Archive for October, 2003

Sooooo tired

Sooooo tired
This last week has been nuts.  I started helping a friend with a website and his computer melted down.  I had to prepare for a class and teach it the next day.  A lot of network problems have sprung up around school.  The recent discussion on my blog took a lot out of me.  At one point I was really worried about how my friends in the house church perceived what I was saying.  One down side to comments is that it only takes one commenter to misconstrue someones point of view and then the misconception snowballs.

It seems that many of us have a different concept of church. 

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Was Jesus exclusive?

Was Jesus exclusive?
Luke 14:25-33 RSV

25Now great multitudes accompanied him; and he turned and said to them, 26″If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30saying, `This man began to build, and was not able to finish.’ 31Or what king, going to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends an embassy and asks terms of peace. 33So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

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Open Church?

Open Church?
Should a church accept everyone regardless of their commitment to Jesus Christ?  I come from a church tradition that has stressed discipleship.  Being a Christian means following Christ in community.  Conversely being a member of that community means being a disciple of Christ.  Because of this not everyone is accepted in to membership and some people are removed from membership.  Being a disciple doesn’t mean being perfect, but it does require a sincere desire to follow Christ and a willingness to submit one to another in love. 

I’m not sure I understand the reasoning behind the idea that church should be open to everyone.  Everyone needs a place to belong.  However if you flood that place of belonging with people who really don’t want to follow Christ don’t you dilute the community to the point where belonging becomes meaningless? 

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Church Chronicle

Church Chronicle
Last Thursday we had the 2nd regular gathering of our church.  From my perspective it went extremely well.  The food was good, the conversation was good, people were real with each other, and we had some laughs (at my expense).  Our gatherings have 4 phases.  We eat and chat together starting at 6:30.  Next we have a teaching and discussion time.  After that we share about our lives and pray for each other.  Finally we engage in some expressions of worship or reflection.  Last time we skipped the worship part because it was getting late.  The structure is fluid and I wouldn’t call it a church service. 

I was more prepared with the teaching this time and that went well.  One of things I want our gatherings to facilitate is connecting with God.  So we will be looking at the spiritual disciplines.  I will be pulling a lot of stuff from Richard Foster.  On Thursday I talked about the difference between engaging in the disciplines as ritual or self improvement or doing them with sincerity desiring to submit to the streams of God’s transforming grace. 

The main points are

  • The disciplines aren’t intended for spiritual giants, they can be a part of any regular person’s life.
  • They help us move from shallowness to depth
  • They free us from our old tendencies and allow God to form in us new tendencies.
  • For many pursuing God in prayer and study is ritual cycle of effort, failure, sin, guilt, shame, exasperation, a desire for change, and back to effort.
  • Col 2:20-23 – Self effort is useless in restraining the indulgence of the flesh
  • The power of our own will cannot transform our being
  • Grace is a free gift, put we must put ourselves in a place where we can receive it
  • Salvation is more than just about heaven and hell; it is also healing and freedom from sin on earth.
    If we turn the disciplines in to a law they foster pride and become agents to control others
  • We cannot make God act and sometimes it takes a long time before we experience a powerful connection with God

We have unleashed one of the most powerful forces in church history.  We have a woman organizing things.  :  “Pope” Betty is great.  She has taken over organizing who brings what to our meals.  Already we have refined the process so the people who find bringing food a stress will have less demanding assignments.

The people in our group have a strong social action bent.  Some people have asked me how we can facilitate the goal of having mission and service an integral part of the church.  With this group everyone involved is already in some of kind of mission or service or has recently been in full time ministry.  Missions and service were in the DNA of the people that form the group.

Lots of people ask me how the church is going.  My answer usually is I like it and as far as I can tell it is going well.  I can’t offer a firm answer because the criteria I use to judge a church can’t be measured at this point.  Paul said the Corinthians were his letter of recommendation written on their hearts.  I take a lot from Paul and paramount in his mind were the lives of the people he was ministering to.  I think a church should have biblical teaching, walk in divine power, be willing to suffer and the people should become more like Christ over time.  As far as I can tell people really enjoy this form of church, and I know some people have been challenged and encouraged by the teaching.  It’s too early to identify real life change.

Lots of people ask me how many people we have.  What is this obsession with numbers?  It’s a gathering of friends, not a program.  Some people have shown interest in “checking us out” and when I hear that I’m a little suspicious.  We don’t have a program to consume.  When church is more about friends, getting checked out feels more like ‘we’ll come over to see if we want to be your friends’.  Now if someone was interested in starting their own house church I think I’d be glad to have them come over a see how we do things.  However I think the structure of the church should fit the people.  Already our structure fits our people.  We use email, IM and blogs more than the phone.  Our expressions of worship have been more contemplative. 

If people are interested in becoming a house church, they should round up their likeminded friends and start their own.  I highly recommend it.

We are definitely still in the honeymoon phase and I’m sure the downsides to doing church this way will reveal themselves in due time.  That being said, I really enjoy this form of church.  I really like the people I gather with.  I enjoy the opportunity to engage in substantially deep teaching and to interact.  For me this is soooooo much better than listening to one person talk to a large group.  I haven’t been this excited about church in many years.

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Depressing Politics

Depressing Politics
The right wingers want to through young offenders in to boot camp.  Studies show that prison is just a good way to make a young criminal a career criminal.  The left wingers have no real vision.  There main platform is vote for us because the other guys are bad.  The centrists, while having the most legimate leader don’t have a person running in every riding.  I still lean towards the Liberals (centre).  I can’t vote for the NDP (incumbent left) because they have frittered away 1.5 billion in the last 3 years.  I don’t want to vote for the Saskatchewan Party (right) because everytime they appear on TV they look like a government in wanting, not a government in waiting.  However the Saskparty is offering a juicy small business tax break.

MMmmmmmm…..tax break.

I think my hope is that someone wins a minority government and we see a leadership change in two parties and try again.

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It has come

It has come

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Indie Allies was very good

Indie Allies was very good
I met some new people, we talked about campus ministries in the postmodern context, church planting, house churches, the role of church in international disasters like the recent genocide in Africa, racial integration in churches, Soularize, technology and the church and all sorts of other stuff.

I think of the characteristics about the emerging church is that interchurch interaction is much more relational and decentralized.  Soularize wasn’t filled with big name speakers and workshops etc…  Last summer’s camping trip I hosted was all relational.  If I want principles and models and I read a book or listen to a tape.  When I gather together with people I don’t want to hear the same thing I can get out of an mp3, I want to interact with real people and hear their thoughts and stories. 

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Houses that changed the world

Houses that changed the world
I tried to work my way through Houses that changed the world by Wolfgang Simson.  Simson believes that house churches are an essential part of Christianity.  He concludes that the wheels fell off the church around 350 AD post Constantine.  Some of his theology comes from the prophetic/charismatic movement which believes in an end days restoration of the church and apostolic anointing.  He puts a great stress on the 5 fold ministry (apostles, prophets, teachers, evangelists, pastors) talked about a lot in recent times.  Authority is not found in bishops and presbyters, but in in apostles and prophets. 

As someone who is now part of a house church I was interested in find out more about house churches and the house church movement.  I found the book less than useful. His research is spotty, and some of his conclusions which are presented as facts are really one sided interpretations.  Often the other side of an issue is not addressed or represented.  He makes claims about church history (like the existence of a 5-fold ministry) that are just extrapolations from scripture.  I resonate with some of the claims the author makes but he doesn’t make them very well. 

The lack of historical and theological depth in the book makes it difficicult to take seriously.

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Orthodox Musings

Orthodox Musings
I began writing some of my theological reflections on Orthodoxy and I ended up with about 2000 words.  A little too much for the blog post.  My first intention here is to chronicle my thoughts rather than come up with a clear argument.  Here is one persons raw perspetive of Eastern Orthodoxy.  If you wish to comment I suggest doing it here because there will likely be more discussion.

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Orthodox Musings

Orthodox Musings
For me the key issue in the Protestant/Orthodox dialog is the issue of authority.  At the beginning I should acknowledge a little known fact.    The Anabaptists generally don’t lump themselves in with the Protestants.  Part of it has to do with Lutherans throwing Anabaptists in to the river for their 3rd and final baptism.  Menno Simons was a convert from Roman Catholicism and some have considered Anabaptism to be something of a Benedictine reform movement that split off from the RC church.  The original Anabaptists affirmed the reading of scripture by the individual believer, but also held that the discernment of truth happens as a group.  Often the comments Orthodox make about “individual hermeneutic” aren’t as applicable.  Today your average modern Mennonite is not much different than a Baptist so being lumped in with Protestants isn’t entirely unfair.

My recent study has forced me to ask the question “Was there a need for the reformation?”  Should Luther have split with Rome and joined Moscow instead?  The question comes down to authority.  As Protestants we reject the idea that extra biblical church tradition is as authoritative as scripture.  Not all Church tradition is considered authoritative by the EO.  The church councils were held to deal with theological conflict in the church and from the standpoint of the Orthodox the bad guys seemed to have sway over the church during certain periods of time.  For example the Arians who denied the divinity of Jesus were in abundance at one time.  Essentially it is the church councils which decide which tradition is authoritative and which is not. 

During the councils the participants consider patristic writings, liturgy, previous councils and scripture to come to their conclusion.  With all these things together the church then can come to conclusions which are infallible.  Here is where things become difficult for me.  How can a bunch of very fallible Christians come to infallible conclusions?  When I consider the contentious nature of the councils it becomes increasingly difficult to imagine God’s divine truth becoming abundantly clear in them.  In some situations people on both sides of issue were ready to curse the other side out of the church.  By placing an infallible seal upon the conclusion seems to be a rather convenient way to silence the other side after the fact. 

Like many others in the protestant tradition I see what seems to be a significant difference between what scripture seems to plainly indicate and the doctrine of the EO.  The doctrine of Theosis is a minor example.  It has modest support in scripture but it is a central theme Orthodox thought.  Theosis is a concept well articulated by Peter when he says we become partakers of the divine nature.  In essence God came to earth to make mankind more like Himself.  It is transformation which results in people becoming more like God in nature and character but not in essence.  We don’t become God, and we always stay human.  I’ve taught this concept even though I didn’t know it had a label.  Today’s cheap grace is essentially teaching that we are justified by faith alone without teaching that God transforms our character and nature to be like His.  That transformation involves a cost, but not works.  From what I’ve read it seems those Theosis is happens as an act of grace and is not earned by works.  While I have yet to find anything about Theosis unscriptural, I find it odd that there is so little about justification in Orthodox theology.  I’ll admit that substitutionary atonement isn’t the be all and end all of the theological perspectives on redemption, but the complete absence of the Paul’s “legal” view of redemption seems odd.

One major issue would be the use of Icons.  Now I’m not opposed to using symbols in worship.  I’m not sure if there is such a big difference in using spoken words or images in worship.  Watching the Hymns vrs Chorus’ debate through the 90’s made it clear to me that evangelicals can get far too attached to the words rather than the God they are attempting to worship.  This is the accusation evangelicals make about icons. 

However the practice of mandatory icon veneration is a late addition to church tradition.  It happened in a church council in the 700’s.  In this conference the iconoclasts had a number of patristic writings and some solid scriptural support on their side.  There is no evidence that icon veneration was mandatory in the first few hundred years and a number of early church writers condemned the use of images in worship. The pro-icon side appealed to oral tradition and pointed to the fact that Christian homes had Christian art.  It seems as though the church came to a conclusion that was inconsistent with previous tradition.

Another distinct change happened post-Constantine when Christians stopped worship in homes and became very cozy with Roman government.  This would have involved radical changes in church life.  There are many today in the house church movement that believe that small churches are inherently better and there certainly is scriptural support for the kind of worship that would happen in a home.  Why would the church abandon this tradition and not others?

The Orthodox explanation is that there is continuity in all tradition.  This does appear to be the case.  I would argue continuity doesn’t ensure a lack of corruption.  In the tradition of the reformers there is a great amount of continuity between today’s evangelistic crusades and Luther’s view of salvation.  The problem is that the continuous line in that tradition is a downhill slide to the cheap grace, one prayer conversions, and the gospel presented on tracts.  Given enough time and involvement by humans things get worse. 

As a person who came to faith in Christ through the means of the Holy Spirit and not through any particular church or para-church organization.  I find it very difficult to believe that many of the people who have cared for me in aren’t part of the church.  I find it even more difficult to believe I am not part of the church.  After observing all the wonderful work of God in me and through me it is incredulous and even insulting to think that I’m not a member of His body.  The protestant tradition has a rich history of transformed lives and even transformed societies.  I can understand how the Holy Spirit can work through all religions to bring people closer to Himself.  I don’t understand how God could completely transform a man like John Wesley, lead him and others of that era and anoint him with such spiritual authority to reshape the moral fabric of an entire nation and not be the church.  If God was able to do that he certainly would have been able to change the early Methodists minds to consider Orthodoxy.  The way in which the Holy Spirit used many protestant Christians is nothing like God comforting the heart of an eager Mormon in prayer. 
Romans 8 RSV
9But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Any one who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10But if Christ is in you, although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness. 11If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you…
14For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

The bible lists a number of factors in discerning true followers of Christ.  The fruit of an individual’s life, manifest presence of the Spirit, character, love, divine power, apostolic signs, sound doctrine etc…  It is the church that should discern these things and Protestants are the church.  Looking at the evidence of the work of the Spirit in the lives of Christians which hold different doctrine only leads me to conclude that God isn’t as concerned about theology as we are.  An Anabaptist can look at John Wesley and say there was a real man of God.  God is on His own side and He will use whoever He can to accomplish His purposes and expand His kingdom.  When we become convinced that our theology is the fullest expression of truth on earth we become isolated and begin to insulate ourselves from the work of the Spirit in other traditions. 

In some ways I think we get lead astray when we ask the question “Where is the true church?”   A better question might be how do I become the true church?  If Orthodoxy contains the fullness of divine truth why then do they not exhibit divine power and character above and beyond that of that of Non-EO Christians?  This test is a double edged one because evangelicals have been quite content with the lack of divine power in their midst.  Some have replaced true divine power with shallow and poisonous emotional manipulation.  Any true follower of Christ will be transformed by the power of the Spirit and it doesn’t take a church council to determine if someone has become a partaker of the divine nature. 

In my personal life I underwent a theological revolution which God used to transform my life.  As I went through this transformation much sin was eradicated from my life.  I began walking in divine power.  Through this process God lead me to the truth found in the scripture.  I discovered God’s grace.  I am justified by grace through faith and not of works.  With diligent study and prayer I sought to go deeper.  Does God want me to be simply justified?  No, he wants to transform me in to be like Him.  He led me to become a partaker of the divine nature by making every effort to surrender myself to the life transforming power of His grace.  Theosis, as the Orthodox call it. 

As much as I’d like to say my interpretation is free from my bias I can not.  However I can say with some assurance that the Holy Spirit led me to truth and in the end my theology reflects my friend Luther and my Orthodox friends as well.  My personal experience leads me to believe that one tradition by itself cannot contain the fullness of Christ’s truth, and that His body must extend beyond our arbitrary theological and political barriers. 

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