Monday, January 31, 2005

Post-Restoration Hope #9: Guns, lots of guns

In the movie "The Matrix," Neo is asked what he'll need when he enters the matrix. His answer? "Guns, lots of guns." It is his way of saying that change is resisted and powerful tools need to be accessed in order to effect that change.

How will RM people effect change in the postmodern world? "Churches, lots of churches."

Peter Wagner, church growth expert, has said that church planting is the single most effective church growth strategy, bar none. He wasn’t just popping off or pushing an agenda. He was making an observation.

There are many challenges to church planting for Churches of Christ and RM churches:

Member Fear: Members frequently fear that church planting is the same as a church split. This is probably because so many members have either experienced or almost experienced a church split. Furthermore, so much of the historical proliferation of Churches of Christ has been the result of a church split. So, church planting is automatically connected with church pain, unhealthy church life, or disgruntled members trying to force their way. Most members of a RM church have never seen a healthy church plant and at the same time have seen unhealthy church splits, so the barriers in the category of member fear to healthy church planting are legion.

Leadership Fear: Although most ministers and elders would not say that attendance and contribution are the primary marks of a healthy church, the concept of church planting threatens both their attendance and contribution, and that is enough for resistance to be their first reaction. Initial questions that show up include: “What’s wrong with what we are doing here?” “Why drain off our most talented members?” “How will we meet our budget?” Rarely is their first response something like: “We’ve been praying for church planters to develop in our congregation,” “How can we help make your church planting vision come true?” “Let’s explore the real possibilities of forming a team, training the team and making this thing have the greatest chances for succeeding.” When church planting is done right, it is nothing to get be offended about. Rather, it is the sign that something special is happening in that body of believers. It should come as great news. How many churches can we plant? That’s the question.

Past Church Planting Failures: Old church planting models used by RM churches have proven to have a high failure rate. Many of the RM church plants outside the Bible Belt have sought to reproduce a Southern rural version of church, which once had a terrific attraction in Southern rural locations, but have never had much success anywhere else. Although Churches of Christ exist in almost every county in the United States, most are not only small (nothing wrong with small), but cloistered, huddled, and circling the wagons against the evil culture that is closing in on it. Church planting efforts I experienced as a child in the North included a church planter, a campaign group from the supporting congregation, and an initial push. They would enter a new place one week and set up the church the next. After the church had attracted a few solid and committed members, the church planter would leave to plant a new church, leaving behind a young Southern preacher from a conservative preaching school from the South. This is not the only model used, but it is a common one. It is not a terrible model. At the same time, it was not a terrifically effective model.

Bigger Is Better?: Larger and medium sized churches of Christ and RM churches have often swallowed whole the mega-church model of church growth. With juggernauts like Willow Creek and Saddleback, it is easy to believe that this is the wave of the future. Though it is tempting to view larger churches as successful churches, there are significant problems with the “bigger is better” approach. Lynn Anderson cautions that much of the growth large churches are experiencing is really the result of the consolidation of failures. Smaller churches who are dying lose members to larger churches who feel vibrant and dynamic. A minister friend of mine in a large Church of Christ stated it this way: “We’re the cream of the crap.” Most church of Christ and RM people fail to realize that there is no mega-church model in the Bible, but even more importantly, the most significant church movements globally are small group and house church based models, which can be small or large.

Church planting is for people with theology degrees and proper training: Well, yes and no. Church planting is a gift you are born with as much or even more than it is something you learn how to do. However, people with a natural gifting toward church planting who are not trained to do it, but believe that training is required are automatically given barriers to their calling (if I may use that word) that are unnecessary. Planting a small house church or simple church does not require a theology degree. It didn’t in the new testament and it does not now. Some on the job training or some targeted training will serve them well.

The good news is that Churches of Christ and RM folks in general are finally catching on to the vision of church planting. The RM is actually on the very front end of what I believe will be a very successful and meaningful church planting movement over the next fifty years (hopefully longer). I want to share with you three RM church planting movements in their early stages.

Stadia: This group started in the Independent Christian Churches a few years ago. They are the oldest of the three groups I’ll discuss. They have created a system for church planting that is more thoughtful and research-based than previous efforts. Currently they boast a church plant success rate of over 80%, almost a complete reversal from previous church planting efforts. What Stadia does well is to plant churches in growing suburban areas that are mostly white in the South and the West. Although they are not likely to be mosaic in nature, at least they know what they are good at and stay within those parameters. Stadia is located in Vacaville, California. They are planting a bunch of churches.

Mission Alive: Headed by former missionary to Africa and Abilene Christian University missiology professor, Gailyn VanRheenen, Mission Alive has adopted Stadia’s church planter identification and equipping processes. Mission Alive is a Church of Christ church planting movement. It is theologically thoughtful and open to new ways of doing Churches of Christ. Mission Alive is headquartered in Carrollton, Texas. Dr. VanRheenen also hosts a website called,

Kairos: Also headed by a former missionary and college professor at Cascade College, Stan Granberg, Kairos has adopted the Stadia model. Still in its infancy, Kairos has big dreams about church planting. Kairos is also a Church of Christ church planting movement. It is headquartered in Portland, Oregon.

These movements are reason for optimism in the RM. It will be the means by which the RM does not become Amishized or almost completely die out over the next 100 years. But, these movements are not going to be sufficient for the postmodern culture. Although many of these churches will be able to be culturally relevant and countercultural, with their heritage, they will be limited to what is acceptable and therefore struggle to connect to art and music crowd. That is unless they make an emergence from their heritage, which is most certainly possible.

Other places to look for church planting are the Simple Church Movement and Emergent. The Simple Church Movement encourages people to plant house churches and to keep church as simple as possible. They are quite restorationist in nature so far as church structure is concerned. Emergent is a movement that is on the cutting edge of culture (although they would not say they are at the stage of being a movement yet) as they seek intentionally to follow God in the way of Jesus. If emergent can keep to the spirit of its cause (conversation), then emergent will not just become another denomination, but rather will support the planting of experimental churches, which could evolve into anything. Kind of exciting.

Anyway, church planting is necessary in the post-restoration era, and it's not just for those people over there. I am about to overstate something, but it needs to be overstated. A healthy church is a church planting church.

Blogging Myself to Sleep

It was the pizza. I know it was the pizza. It is one minute til 3:00 AM as I begin this post, and that blast pizza just keeps me up.

But then again, it may be my thoughts. When the world orbits me and my wants and desires, when the world exists to please me and make my life comfy, when the purpose of the unviverse is to make sure I am OK, things seem to plug along pretty well.

I don't get too many of those times. And, the fact that I want those times to be frequent is a sure give away that I am narcissistic and have no respect for God and how this universe is meant to run. It's not about me. Yeah, got it. I more so want to "get it" when my challenges arise, when my doubts make everything foggy, when should be's fly away.

I guess faith gets some growing pains in the crucible of doubt. It's a paradox. It gets pretty hot in that crucible. Kind of makes you want to jump out. However, jump out to what? It takes more faith to jump out of the heat than it does to stay in, or it takes more stupidity. The only difference between faith and stupidity is the angle you're looking at it. Even Chrstian faith is this way. There are plenty of angles to look at a Christian faith that obscure God. Honestly, if there is no God, Christians are really silly to do some of the things they do. OK, let's get really honest. Because there is a God, some of the things Christians do are really stupid.

I digress, and I'm really just killing time trying to get tired. I've never blogged myself to sleep, but I figured it was worth a shot.

OK, I watched the movie "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," the other day. It is one of those profound Jim Carey movies. No weird facial contortions and no body function humor. It was a great movie. Very postmodern. In short, technology cannot trump the human spirit. Will blog more on this later as it relates tot he emerging church.

Also more coming attractions to a blogland near you, "The Gospel Accordgint to Ty," and more "Post-Restoration Hope."

To further randomize this post, I just finished reading, "The Gospel According to Tony Soprano," by Chris Seay, who is the pastor of Ekklesia, a funky new kind of church in Houston. It was pretty good. What was interesting was that it took the abject moral poverty of the HBO hit show and sucked out the tension between good and evil from it. There are many quotes from the show in the book and they are loaded with profanity. So, don't read this book if you have an aversion to seeing 4 letter words in type. However, if you are a Sopranos fan, you'd love the book. I have never seen the show myself and, to be honest, the only reason I bought the book is because it put me over the $25 minimum order on Amazon for free shipping. So, I could have paid shipping for my two other books or get this book as well and paid no shipping. There you go. It's a quick read (150 pages) and does provide some spiritual insight. My dad loves the show and could use of dose of gospel. I'll probably send it to him or just buy him a copy of the book.

Crap, I'm still not tired. Blogging myself to sleep is not working. I'm going to do it the old fashioned way and get a book to read.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Post-Restoration Hope #8: The Religions of Good and Right

Once upon a time, Good was sitting with Lonely at the local coffee bar. Good spent over ten dollars for the two overly sweet and overly caffeinated coffees and a couple biscottis. They talked about how life is hard. Lonely was grateful because this kind of honest conversation was rare. Good was grateful to be considered adequate company. Although life is hard, the conversation was a break from the harshness of it all. When their conversation ended, Good asked Lonely if they could meet again next week. Lonely agreed, leaving Lonely something to look forward to.

Meanwhile, Right counted out, to the penny, the tithe for next Sunday’s contribution. It had to be precisely ten percent. Taking the time count it out twice was worth it since a mistake was not acceptable. This week precision was particularly important since Right was to speak at the communion table on giving. It would be dishonest to speak of the need of the tithe without being able to, in all humility of course, confess to the congregation that tithing was indeed what Right was doing and had been doing all along.

Good used to do church three times a week, but abandoned the Wednesday and Sunday evening portion of the regime to free up time to develop relationships. Good took a walk with Depressed. Depressed had a slough of troubles that Good had no idea what to do with, but somehow just listening to them helped Depressed. As their friendship took over the weeks, the problems Depressed had got worse, but Good introduced Depressed to Hope and things seemed to get a little better. Now the three of them meet together weekly.

Right, being ever so diligent, not only did the table talk on Sunday, but taught class on Wednesday night as well. Right taught about how people need to trust God in everything. People who doubt merely lack the faith in God to whoosh away their doubts. “Yes,” Right said, “people will have doubts, but those people just need to be encouraged with the truth. God is in control of everything. Everyone knows this, but people sometimes are too weak to really believe it.” People in the class gave their appropriate nods of affirmation, but Distressed had some secret self-doubt. God didn’t seem to be in control of everything. Distressed determined it was a faith issue that needed to be resolved. So, Distressed asked Right about it after class. Right prayed over Distressed that God would wipe out doubt. Right used some big words that Distressed did not understand, which gave Distressed another opportunity to feel inferior. Distressed drove home with three rowdy kids in tow to an apartment in a dangerous neighborhood. Rent was due in a week, but the money was already spent. Distressed parented alone.

Good and Right met Sunday after worship service for lunch. Right asked Good about Wednesday evening’s absence. Good told Right all about Depressed and their conversation. Good talked about how exciting it was to watch Depressed meet Hope and the relationship they are starting to develop. Right was not impressed and wanted to know why Depressed was not invited to church. Good tried to explain that Hope was a church member and since people are the church, that actually Depressed did experience Church. Right was disappointed in Hope as well as Good and is exactly not fond of the word experience since it conjures of relativistic theologies which are contrary to the pure orthodoxy of the ages.

“Why do you put so much stock in your experience?” asked Right while cutting through a steak.

“Which would you choose to have taken from you, your words or your actions?” asked Good.

“Your theoretical questions are meaningless. More relativistic drivel,” responded Right as he brought his fork full of steak to his mouth.

Good grabbed Right’s wrist, his bite of steak inches from his watering mouth, “Would you rather eat this bite or have me tell you what it tastes like?”

Right resisted Good’s hand for a few seconds, but then relented allowing the fork to rest on the plate. Right laughed with mouth closed - a little nervous, a little embarrassed. “You’re the Pied Piper, and many will follow you. It saddens me to see how little substance you have, yet how many will believe it to be weighty.”

“You almost sound interested in what I have,” said Good playfully.

“Are you threatening me with inclusion?”

“Is that so bad?”

“I can’t believe you would ever think I would be like you,” said Right sternly.

“I’m not so sure you can help it.”

“Do you not drive people mad with your banter?”

“Goodness does not create madness; it reveals it.”

“Enough of this! How am I supposed to enjoy this steak with you meddling with my mind?”

“Why eat the steak? Don’t you know enough about it without the experience?”

“Check please,” Right said waving down the Service.

“Too late, I already took care of the check,” said Good

“No, I can’t let you buy my steak,”

“I don’t think you have a choice. It’s already paid for and there is nothing you can do about it.”

Service comes to the table and tries to explain to Right that the bill is paid in full. Right insists on paying anyway. Service, caught in a bind, refuses to take Right’s money. Right becomes angry and attempts to stuff a wad of money in the Service’s shirt pocket. Service, now insulted, moves out of the way and lets the money fall to the floor.

“There, I’ve paid my bill,” said Right.

“What’s the matter with you, dude, the bill is paid. You’re kind of freaking me out.” Service said, now kind of afraid of Right.

By now Right has made such a scene that everyone in the restaurant was taking a look to see what was all the commotion. Right looked around, trying to be invisible. He stood there, money at his feet, a spotlight lit him up.

“Come on,” said Good reaching out with his hand trying to save Right, “let’s get out of here.”

Right brushed Good’s hand away and ordered Good to leave. Good left Right Alone.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Emergent People

Brian McLaren responds to an article by Christianity Today called, Emergent Mystique. Read his annotation of the article here.

The author of the article questioned whether emergent was a movement or not. "Only a few emergent churches," despite lots of emergent book sales.

Here is what I think is happening. Emergent is giving people a third alternative. Before emergent, many people felt constricted by either sticking it out in their denomination or leaving it altogether. There was no graceful way to be different. With a strong denominational allegiance, most people just stuck to the partyline or quietly rebelled, living one way and believing another.

Emergent is room. It is space. It is a chance to move without leaving.

I am a child of the American Restoration Movement. With the help of emergent (and some other converging forces), I have been able to start to learn how to be a post-restorationist. I do not have to forsake my history to move into the future. I cannot tell you how liberating that is. It's like saying I don't have to get a divorce to have change happen in my marriage. Yes, it's that big a deal. Who knows, some day I might be in a post-restoration church? Who knows, I might plant one? What I do know is that I am emerging from the Restoration Movement, not detaching from it. This is good news. People are emerging faster than churches are.

Yes, people are emerging much much faster than emergent churches are being created. It is better, far better this way, for now. There is coming a day when church planting will be far more postmodern that it is now, but that day is coming. I applaud the pioneers, the experimenters, and the those on the frontier. Not only will they teach us what's out there, they will teach us how to pioneer, to create, to survive.

What we need right now is what is happening: Emergent People. Emergent Churches are just the next step in the evolution. When enough people emerge, how could churches not emerge with them? People will not tolerate believing one thing and doing something radically different for very long. The church will respond, and I think the churches who respond with an embrace will survive and the ones who respond with attack will die.

For now I say wait if you can, plant if you have to. Right now we're just preparing the soil, working it, tilling it, disrupting it, de-weeding it, feeding it. From emergent people will come emergent churches, both planted and transformed.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Post-Restoration Hope #7: To Seek Again

I lead a small group at my church. I call them the "council of the wise." I bring them questions and they give me answers, lots of answers. I really appreciate them for that. The question today was this:

"For a person who has been a churchgoer all of his or her life, what would have to happen for that person to become a seeker again?"

Here are their answers:
1. System of faith fails.
2. A crisis.
3. A step by step process.
4. See the person who taught you your faith fall.
5. Develop a relationship with a person who you once thought was lost because they were not the same kind of Christian you are.
6. Develop a relationship with a "non-Christian."
7. My own answer was that it would take an "agonizing process."

I really like their answers. I believe they "got" my question. I then asked them this question:

"Is happiness a barrier to seeking God?"


The council of the wise was divided on this matter and had a good debate on it.

It can be, but does not have to be. The longer one is happy, the more challenging it is to think that anything needs to be different. "People think themselves to good," says C. S. Lewis, "when they are only happy."

I was programmed to believe that salvation from the fires of Hell was my ultimate destination, reason for living, and the end of all things. I was programmed with a virus. Yes, there is motivation in it and it certainly is a powerful motivation. BUT (and this is a big but), what motivation is there when you’ve arrived? Since I didn’t have the luxury of a "once saved; always saved" theology to fall back on, I was abused (almost a hyperbole) by the "get saved; stay saved" theology of guilt motivation and shame-based spiritual formation. So, my desperation was not so much in seeking God, for I had found Him, but rather in holding on the to waters of my baptism.

So, there was nothing seeker oriented in how I was raised. I mean really, seek what? I was saved. All I needed to do was be moral enough to stay saved. "You got it, but I wonder if you can keep it?" was the message I got from my church culture.

The only way (in that church system) to get beyond this was to become a Pharisee. If I were to take hold of certain places of power and authority, then and only then would I be relived on my guilt because in the attainment of certain offices in the church I would be able to be the teacher, the learned as opposed to the learning. I would have arrived again. No one would throw me into doubt with questions for I would be the questioner.

Now, this is no longer my challenge. I am not longer ruled by that church system. I am secure in my faith. My problem now is being too satisfied with my "salvation." Just a "fat and happy" Christian going to the spiritual mall to consume some more of the good stuff.

There is something seriously wrong if taking comfort in salvation removes my desire for seeking God. Yet, the relief of knowing Hell is not my eternity has done something to me, something very, very bad!!! Now, rather than fight my own guilt, I am fighting my own satisfaction. You tell me which is more difficult. Is it the bully of guilt or the deception of the backstabbing best friend?

If you have been reading my posts on "Post-Restoration Hope" you might not believe what I am about to say, but I am a sucker for settling for "church as usual." I am a creature of habit. Don’t mess with my habits! I want to know what is happening, what is going to happen and I want it to be the same always. I lose a day of equilibrium when the furniture in my house gets moved. So, when I say that my enemy to fight is satisfaction, I am not talking about some namby-pamby, flimsy little battle. This is a challenge of heroic proportions.

I am at risk, as C. S. Lewis says, of being "only happy."

But God is good. I have had the benefit, however, of experiencing a church split and much church tension. I have been exposed to a variety of different faiths, and non-faiths. I have see leaders fall. I have seen my faith system come apart. I have experienced every single thing the council of the wise told me about and then some. For this, I see there is a God who loves me enough to do (allow, set up, whatever) whatever it takes not to let my faith rot.

At the same time I have not had the untimely loss of a loved one, significant health issues, lost my home or belongings or job, I’ve not been cheated on and on and on. For this, I see there is a God who loves me enough to do (allow, set up, whatever) whatever it takes not to let my faith rot.

I want to be a seeker of God!

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Post-Restoration Hope #6: Get off your butt

I was sitting in my office dinking around with how church is done at my church and this is what happened. This is a draft and by no means a finished product, so feedback is welcome - needed.

Proposal For Spiritual Formation Structure To Replace Education Structure

The SWCC currently uses an education-based model for spiritual formation. Although the classes offered are generally fair to good in quality, they are almost exclusively knowledge-based classes which do not move class attenders to action. In short, the program functions to allow for knowledge accumulation, but little else. The message this sends (and reinforces from our heritage and tradition) is that all we need is to know what is right, or to be “right with God” in our doctrinal understandings. The fatal flaw of this model is that it creates hearers of the Word, but makes no special provision for create doers of the Word.

This is a proposal for the replacement of an education-based spiritual formation program to an equipping-based spiritual formation program. What this plan would do is move people to action in ministry in tangible and meaningful ways. Bible learning would not be reduced to knowledge accumulation, but rather would move right into service and ministry, the very thing most people want to do anyway.

Below is a chart differentiating the two models:

Education-based model Versus Equipping-based model
Knowledge for knowledge sake V. Knowledge for ministry sake

End result: Being right V. End result: Being good

Self-service V. Serving others

Purpose: Knowledge accumulation V. Purpose: Service

Stays in the classroom V. Leaves the classroom

Consumer V. Producer

Passive V. Active

Audience V. Army

Comfort Zone V. Stretch

Knows what to do V. Does it

What this proposal would do would be to replace all Sunday morning classes with ministry-driven groups. What would happen on Sunday morning is that people would meet in a classroom for the purpose of learning how to do a ministry, plan on doing a ministry, and then doing a ministry. Each group would be lead or facilitated by a ministry leader. That person would equip, train, and lead this group in some kind of ministry.

The reason for Sunday morning is that people must be given a viable choice to minister, or they will not. Ministry cannot be an add-on or be put in a place of little prominence. Accumulating Bible knowledge can be done at other times and alone even. In fact, bringing Bible study into one’s own personal life can be much more powerful than only in corporate life.

Our people will become Biblical illiterates
. The fear is that our people will become Biblical illiterates if we do not give them a steady diet of Bible, and that is true. However, what we are currently doing is giving them only a diet of knowledge. That is extremely unhealthy. Sunday morning sermons will remain Biblical. House Church and small groups would still use the Bible. And furthermore, the Bible will not be left out of these classes, rather, it will come to life as people actually do something intentional rather than intend to do something, but have to fit it in to something else.

Class attendance will diminish. This matters only if we’re counting noses in order to consider ourselves a success. What would be more successful, fewer people doing more or more people doing less? And furthermore, I think when people get used to it, they will be more dedicated, more loyal and more excited than they are now.

New Christians will miss out on crucial knowledge. What they might miss out on in theory they will compensate for in practice. People learn by doing far better than they do by listening. They will learn the love of Christ by being embedded in a group of people loving God and people in the way of Jesus. Then, when they do read those passages about Christ’s love, they will not find them hollow or distant, but rather they will be in full color because their experience justifies their reading of scripture.

It might not be Biblical. What is not Biblical is learning, learning, learning, but not doing, doing, doing. How many scriptures in the Bible focus on Jesus studying the scripture versus the number of scriptures focusing on Jesus ministering to people? Jesus was either ministering to the lost, equipping his disciples, or alone in prayer. He did know the scriptures, but the only purpose to know them was to use them. Knowing isn’t enough.

This is really different. Yes, it is. This is actually not a myth. It is a complete departure from church as usual. It is what is going to help keep Southwest relevant in a culture that is falling asleep in church if it even gets to church. Think of the news report on KAIT: Southwest Church Scraps Sunday School In Order To Serve People. We could go about loving people, no strings attached, in the way of Jesus.

Examples of types of equipping offerings:

-Visual Art
-Music, praise team

-Learning how to teach children
-JH / HS

Service / Social Justice
-Feeding the hungry
-Shelter for the homeless
-Visit pediatric cancer unit

-House Church
­-Support groups
-Church planting


Family Education

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Buy my book - Help kids

Posted by Hello
This is the cover of my book, Homefront: Marriage - Family - Culture. You can probably guess what it is about by the title. I write a column in the Jonesboro Sun every other Saturday (that's all they will let me rant. I would write more if they would let me.) This book is a collection of my first 50 articles from the paper. By the way, don't go to Jonesboro Sun online edition looking for a taste because not only do they not archive my column, they do not even publish it online. It's nuts. Like it would cost them anything. OK, back to the point.
Now, should you decide to purchase a copy of this book by filling out this order form on pdf or this order form in MS Word and mailing it to me with your check, you will be doing something more than getting a book of my writing. You will be giving Flaming Pine Youth Camp a gift of $8.00. That's right, $8.00. So, as you probably figured out, after printing, shipping, and marketing costs, Chris is not exactly laughing and scratching all the way to the bank. I don't want to. I want to help this camp.
Why? Well, I spent many summers at this camp as a boy learning of the God of natural wonders (It's the only place I ahve ever seen purple lightning). I learned of the God who mends broken hearts (He mended mine there on more than one occasion). I leanred of the God who is worshipped in many ways (song, art, poetry, play, fellowship, community living etc). I learned there is a community of faith that transcends my little church. I learned that although kids are really never hugged quite enough, there is a place to go and try to get filled up on them. I believe that God still does wonderful things at this camp, so I believe that if I support what God is involved in, I am doing a pretty good thing.
More recently, the camp has been involved in raising money for inner city kids to get the camp experience. I'm all for that.
Anyway, I feel no shame in self-promoting this book because I am not making anything on it and it is going to a good cause. Feel free to buy a copy for you and all your friends, post it on your websites, link it to your blogs, TELL THE WORLD!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Emergent Migraine Rant

Another pause from the Post-Restoration Hope - more to come

I had a marketing experience and church experience that enlightened me on the worries some emergent folks have on branding, evangelical colonization, and linguistic thievery.

I walked into a drug store to purchase some Extra-Strength Exedrin. I needed to make a pre-emptive strike against the fast approaching trip to the dentist who likes to drill my teeth. By mistake, I picked up Exedrin Migraine Relief, not Extra-Strength. I did not notice my mistake until I got into the car. When I ntoiced that it was specifically for migraine relief, I figured that there was some kind of special medicine in it that was unique to relieving that kind of headache. And besides, it cost more. I then got back out of the car and asked the pharmicist what was the difference. He said that he was not sure, and then looked at the label.

"Nope, it's the same stuff."

I kept the medicine because although it cost more, it was not that much more and I was in a hurry, but thought that if I did have a migraine headache and realized that I am paying more for the very same thing, I'd feel duped.

It was a marketing technique. What emergent people fear is that evangelicals will do the Exedrin switch, calling their church emergent with its new packaging (candles, video clips, coffee etc) when in reality, "it's the same stuff."

I visited a "new kind of church" last Sunday. I heard it had candles and was different. It took me about three minutes (yeah, I'm slow) to figure out this was a contemporary repackaging of old school Southern Baptist. Sure, it had young faces, actually, it had an ucomfortably large percentage of young faces (it had church split in its history written all over it - and I was right), but the theology was, well, you tell me:

1. "God does not speak in dreams anymore because we have the Bible."
2. Sermon illustrations:
A. Video clip from Rocky.
B. A fight.
C. An array of sport analogies.
D. "You need to love your wife."
E. A military reference.

There was more testosterone in this sermon than the Smackdown wrestlers reading Iron John around a campfire eating the flesh of the T-Rex they had just killed with their hands. It was feminist Hell.

3. It was completely consumed with the topic of self-discipline to avoid doing really bad things like being really bad. There was no sense of service for the sake of the world, depth in spiritual formation, or even any insight. I felt like I was at a dorm devo for Freshmen at Baylor.

Now, they did not use the word, emergent, on their website or in their church service, but only because I do not think that word has really hit Jonesboro, AR in any significant way. My guess is that if they knew it, they'd use it. It's hot, it's hip, and it attracts attention. Why not use it to make some more Baptists?

Rant complete!

Post-Restoration Hope #5: For God so loved the WORLD

Note: If you are new to this blog or feel behind because this is a #5, don't worry. It is not necessary to catch up by reading all of the previous posts, although it would help with getting a context for what this conversation is all about.

Measure your success by how you bless your community and the world over how you bless your members.

Many Churches of Christ (along with many evangelical church fellowships) have evolved into a fellowship, with their target and mission being self-focused, into a group who is more interested in serving themselves rather than blessing the world. Their idea of blessing the world is frequently limited to making them into one of us, and none too much more – with the exception of supporting mission work so far away that they do not have to be uncomfortable with the radical differences in culture, practice, worship and so forth.

I went to a conference and heard Brian McLaren quote Dallas Willard say that success in the church of the past was measured by what it did for its members while the success of the church of the future will be measured by how it blesses the world (or something like that). This comment alone was worth the price of admission (it was the Zoe Worship Conference, so it was cheap anyway).

Churches who are concerned with blessing their own do things like this: spend lots of money and resources on their building, staff their church for every life-stage segment of their congregation, purchase expensive curriculum, promote knowledge accumulation through Sunday AM/Sunday PM/Wednesday PM/Mens/Womens/ and other categories of Bible study. They become what Leadership Journal calls, “fat churches.” The majority of their efforts are geared toward making life better for themselves. Church growth expert Peter Wagner called this, "Koinonitis."

Now understand, these are good people who do have love in their heart, usually a lot of love. The problem is that they are embedded in a system that saturates their time with things to do, things to know, and things to feel, leaving no time for the world. If there was going to be any connection to the world through ministry it was going to be in extra time. But who has extra time when the church is absorbing it all? What they are doing is good, but it is insufficient. It is like they spend all of their time lifting weights with their right arm and not their left arm.

This kind of behavior makes sense in a fellowship that is more interested in being right than any other thing. However, when the obsession with rightness comes into balance (as in, no longer is the prime directive) with other spiritual responsibilities, this behavior no longer makes sense.

But, if we eliminate so much of the Bible knowledge accumulation time and all of the money, resources and staff that drive to that end, what do we replace it with? Here are a few ideas:

Equipping For Ministry: Some of the time and energy that was once used for knowledge accumulation should be used in training people to actually do something. Leadership, service, ministry, teaching, missions, art, music, and so forth.

Service Onramps: Equipping is only going to be more knowledge accumulation without a venue for ministry. The church needs to make connections with existing local ministries that serve the community or initiate their own. (And unless your idea meets a need or population that is currently not being met, then join someone who is already doing it).

Reimagine Spiritual Formation: The fear that most churches will have with eliminating some (of course not all) of the time and resources used for knowledge accumulation is that their members will become Bible illiterates, (or will no longer know why we are more right than they are - oh yeah, that does not matter anymore). Certainly this is a possibility, but what does Biblical literacy matter if all it produces is religious conversation among religious people? The church, in order to form spiritually, needs to act. In other words, what we risk in less attention to accumulation of Bible knowledge is not nearly as threatening to our member’s spiritual formation as what we risk in an absence of loving action toward the world.

These shifts are radical in nature. It would take reprogramming a church, renewing a church, revitalizing a church, re-educating a church – or planting a church. These kinds of changes cannot be ram-rodded or force-fed to an existing church. It will take loving and patient, yet, bold and committed shepherding. I have seen churches split and disintegrate by forcing good change too fast.

At the same time, not pursuing these kinds of changes is tantamount to giving up. The bottom line is that God loved the world so much that he gave His son. It begs the question: How much do we love the world?

Monday, January 17, 2005

Post-Restoration Hope #4: Target, Mission, Let’s Go Fishin’

Now, as I grew up in my little white Church of Christ, having been significantly whitenized (I guess it didn’t take all the much social bleach to whiten me up since I am only partially Mexican, but mostly Norwegian), I never heard the terms like target in speaking about people who we thought we wanted to come to our church. The term would have been offensive. We wanted EVERYONE to come to our church. We were there to seek and save the lost, and pretty much everyone not attending our church was lost, so, we did want everyone to come to our church…Or did we?

Reading Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church was the first time I ever read that a church intentionally went after a certain kind of person. In that book I was introduced to Saddleback Sam. He was the guy they were going after. They did their market research so well, and got it down to such a science they could probably have predicted how many “Saddleback Sams” in the area wore boxers and how many wore briefs…and how many fell into the “other” category.

Although this method of evangelism smacks of all kinds of things none too pleasant, it did several good things as well. It was honest. It was intentional. It was effective so far as its goals were concerned. It was culturally relevant so far as marketing strategies are concerned. And, one thing it did for me was help me realize that all churches have a target whether they know it or not. Churches which say they have no target may not be intentionally programmed to go get their Saddleback Sam, but their target is no less real. It is their accidental target. In fact, the accidental target (which most Churches of Christ I’ve been a part of employ) is probably even more powerful at keeping their untarget out as intentional target models are of getting their target in. I would say that they only way not to have a target is to intentionally not have one, a very challenging (idealized perhaps) vision. One of the emerging churches called, Solomon’s Porch, claims to intentionally have no target. Read Reimagining Spiritual Formation by Doug Pagitt for more on Solomon’s Porch.

The target of just about every Church of Christ I have known is this: people just like them. They are programmed for, languaged for, structured for (and on and on and on), people who already hold their beliefs, share their traditions, and speak their language.

-It is why so many churches still clutch on to the Sunday PM service: “What if someone comes in town on Sunday evening and needs to take communion?”

-It is why the idea of praise teams (or any cosmetic or semi-substantial change in worship services) is so vile - they might offend their brother (offending their sister, by the way, never seems to get a mention). The thought of offending a lost person gets even less attention than offending a sister.

-It is why small groups are initially strongly resisted and in some churches banned.

This list could get lengthy, but the point is, without an effort not to have a target, you have one whether you mean to or not. Having an accidental target is the worst kind of prejudice as it is not even aware it is doing so. The intentional target is honest, at least, but can be prejudiced. The intentional no-target is ideal, but perhaps utopian. I say shoot for inclusion.

The concept of target is closely connected to the church’s mission and mission statement. Many churches now have mission statements. Many, however, do not. I think mission statements are excellent, if they are theologically sound, culturally relevant, and actually practiced. However, you cannot tell the mission of the church by the mission statement written on the bulletin or painted on the wall, you can only tell the mission of the church by what the church does, allows, pursues, avoids, encourages, is silent about and so on. Many Churches of Christ, if their mission statement were determined by their current corporate behavior would be something benign such as:

The purpose of the “10th and Main” church of Christ is to maintain our current level of familiar activity for the benefit of other people just like us so that we do not make people just like us feel uncomfortable - Some churches would add - because the preacher and elders do not want to have to answer hard questions.

OR something a little more malignant such as:

At the “10th and Main” church of Christ, if you don’t believe what we believe and do what we do, get out. If you do not get out, we will do our dead level best to either make you feel so much discomfort that you will eventually leave or we will make you one of us, making sure all the while you realize how not one of us you really are.

OR something weak-kneed such as this:

At the “10th and Main” church of Christ, we are open to talking about new things so we can feel enlightened and forward-thinking, but it is just easier to do what we have always done – for the sake of unity.

It is time for our Churches to open up, the ones that can at least. I know that the words, diversity and tolerance are highly charged political words, and I wish there were other words that meant what I want these words to mean, but we need more of both of these in Churches of Christ and the entire RM.

I am most impressed with churches like Impact in Houston and Central Dallas Ministries. There are many, many other churches which do this well. Feel free to post them. They have “targeted” people in culturally relevant, yet countercultural ways.

Friday, January 14, 2005

In Search of A Clue

More Post-Restoration Hope Next Week

Posted by Hello
I have a more pressing issue. I've been thrown for a loop with a patch of scritpure. Luke 20:38. I have it below in five translations. The context is the Sadducees trying to trap Jesus in a question of the resurrection - the old seven brothers married the same women after each next brother died and none of them had children trick.

Can anyone tell me what it means that all are alive to God?

38He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” NIV

38"(A)Now He is not the God of the dead but of the living; for (B)all live to Him." NASB

38For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him. KJV

38So he is the God of the living, not the dead. They are all alive to him." NLT

38So the Lord isn't the God of the dead, but of the living. This means that everyone is alive as far as God is concerned. CEV

And whatever it does mean, what are the implications for Tsunami and mudslide victims?

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Post-Restoration Hope #3: Mosaic

Be all things to all people, even the people who can’t figure out who they are.

Drop in on just about any Church of Christ or RM congregation and you will find a lot of people who look very much alike. Mostly the same race, mostly the same socio-economic level, mostly the same political leaning, mostly the same in a lot of ways. No one would say it out loud, but in these churches deviations from the prescribed way of doing things, being, and believing are cause for a remedy. I actually remember someone talking about (not to) an African-American fellow in a mostly white church say that “he was OK because he had been whitenized.” I’m not sure what it means to be whitenized or what processes one goes through accomplish this task, but I just can’t bring myself to think that it is all that good. Did he get bleached of his blackness? And is that better?

Anyway, I think the RM and C of C’s are guilty (by intention or by accident) of whitenizing, Republican-izing, money-izing, male-izing (OK, it’s getting’ weird now) the flock. Paul said he would be all things to all people, but the practice of the Church of Christ all too often has been the expectation that all people should become one thing – an exact reversal of the great desire and effort of Paul.

Paul sought to be all things to all people.
1Corinthians 9:20-23
19Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. 22To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

But he also viewed people not according to their categories of distinction:
Galatians 3:28
28There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

At first glance, Paul seems at odds with himself. But a closer look would reveal that the reason he is seeking to be all things to all people is precisely because he does not elevate the distinctions between people to a level that matters. The more you think about it the more it makes sense. The more the distinctions do not matter, the less you risk by being something different for the sake of the gospel. On the other hand, when distinctions of these kinds do not matter, you take a greater risk because you highly offend the people for whom these distinction are foundational, essential, necessary for them to maintain their status. Race, gender, politics, SES, are all issues around which people gravitate for the sake of power and control. You risk less from the people different from you and risk more from the people who are the same as you. Sound familiar? Sounds like something Jesus did, a lot!!!

What Paul is seeking, I believe, is a mosaic. A larger beautiful picture made from smaller beautiful pictures.

It is now more important than ever to pursue this mosaic ideal Paul conveyed because the world can no longer be thought of as black and white (it never should have been). People these days wrestle with rather than embrace their old identities and are seeking and searching for new ones. This is true across the age span, but is more frequently true for the 30 and under crowd, maybe even the 35 and under crowd. There are lots of people who do not have a clue as to who they are and don’t like the options available to them at the social and spiritual identity buffet table. The world is going postmodern and rather than blame it, we need to engage it with the same posture that we in the RM did the modern. (OK, maybe not the same posture. We swallowed the modern era hook-line-and-sinker and that was a bit naïve).

Maybe what I am about to say is some kind of crazy-eyed dream (nightmare), but I think there is coming a day when churches which are comprised of only one kind will be seen as weird, weak, impoverished, inbred, wicked, hamstrung – or even severely handicapped, getting wheeled into the Kingdom of Heaven in the most pitiful of ways. Maybe, from heaven, they are already viewed that way.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Post-Restoration Hope #2: Wandering Cow

When you think Churches of Christ and Sacred Cows, some things come to mind immediately. The most unavoidable is the adherence to a doctrine of acappella worship. It is tempting to tackle this one head on - I've got lots of good ammo for the fight. I feel confident that I can dismantle most people in this debate over the Biblicalness (is that a word?) of this doctrine.

But I won't.

I won't talk about how it is a tradition. I won't talk about how the "beautiful voice" can be as idolatrous as the beautiful piano. I will not talk about the sin of determining fellowship based on this topic. I will not talk about how it is used as a tool for sectarian identity (spiritual pride) and is so highly elevated as a doctrinal necessity that it borders on cultish activity, I will not talk about... OK, OK, I will not talk about it.

What I do want to talk about is what I believe to be the real sacred cow. If banning instrumental music is a sacred cow in Churches of Christ, what I am going to talk about is its momma: our hermeneutic.

Our hermeneutic is our lens or set of rules for interpretting the Bible. Church of Christ have really made Biblical interpretation easy.

1. If it is commanded in the Bible, you gotta do it (or avoid it).
2. If there is an example of it in the Bible, you gotta do it (or avoid it).
3. This one is a special bonus rule to fill in the gaps: If there is an inference of something, then it can be considered binding. Naturally this caused some problems, so it turned into necessary inference. Now again, that caused some problems, so it later turned into approved necessary inference. (By the way, who gets to approve what is necessary to infer?)

These three rules are what I will identify as the mother of all Church of Christ sacred cows. Let momma cow out of the barn and all the babies come with her.

Problem #1: This is a man-made set of rules. All hermeneutics are. It is not that they are bad, per se, but that they are incomplete. There is no perfect way to interpret the Bible. There just isn't so quit thinking there is. It amazes me how a back-to-the-Bible movement like the RM could so blindly swallow this idea. I know it is a relic of modernity, but come on. Let's accept the reality that we made it up and move on.

Problem #2: This hermeneutic is reductionistic. It assumes the Bible is so easily understood. In a way it is. Any person hearing the stories or reading them would come away with something, hopefully good, may be even the essence of the gospel. But to think that you can just interact with the Word of God and fully know it is nuts. This hermeneutic assumes that if you take the Bible and squeeze it through command, example and necessary inference that you get truth. Just ain't so.

Problem #3: Assumes the Bible is written in one genre. Psalms and Paul's letters are given the same regard. Genesis and Revelation are apparently written and must therfore be interpretted in the same manner. Hey, I can hear the teenage boys, "let's go to Song of Songs and find out some necessary inferences there, if you know what I mean."

Problem #4: Buys into OT / NT divide. I know that this is not exactly part of the hermeneutic proper, but it is a partner in crime. Although it was treated as such all my years growing up, the OT is more than just anecdotal material with some really cool miracle stories and lots of stuff you just need to skip. The Bible Genesis through maps is the story of God. (It's not the complete story as that story is still being written, but I think you know what I mean.)

For these reasons (although there are more), I think that our sacred cow should be let out of the barn, slapped on the butt, and made to graze in the wide open fields.

Notice I didn't say slaughter it and have steak. I think there is good in our hermeneutic. There just isn't any good in it when it is authoritative such that it causes undue division, theologically empty arguments, and promotes a dull and artless fellowship.

I believe if this sacred cow were allowed to graze, the little sacred cows would eventually follow and our issues with instruments, women in more prominent roles, how exaclty a baptism has to happen (which one took and which one didn't), and a score of other problems would resolve themselves in the freedom of Christ we all have.

Let's exercise that freedom in love.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Post-Restoration Hope #1:

This post is too long and incomplete at the same time.

When I say post-restorationist I do not mean ex-restorationist. An "ex" means you have left, split, quit or something like that. A "post" means what comes next, as in, what was given birth to. Birth, generally, is a very good thing and a happy time.

I confess I am cheating. All of these posts forthcoming are accumulated from other people's brains into mine and I have forgotten most of where I got the information and have probably changed it so much from where I got it that the original owner of the information wouldn't claim it anyway. So, enough disclaimers.

Hope #1: Become culturally relevant and countercultural at the same time.

Leonard Allen, in his book, Things Unseen, comments on how the Restoration Movement (more specifically Churches of Christ) was an excellent cultural fit when it was born in the modern era of the 1800’s. It was a movement contemporary with the Enlightenment, and how enlightened we were. However, as the culture has begun turning postmodern, the Restoration Movement (RM) has remained quite modern. Without changing much of what it does, promotes, intends, and believes, the RM went from being avant guard to bordering on archaic in just over a century and a half. Funny how context changes meaning.

It may sound like double-speak to suggest that a person, a church, a movement can be culturally relevant and countercultural at the same time. However, that is exactly what the RM did when it was born. It fit the philosophical zeitgeist of the age, but brought the countercultural message of the gospel to that age as well. Suggesting that the RM become culturally relevant and countercultural at the same time is not to suggest that it do something new, but rather that it do something old, something it has already done in the past.

It is like this: If the RM were to begin right now it would be started by some of the leading thinkers of the time. As it developed, it would not look like it did in the early 1800’s, but rather something like some of the churches that call themselves “emergent.” It would be Biblical, sure, but not in the 19th century was of being Biblical, but in the 21st century way of being Biblical.

Huh? Isn’t Biblical just Biblical anyway you slice it? Well, yes and no. Being Biblical is kind of like looking into the sky. On a cloudy day you will see clouds (and make comments on what the clouds look like, you know, the game kids play), but on a sunny day you’ll see blue sky. So, it depends how the weather is when you look into that sky. Also, it depends on when you look into that sky. A cloudless night is very different than a cloudless day. The stars that are always there only appear on cloudless nights. Just because I can’t see them on my lunch break does not mean they are not there. Furtherm more, which stars you see depends on the season, you location in Earth and so forth.

So, the truth of the Bible is always there, but I just can’t see it all at once, and I will never see it all, period. In the 1800’s the RM saw the truth of the Bible perhaps on a cloudy day, but now it is a clear night and the sky looks very different. Same sky; different look.

Times are different now than when the movement began. What is culturally different now from when the RM originally launched, and this might be the most significant difference, is that people are looking into the sky and not just making decisions (interpretations) about what they see, but also about what they do not see. Even though they see clouds, they imagine a sun, a moon, and some stars. "Somewhere out there is a black hole, a nebula, an asteroid...and other mysterious things." It is not just about what the sky is, it is about what it could be. This is how people are viewing the Word of God and the Bible. "Yes, it says this, but could it also be saying that?" And furthermore, people are saying, “well, perhaps the Bible is God’s word, but is it His only word?”

Now, before you get all bent out of shape about the word of God being more than just what the Bible says (I'll get you even more bent out of shape in a minute), even the Bible says God speaks more than just the Bible. Nature is God’s word, to name one. God talked through a donkey as well. I won’t get into all the ways God speaks (too many to count that I know of let alone the ones I do not), but it is pointless to catalog them, a waste of time. He speaks however He wants to. Enough said.

If the RM is to become culturally relevant and countercultural at the same time, we are going to have to not only view God’s Word (Bible, nature, experience etc) for what it is, but also for what it could be. Mystery will invade certainty and surprise us all.

Now, if this feels a little risky, it is. But think about it this way: What is riskier, seeing God’s Word as only a narrow little slice of what it really is (thinking we have perfectly interpretted it when we haven't), or seeing God’s Word as more than it is (risking making mistakes)? In other words, would you rather be accused of adding to the scripture or taking away from it? The RM is guilty of taking away (by limited interpretations) , in my opinion. Now, are we willing to be guilty of adding to it? Still sound too risky? Well, we do not have the luxury or doing neither. We will be guilty of one or the other. So, in the light of being relevant, the RM needs to be as willing to be guilty of adding scripture as they have been willing to take away from it. I do not mean willful misinterpretation or making the Word of God mean anything I want it to mean. I do mean letting God's Word mean more than the RM has allowed it to mean.

Still sound too risky? Yeah, it does to me too. But I don't know what else to do. I believe our RM interpretations are too limited and therefore have contaminated the gospel. I do not want to share a contaminated gospel as much as I can help it. I believe there is an extravagance of love I do no know of (could never even learn in the old school RM), but is the whole point of the gospel, the good news.

If our drive remains rooted in grace not condemnation, goodness not rightness, faith not determinism, submission not control - and if we understand that God knows how imperfect we are AND if our mistakes are honest ones, like they were in the 1800’s, then I think we’re fine.

The gospel is countercultural. It is our responsibility to be the gospel in a culturally relevant way. I say “be” the gospel because it should be good news when you enter into someone’s life. You should be their blessing. Love God; love people. That is countercultural and culturally relevant – now and always; here and everywhere.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Post-restorationist: A teaser

I read on the Blog of Adam Ellis, a few months back that he considers himself a post-restorationist so far as church goes, or movement affiliation goes, or something like that. It is the first time I had ever heard that term. According to Google, he is the only one to have ever used that term. I immediately knew what it meant, a little bit, kind of, well, not so much really. Anyway, I knew what I wanted it to mean.

So, since it is a relatively new term, over the next several posts, I will add my 2 cents in hopes for a definition. Actually, I will probably add about 10 cents. They may be a pair of wooden nickels, but I think they are worth 10 cents.

For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about and have not clicked away to a more exciting (relevant) blog by now, I am talking church, religion and a religious movement that began in the early 1800's known as the American Restoratin Movement. It launched three major Christian (dare I say it) denominations. Churches of Christ, Independent Christian Churches, and Disciples of Christ.

I am a child of the Churches of Christ of the American Restoration Movement. In my next few posts, I will be making a plea of sorts to Churches of Christ and RM churches to, as my good friend Kent Smith once said, "find out what is yet to be restored." In other words, if someone were a post-restorationist, what would they be doing?

Feel free to invite your C of C or RM friends in on this conversation. It will begin this week.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Essence of Essential 5: Diagnosis different

I am a marriage and family therapist. In my work I see a lot of couples who act like church factions fighting with each other over little, stupid (but oh so essential) things. What happens (a long time before they see me) is that each person has an idea of how things need to be in their marriage. Usually these things are different. Since there is a difference, they each develop a set of patterns meant to convert their spouse into their way of thinking, feeling, doing and so forth. When their plans fail to make the conversation, the pattern becomes either intensified or more nuanced. Either way it is more of the same.

As time passes, and initially without their knowledge, their efforts to convert the other result in an unintended consequence: their divergence. Then the problem of their diverging paths outruns their denial and then there is a crisis - the war begins. They thought they were solving a problem when in reality they were aggressively creating it. The problem was not what they thought was a problem, but in reality was the fact that their spouse was different and that difference was identified as a problem, labeled as a problem, and treated as a problem. When different is diagnosed as wrong, THAT IS A PROBLEM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I believe this is the same process that has spun off so many denominations. The reasoning is this: since we are different we cannot be together. The result? Divorce, ecclesiastical divorce: church split, denominationalism , endless protest, reprotest and counterprotest etc.

In divorce, the people who suffer are the children. In church splitting, denominationalizing and protesting the people who suffer are the "lost, pre-Christian, unsaved, pagan, unchurched, whatever." (see link for Keith Brenton's call for a spiritual thesaurus).

Rick Warren in The Purpose Driven Church suggests dealing with difference (at least in worship preference) in church by starting new kind of worship service or planting a new church. Wise words, target-directed churches and church services are not a bad idea. At the same time it still leads to an inbred, mandated way of being. It gives social pressure to be one way - to reduce rather than increase limits and comfort zones. Doug Pagitt in Reimagining Spiritual Formation suggests an evolving community molded by who God's leads to the congregation. Brian McLaren makes a pitch for an inclusive rather than exclusive Christianity in A Generous Orthodoxy.

Most new churches are just as specific as the old churches, but they are merely specific about different things, thereby necessitating a new church. What a new kind of church would do is be less, not more specific. Difference would not be seen as a threat, but rather as an exciting opportunity to enrich the whole.

Perhaps the church of the future (and I hope the near future) is about remarriage and not about divorce. If we find loving God and loving people essential, and all of our differences a delightful benefit rather than a problematic liability, then there might be some hope for the "lost."

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Essence of Essential 4: The terrorist and me

I like the catch phrase, "Many ways to Jesus; One way to God." I think I get the meaning. It embraces both the unlimited paths available for each person to come to the one path of God.

If Jesus really did come to save the world because God loved the world so much (and I believe He did), then how does that salvation happen?

When I think of salvation, I think of starting lines. In a fifty meter sprint, starting at the starting line is great. Not everyone has that opportunity. Some people start a million miles from that point. Where does an Iraqi who was born into militant Islam start and where does the suburban American been-going-to-church-since-I-was-born person start?

Could it be that salvation is not so much about location, as perceived by externals, but rather direction? Who is more likely to be saved: A person moving Godward from a milion miles away or a person moving further from God at fifty feet away? Maybe nearness and distance to God (or being saved or not saved) has little to with how people measure it, how denominations measure it, and how meta-groups (evangelicals, mainline, etc) measure it.

What if a terrorist put down his or her rifle because he or she just sensed that the God they know of does not really desire the kind of killing they have been involved in? What if that terrorist paid a great price for that renunciation of terror, even his or her life? Is it good? Yes, of course it is. But is that person saved? My fellowship would say no, because that person was not baptized. Another fellowship might say no because that person did not speak in tongues. Another would ask, "did they ask Jesus into their heart?" Jesus? You mean the prophet? Who asks prophets into their heart? Remember, people only know what they have been exposed to.

What kind of courage would it take for this terrorist to lay down his or her weapons? I'd wager to say a lot more courage than I have with my faith right now. Yet, am I saved because I "did it right" and he or she is not saved because he or she didn't?

Could it be that the terrorist was moved by the Holy Spirit, but didn't know to call it the Holy Spirit? Could it be the response was to the love of Jesus, but did not know what to call it? Could it be that this person, full of courage and "faith," could be responding to the gospel, but from what he or she knows of Christianity, would never ever dream of becoming a Christian? Could it be this person's salvation is a salvation from hate, anger, murder, and death to love, peace, and life? And then on top of that, a life continuing after a bodily death?

Did Jesus not see a greater faith in all Israel come from a Roman Centurion?

Monday, January 03, 2005

Essence of Essential 3

The only thing essential to salvation or for salvation is God's decision to save. I guess you could add that God has given us so much freedom that we could choose not to be saved, and therefore by choice, be unsaved from sin and its consequences here and now, then and there.

If you want to add, what can we do for this? The answer is: Nothing.

Now, we can go ahead and ask this question: What does God ask of us? That can be summed up with this: Love God and love people. In fact, so dedicated is God to this "love God; love people," theology, that Jesus said it summed up the law and the prophets. If that sums up the law and the prophets, then what else is there?

Yes, I know there are lots of commands and directives and so forth, but isn't that all in the details? Jesus did not abolist the law and the prophets, he fulfilled them. If I love God, then I am going to listen to Him. I love my wife and I listen to her. I love my kids and I listen to them. If I love God and listen to Him, then I am going to take what He has to say seriously. When I take what He has to say seriously, and what He says is to be baptized (the link to salvation in my fellowship), what motive would I have to avoid this act? However, to say that this specific obedience is the salvationary link smacks of worshipping baptism over worshipping the God of baptism.

When we get the focus messed up, we get into trouble - and fast! It's like this:

What do I have to do to be saved is not very romantic. It is not what a comfortable person asks. It is what a desperate person asks. We Christians spend too much energy trying to convince people that they are desperate, but we come across as arrogant, self-righteous, and elitist. Jesus didn't have to convince anyone he or she was desperate - check that, he pounded on the Pharisees about their desperation in the context of their feeling superior, comfortable and in control.

Why do so many Christians treat the "lost" like Jesus treated the Pharisees?

I think we're putting the wrong people in checkmate.