifty years ago, warned evangelicalism of the source of many of the perceived problems in the churches already manifesting themselves. “Without realising it”, he said, “we have during the past century bartered the true gospel for a substitute product which, though it looks similiar enough in points of detail, is as a whole a decidedly different thing”. This he insisted was the source of our troubles, “for the substitute product does not answer the ends for which the authentic gospel has in the past days proved itself so mighty” (Rom.1:17). “The new gospel conspicuously fails to produce deep reverence, deep repentance, deep humility, a spirit of worship, a concern for the church”. When asked why this was so, Dr. Packer with prophetic simplicity replied: “We would suggest that the reason lies in its own character and content. It fails to make men God-centered in their thoughts and God-fearing in their hearts because this is not primarily what it is trying to do”. (From John Owen’s Death of Death in The Death of Christ,1959)

For much of that same time-frame, a battle was being waged to persuade the churches that God did indeed desire for His Church to grow and that it was a serious sign of disobedience and unbelief when that was neglected. Thankfully, it seems that many local churches have finally embraced growth as a healthy and desirable purpose of being the Church. For those that have done so, there now enters the critical element Packer was addressing relating to how we grow and with what gospel we depend upon to produce that growth if it is to be “Scriptural”. Another prophetic voice recently speaking directly to the dangers from modernity already influencing much of the church-growth methodology issues this urgent directive :

“The Church of God. . .is the church only when she lives and thrives finally by God’s truths and resources. If the church makes anything else the decisive principle of her existence, christians risk living unauthorized lives of faith, exercising unauthorized ministries, and proclaiming an unauthorized gospel”.  (Os Guiness, Dining With The Devil, p.35)

The “unity of the Spirit” that we insist is foundational to the Church Christ builds and for the purpose of growing His Church, is not a unity based on our natural understanding but rather one that is revealed in Scripture; a unity which includes truth as well as love on God’s terms and not ours. This is what we believe is the very function of the voice of God speaking into His congregation and the reason for those gifts named in Ephesians chapter 4, and referred to as the “equiping” gifts. They are each one related to proclaiming God’s Word for the equiping of the saints of God for their work of ministering. The Word of God itself is sufficient for that which God sends it to accomplish on earth. Herein lies the critical calling of the evangelist, the pastor-teacher, and the prophet. And these, as you know, are spiritual gifts sent down from the exalted King himself to his flock here on earth.
8/11 UPDATE- To see how this is playing out right before our eyes in America, see this thoughtful essay recently in TOUCHSTONE Magazine and the tribute to Robert Webber prophetic ministry at SAINTS GALLERY
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

THE RETHINKING EMERGING AMONG SOME CHRISTIAN  PEACEMAKERS                                                

Mission Frontiers, is the Bulletin published by the                                                   U.S.CENTER for WORLD MISSION . In the recent July-August issue focused on this subject, there is exciting evidence of a fresh wind blowing for those that work for world peace.

First of all for Christ followers everywhere, there is much that we do not know about the Muslim Peoples; much mis-information and misunderstanding. This issue alone gives us all much to seriously think about for some time, especially if what is presented by many different authors has any validity at all. I invite my Muslim friends will read this issue carefully and let me know if it represents honestly the reality among their Muslim cultures.

From the Bulletin:

A Few Interesting Questions:

  1. Why did Muhammad reject the concept of the Trinity held by Christians he knew?
  2. Why did he come up with the idea that Jesus did not die on the cross?
  3. What person in the Qur’an has attributes of Divinity?
  4. Why do 30 million Christians in the world today pray to “Allah” and read that same word God in their Bibles?

Some Biblical Themes that appeal to Muslims

  1. God’s goodness, love, reliability, and care for his servants.
  2. God’s guidance of history towards good ends as he works through events to oppose evil, to train his servants in righteousness and truth, and to fulfill his good purposes for his people.
  3. The portrait of Jesus himself: his kindness, devotion, wisdom, power, self-sacrifice and ongoing reign as Savior-King.

If this is not enough to motivate you to take the time to read some of these articles, then consider what is actually taking place: Muslims who believe in the Jesus Christ of the Bible who remain in their heritage as Muslims. Before you say catagorically that that isn’t possible, there are those “on the ground” in these cultures that assure us that it is happening among “open-minded Muslims” that are coming to know the Christ of the gospels. As you can imagine, this is not without controversy among the traditional Christian  Communities in some of the same places. This only confirms some of the issues I have raised on my blog and if nothing else, I hope your curiosity will lead you to want to read more.

A Blogger filled with Hope

A number of things such as the Pope’s visit to U.S.A. and the economy and the presidential primaries, well you get the picture; the temptation to either stick one’s head in the sand or to be overcome with despair, have me thinking a lot about the theme of hope. I want to introduce this theme into my blog at this point, but rest assured it won’t be the last time it will come up. Every faith system by which man is known to live by includes the idea of hope and it seems to be another one of those basic traits that we all have in common as human beings, created in the image of God. So let’s begin with Pope Benedict XVI himself and what I see and hear in him to be a central spiritual force just as it was in his predecessor, Pope John Paul II. (His hope by the way, was clearly revealed in an interview that became the book, “Crossing The Threshold of Hope”.)

 

Pope Benedict XVI’s second encyclical, Saved In Hope, (“Spe Salvi” in Latin) takes its title from St. Paul, who wrote, “In hope we have been saved”. 

Love and Hope are closely related in the spiritual life. Love of God involves hope or trust in God. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man”. Hope enables us to look to the next life, but it also inspires and purifies our actions in this life. Pope Benedict considers modern philosophies and the challenges of faith today in light of the virtue of hope.

“Confronted by today’s changing and complex panorama, the virtue of hope is subject to harsh trials in the community of believers. For this very reason, we must be apostles who are filled with hope and joyful trust in God’s promises. In contemporary society, which shows such visible signs of secularism, we must not give in to despair.”
— Pope Benedict XVI

 

Interested yet? I promise to give you much more to ponder because we are living in days that are still on the verge of “the Abandonment of God”. This comes from another man, a prophet by the name of Jacques Ellul that I doubt any of you ever heard of.(surprise me) His book by the title of this post was published in english in 1974 so his perspective was conditioned by his historical context. He was a faithful member of the Reformed Church of France and fought in the French Underground against the Nazis. His thesis in that book was that often the strongest hope is birthed in the darkest hour, whether for an individual, a people, or an entire nation; a time when we actually feel we have been “abandoned” by God. 

My Respect for Krista Tippett and her weekly program called “Speaking of Faith, continues to increase the more that I listen to her interviews from the archives available at NPR.

 

She is a rare and unusual gift for her largely American audience and a model for the art of listening to others as they share what their particular Faith is to them as a way of life; a source of wisdom, strength, comfort, and inspiration. As she interviews her guests, it is evident that she has done her homework in researching what that person or that Faith is all about- who they are. This enables her to ask incredibly precise and leading questions that in turn coaxes the person to give us the very best possible view of how that Faith functions for them. I for one, believe that is exactly a model we all could benefit from in listening to one another. That’s precisely why I have placed her program in the e4unity “Toolbox”.

 

 

 

Today I listened to her interview of three pastors at a national Pastors Conference for Evangelical Pastors, about very different views on the Church and Her Mission in society. I think you should hear this whether you are a Christian or not. There are a lot of complex issues that are in play in this discussion. For example, I found it interesting asking myself the question, “which of the four participants (Krista and three pastors) clearly demonstrate the profound respect for the one speaking at any given time, and the sense they were really listening to their unique point of view?

 

But the main subject has everything to do with this blog and my personal convictions regarding why we need each other in making a difference in our world. Listen carefully and I think you will be able to hear a lot of the very issues we have got to come to grips with; not only as American Christians who want to join others in the world from other Faiths in pursuing justice and peace and human dignity, but as people of faith in every possible human situation. There are three very different activists, three different generations, all considered within the Evangelical tradition talking about how to be a faithful Christian in the world today.

 

 

Krista’s Interview page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHRISTIAN IS NOT AN ADJECTIVE !

This is one of those conversations that we Christians have to sit down and have a long “in house” discussion about sometime. Obviously I can only outline here the way I think the conversation should possibly go, realizing that for some of you who are not Christians, I must ask you to try to be patient with us. You are more than welcome to sit in on the discussion, because in a very real way our success at getting this straightened out among the faithful will greatly improve our ability to converse with the rest of you in other Faiths.

Where was I? Oh yes, “Christian” is not an adjective, but rather a noun. There is a profound difference. The cause of much confusion in the Church as well as outside is a failure to be more precise. According to the biblical narrative, the word Christian was first applied to some early Disciples of Christ at a place called Antioch-a place which is still very much in operation as a main commercial center in Southern Turkey; I have had the joy of traveling there. So to be precise and accurate in reflecting the essence of Christianity, we should not use it as an adjective, as in a ‘Christian nation’. In reality there isn’t such a thing; nor is there such a thing as a’ Christian politician’, or a ‘Christian magazine’, or a ‘Christian worldview‘. This latter is really getting us into trouble lately. Worldview is a cultural expression from the discipline of Cultural Anthropology. Christians around the world live in many different worldviews. I know what my friends are trying to get at by using that word, but it demonstrates a profound mis-understanding of the Faith of God’s Elect.

The essence of “Christian” is the person who is defined by his or her life relationship to Christ, whom we have come to trust in as revealed through the Scriptures as the God-man. Some traditions within Christendom understand this better than others and I think more nearly approach the original meaning of St.Peter when he spoke of “becoming partakers of the divine nature.”

Well, you can immediately see some of the ramifications. The life of the Christian is not about ideology, or ritual, or externals at all, but it is all about what God has accomplished by sending Christ into the world-The Christ Event, as we say. I don’t want to go any further at this point except to latch on to that word “ideology”. Christianity certainly appears to fit the generic category of religion/ideology and it surely can be studied that way. But my argument is, by doing so we miss the very nature of what a Christian is. If we want to see through the Christian’s own eyes, if we want to listen with the earnest desire to love him or her for what she is “in Christ”, then somehow we must make this vital distinction.

Let me leave you with a very wise observation of someone who understood this very well in the world context historically:

“The greatest challenge and danger that the church had to sustain in the days of the Byzantine Empire was the appearance of ISLAM on the stage of world history. Everybody (now) knows that a considerable part of christian territory in north Africa and the Near East, became Moslem. As far as the Christian Church continued to exist, it did so as a protected minority, forced back into a certain ghetto, but with legal status.

By its gallant resistance Byzantium was during ages the wall of protection for Europe against a Moslem invasion. One must fully take into account this situation in order to have a fair judgment of the fact that the relations of the Christian and Moslem world, in spiritual respect, have been so distressingly sterile.

Islam is by its nature the ideology of a cultural, social, and political system, and met as its opponent a Cristendom, which also behaved, against the nature of the Christian Faith, as the ideology of a cultural, social, and religious system. Meeting each other in any real sense was, therefore impossible.

In the many apologetical and polemical skirmishes from both sides, moreover, communication in any sense was non-existent because the tone was determined by this objective situation and by a doctrinal bias, which had become second nature. The debate could never become a discourse. It remained a sterile mock fight between two monologues. ”
( Taken from “The Communication of the Christian Faith“, by Hendrik Kraemer, 1956, Westminster Press)

note: even Kraemer would have been better served to use the title “The Communication of The Faith of The Christian”

I’m afraid if we Christians in the west do not learn what the real nature of our Faith is, we will not avoid the same thing from happening again in some kind of “Clash of Civilizations”. If you think I’m mistaken about this, there is a link if you look for it on one of my blogs to a world-wide broadcast on CBN by a dear Brother who totally misses not only what Christianity is, but also is in serious error about his assessment of the world Muslim Communities.

2012 UPDATE: Mormons & Christians: Asking the Right Questions

peoples.jpg Excerpts From Geoffrey Wainwright’s, Lesslie Newbigin: a Theological Life (Oxford, 2000)

How might my generation’s fellow theologians benefit from attending to Lesslie Newbigin’s work? He has affected my theological life in many, surprising ways (an offhand comment inspired my formal study of Islam, which has transformed my appreciation of both it and Christianity!). Newbigin’s contributions are so many and so impressive that I could not do justice to more than a few here. Instead of even trying, I recount one basic contribution that drives my appreciation of the others. Before my exposure to Newbigin, I had a fairly typical attitude towards Christian denominationalism: First, that political differences between denominations are by and large adiaphora, no more relevant to Christian life than the differences between California’s and Nevada’s political structures are relevant to American citizenship. Second, that theological differences (defined of course in terms of “doctrine” rather than mere “polity”) between denominations necessitate a search for the One True Church and emigration to it (after all, God must have provided one for diligent seekers to find).

Many of my fellow evangelical Protestants at Fuller Seminary were engaged in similar quests for the ultimate denomination. Our role as enquirers was to study the traditions’ various polemics, in order to declare a winner of the ecclesiological debate. (The search was especially urgent for those on the ordination track. “Check out the Covenant Church,” I overheard one say to another. “They’ve got it all!”) Some found what they were searching for. One friend’s laborious search led him powerfully to the fundamentalistic Reformed tradition, then to a reformed Episcopalian splinter group, then finally into Eastern Orthodoxy, where he lives an entirely satisfied life in the priesthood. Others have never quite finished their quest, and remain unsatisfied with both their present location and their other denominational options. Still others have given up, concluding that there simply is no One True Church. For these the greatest temptations, both fatal to Christian theologians, are either to settle for ecclesiastical mediocrity or to give up on organized Christianity entirely. I myself switched allegiances many times in my heart. But unlike my Orthodox friend, I could never find a tradition with which I was entirely comfortable.

Newbigin’s ecclesiological vision, developed in The Household of God and elsewhere, saved me from my search for the One True Church, by offering me an alternative I had never considered. “The Holy Catholic Church has not ceased to exist, defaced and divided though it is by our sin,” he claims in The Reunion of the Church (113). However, like the Corinthian body, circumstances have divided the universal Church not into one true fellowship and many counterfeits, nor even one Church and other mere “ecclesial bodies” or “vestiges of the Church,” but into mutually compromised factions with continuing, legitimate ecclesiological claims on each other.

Schism does not annihilate God’s presence to the divided fellowships, for “God in His mercy has not allowed our sinful divisions to destroy the operations of His grace” (113). By deifying their divisions, the factions’ ecclesiological justifications even preserve their hard-won strengths. Yet schism does compromise God’s presence throughout the Church, for no denominational camp can live up to the full promise of the Church of Jesus Christ. So the factions’ ecclesiological justifications afflict their internal health and their external witness. Furthermore, as Newbigin brilliantly argues in The Household of God, they frustrate the very divisions they seek to justify, by revealing the Holy Spirit’s work in supposedly illegitimate rivals and pointing the factions beyond themselves and towards each other. My fellows and I were feeling the effects: Appreciation of the partly incompatible insights of more than one tradition, frustration at each tradition’s own inadequacy, and restlessness at the prospect of accepting the failings of any one of these as God’s will, when life together in Christ seems to promise so much more than the status quo.

My fellows and I had failed to understand that these flawed Christian fellowships were compromised not simply because of the positions they had taken, but in part because of the way they had taken up these positions against others. We took the parties for granted when they contended they were Johannine children of light and darkness, rather than childish Corinthians. We had bought into their common claim that one tradition could be entirely right, or even simply be fundamentally sound, apart from the resources of the others. This mistake led us either into the overrealized eschatology implicit in the various denominations’ claims to be the One True Church (even those of traditions that in other respects championed futurist eschatologies!), or to its abandonment for an utterly futurist eschatology where the current institutional fellowships of Christians would have only a weak relationship to the invisible Church of Christ (an easy move for those of us with strong premillennial heritages).

Newbigin’s diagnosis decisively refutes these false opposites. It resists the smug exclusivism of any one position — Roman Catholic (and Eastern Orthodox), Magisterial Protestant, and “Pentecostal” (Free Church) — while simultaneously resisting both the facile inclusivism that simply adds all these traditions up into one pseudo-ecclesiological umbrella, and the convenient pluralism that considers each of them self-sufficient or essentially commensurate. After Newbigin, I have stopped searching for the One True Church, for he has helped me see that I already belong to it.

( to read more of Geoffrey Wainwright’s, Lesslie Newbigin: a Theological Life (Oxford, 2000), courtesy of post at TELFORD WORKS  site.
 

For an example of the kind of wisdom I search for, and sometimes find, see”THE TRUE CHURCH” by J.C.RYLE.  For a partial list of his many contributions to the mission of the true church, and why many of us respect him so highly, see LESSLIE NEWBIGIN.