Just a Parable

A certain man had two children. Together the family was a blessing to the village. Both of the children became helpers. The boy guided people on dangerous adventures in order to help them to find things they were looking for and many were grateful. The girl was a healer and was called upon to care for the sick and many were healed on account of her skills. The village was blessed by this family and the man loved both his children.

 
There was an enemy. One who was envious and wished ill upon the family. One day, a virus entered the village and a number of people became sick. People no longer braved the adventures that demanded the skills of the son, but many were in need of the daughter’s healing. She worked hard, yet many died.

 
The certain man suggested they work together for the good of the village. They agreed but the brother refused to do some of the basic things his sister claimed were necessary in order to keep the village safe. He claimed she was fearful and sometimes even paranoid. She claimed he was callous and sometimes even an embarrassment.

 
The two children came to their father and both expected him to agree with their opinion. The man loved both his children and knew the work of the enemy. He was saddened that the enemy had gained such an influence over his children and he asked the question “How can we expect the village to receive our blessing if we cannot even get along with one another?”

Remembering an Old Love Feast

I recently discovered an old file with stuff I had written sometime in the early nineties. It’s like an archaeological dig right inside the house. Anyway, I think I’ll post some of it here.

 

Here we are again in the church basement on a Palm Sunday. It is time for the Love Feast. I have always thought these were good times to remind ourselves of who we are. This is important because the world is constantly reporting its own version of the news. There is plenty of news.

There are different opinions about what to do with timber, of who should be ruling in Russia, of who should be proposing a stimulus package in D. C. There are different opinions over an acquittal for four policemen in the case concerning Rodney King. It is certain, the world is divided. I am beginning to wonder if the world has a clue. Attempts at logic, rational argument, or maintaining tradition only seem to make us more aware of our differences.

But, here, in the church basement, we do not gather because of differences. We gather in spite of them. It’s not that we can overcome our differences on our own. Trying to do this on our own is what got us into trouble in the first place. That is why we gather for the Love Feast. Because we share the conviction that we are not able to overcome differences on our own. We need Jesus.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

On Wearing a Mask

Most days I have been wearing a mask. Earlier this week, I was in the bank. I must confess it crossed my mind that I belonged in a movie. I’ve seen this in movies, outlaws wear masks into banks. I am pretty sure that six months ago I would have been escorted out if I came into the bank like this. Now I would be escorted out if I didn’t. But this is our current reality. If indoors and unable to physical distance, I try to wear a mask.

 
I suspect that most of us are neither paranoid or callous. Most of us are somewhere in between those two extremes, ranging from very cautious to somewhere less cautious. Unfortunately, it is too easy for the less cautious to label the cautious “paranoid.” And too easy for those who are more cautious to label the less cautious as “callous.” Neither of these responses are helpful.

 
The idea of masks has become an emotionally charged situation. That is stating it mildly. People demonstrate a lot of passion for or against masks. It seems we look for reasons to divide ourselves further. The world has become an arena for division and masks have become another reason for people to dig their heels in and say divisive things.

 
It is vitally important for the church to respond in different ways than the world. Whatever the church chooses to do there are certain things that should be exhibited. Our efforts should seek to minister to as many as possible and exhibit care for those most at risk and vulnerable. We are one body and must approach challenging situations not by shaming or with cavalier attitudes, but with understanding, humility, and unity.

One During a Pandemic

What does it mean to be the church at this time in history? It is certainly a bit unusual. We have had a full month of in person worship and it has been unlike any other. Masks are not typical worship attire, yet some have been wearing a mask. We typically gather in order to sit close to one another, but some are physical distancing. We usually hand out bulletins, pass an offering plate, and often pass the peace. But instead we have set up additional stations for hand sanitizing. We have been back several weeks now but there are some we are used to seeing in worship who are not yet comfortable gathering. We just keep telling everyone, both those who have started to attend and those who continue to shelter in place, we are one body. It is an unusual time for the church, but we are still one.

Things We Should Be Talking About

I am pretty sure I always enjoy lunch. But it is possible that I have enjoyed it even more the past several weeks. I met with Mike, Harry, John, Frank, Daryl, Steve, and Jeff at the Rusty Rail. I met with Joe and Joe at Buffalo Wild Wings. I met with Mark and Tim at Schmidt’s Sausage Haus. I met with Bowles and Frank at Susquehanna Harvest.

I am pretty sure I enjoyed the food during each of these meals. But it isn’t the food that has stuck in my mind. It is the conversation. Aside from the fact that I am pretty sure I’ve been dining with geniuses, at every one of these gatherings we talked about things we should be talking about.

It is so easy to avoid talking about things that do not seem to be in front of us at the moment. Even when we know others are affected by certain issues, we can step around them if they do not seem to be affecting us directly. Some of our sister churches have entered some of these conversations, not all the them in helpful ways. It is time we enter the conversations. It is not good enough to say “we don’t believe in that” or “everyone else is wrong.” It is not good enough to pretend there are simple solutions to issues that become very complicated.

Conversation will prepare us to talk as a united voice. It will permit us to allow some diversity of opinion without becoming defensive. It will help us when the day arrives that we feel confronted by the issue directly. It will assist us as we attempt to support others in the universal church. It will assist us in the ways we attempt to love the world.

Obviously, this isn’t one issue. We could form an entire list of things we should be talking about in more formal settings than lunch. Some of the things that came up from my genius friends during these lunches include;

  • Violence (for some this means guns, I think it’s bigger than that)
  • Women in Ministry (even if we don’t understand why this is an issue at all)
  • LGBTQ (a population that thinks the church is mean?)
  • Race (how can this even remain an issue? But silence will not help)
  • Politics (will we ever understand that “Jesus is Lord” is our political phrase?)
  • Systematic theology (why do things meant for good divide the Body so severely?)
  • I suspect there are many things we should be talking about and are not…

We didn’t talk about all of these issues at any one of the above gatherings. I am not proposing that anyone is expert on any of these issues. I am simply suggesting it would be wrong to isolate ourselves from them and that we should be talking about them. Let’s talk…

A First Century House Church

Peter Oakes has uncovered a house church in Pompeii. Not really, but he does give some valuable information about who might have worshipped in a first century house church. He tells us that the church may have looked like this;

 

        A craftworker who served as host, along with his wife and children, some male slaves, a female slave, and a dependent relative.

        Tenants who lived in the house along with their families, slaves, and dependents.

        Some family members of a householder who does not participate in the church.

        Some slaves of owners who do not attend.

        Some homeless people.

        Migrant workers who have rented some small rooms in the home.

 

It is helpful for us to get this picture of a first century Roman congregation. It helps us to see the diversity of social class, economic class, and ethnicity of this people who were considered as One in Christ. Scot McKnight makes a reference to Oakes study and later goes on to say, “The church is God’s grand experiment, in which differents get connected, unlikes form a fellowship, and the formerly segregated are integrated… They are to be one in Christ Jesus.”

One-ness: An Ongoing Prayer

Most church affiliations hold a general gathering where business is conducted on a regular basis. Ours, held earlier this year, came with a theme “One.” I am not sure if it was the program committee or some other genius who came up with that theme, but I loved it. (Personally, I hope it becomes our ongoing theme). It certainly should become our ongoing prayer.

To call it timely would be an understatement. If there were a competitive match going on pitting unity vs. division, division appears to have the upper hand. Each day we wake to discover someone in the world is at odds with someone else. We seem to be surrounded by division. This makes it even more important for a church group to take “One-ness” seriously.

Truth is, we shared differing opinions right there on the council floor. Emotion was felt in the room. I am writing as one who is glad we are bold enough and respect one another enough to state opinions when we do not see eye to eye with one another. I write as one who is glad we are able to share differing opinions and yet walk out as “One.”

I pray that we are becoming “One.” I pray that our “One-ness” will not be of some petty tribal variety but will spill over into other sectors of the church. I pray we will work with the larger body of Christ in ways that we share in areas where we are strong and learn in areas where we are not. I pray we will work with our sisters and brothers in the church universal to reflect the ways of God in the world. I pray the church will be a witness of “One-ness” in a world that is otherwise divided.

Truth is, if the church does not demonstrate “One-ness” – who will? May our “One-ness” communicate that the hope of the world is in Christ and demonstrated in His church. Perhaps we are called to be catalysts for the church to become “One.” May we be a divine illustration that unity can be achieved – but only through a God-filled people.

You Can Call Me a Theist

I open the bible and read a passage like Genesis 15.13 and it is obvious that God knows in advance Israel will serve as slaves to Pharaoh. Further into the Genesis narrative (chapter 41) I read that Pharaoh has a dream and it is obvious that God knows things, in fact God can make things happen. Malachi 3.6 says clearly, “I the Lord, do not change.” I love these portrayals of God. They make it clear that God is sovereign and is actively involved in history. But please, do not call me a classical theist.

I also open the bible to read Exodus 4.24-26 and find that God planned to put Moses “to death.” But Zipporah intervened. The prophet Isaiah tells us that God “expected” his vineyard to produce good grapes and it instead produced worthless ones. The prophet Jeremiah quotes God to say “Perhaps they will listen and everyone will turn from his evil way, that I may repent of the calamity which I am planning to do to them because of the evil of their deeds.” I love portrayals of God that remind me of God’s interest in creation and relationship with his people. But please, do not call me an open theist.

Both classical theists and open theists claim biblical support for their positions. This reminds us of the complications that emerge when we attempt to answer questions the text is not asking. Neither classical theists nor open theists use the bible faithfully when they use it as a manual to support their claims. The bible is clear that to walk in relationship with God is to experience both sovereignty and surprise.

Traditionally the church has always had a diversity of opinion about multiple matters, including the sovereignty of God and the free will of humans. While not all of us have ever agreed with all proposed positions, we have continued to consider these views within orthodoxy. I am puzzled why some think it necessary to think differently about open theism.

Put me on record as saying those who lean towards open theism would benefit from conversation with those who have a stronger view of sovereignty. I also think that classical theists would benefit by being challenged by those who emphasize free will. And we all should allow ourselves to be challenged by biblical texts that raise these questions.

The church will be strengthened by honest conversation about our differences. This becomes very important. Our witness demands that we demonstrate what such conversation looks like to a world that does not talk about different opinions very well. We must be careful not to label something a heresy because it is different than the way we think. It would be preferable and certainly more Christian if we were able to see differences as opportunities for learning to disagree in ways that are in line with what we teach.

The bible is clear that God is in charge. God is aware of our eschatological futures. God has a plan for the world. On these things we can agree. But it is not our place to tell God what specifics God knows or to convince ourselves we have God figured out. Quite frankly, it is difficult to find the God of systematic theology debates very interesting. I prefer the God of the bible who appears to do whatever he wants and who surprises us with the way it is done.

Open theism and classical theism are both attempts to explain God in ways that make sense to the explainer. It is complicated to address something with clarity when it may not be intended for us to be clear about it. That is why we must constantly enter and reenter the muddy waters of the text. Acknowledging we do not know everything that is under the surface. We want to be a people willing to walk into the text and stay there – no matter what happens.

For those who think that to not argue for one side or the other is to settle for contradiction. I submit we should remind ourselves the bible does not appear to be bothered by this. Perhaps we shouldn’t be either.

A Letter to the Church

We are brought together by a God who is bigger than any petty differences. We are family. We carry the news that can save the world. Yet, we still fall for the voices of culture. We not only listen to them, we hold them in high esteem. And it divides us. Our news has always been clear that the ways of the world are unable to save the world. Yet we continue to act as if they can.

It is no easy task to resist the pressures of culture. It has always been difficult to resist principalities and powers. Yet, this is not optional. When we give in to cultural pressures we choose sides and we become divided. We choose lesser, artificial, and temporary ideas about important things like salvation and community. And our choices lead to partisanship in the body.

Interestingly, the word evangelical has become news. And not the news the word evangelical is intended or accustomed to sharing. Flip on the television and find someone trying to convince you that evangelicals are an important voice in the current political landscape. Turn the channel and find someone trying to convince you evangelicals are irrational, hateful and a cancer. Whenever we begin to listen to these voices as a voice for us we are mistaken. Spoiler alert, these voices are not neutral. They say what they say to pander to whoever they think is listening.

The president has become part of the “evangelical” news. And the voices of culture are attempting to draw a line and put you on one side or the other. It is true the president has said some rash things. The president has made some ill-advised decisions. But it isn’t the president’s behavior that worries me most. It is ours. The bickering that is going on inside the church only lends credibility to the misguided ideas that salvation will come through Washington D. C. and our allegiance depends on which side of the aisle we are on.

The church is not a political action committee. This is no lobby group. Perhaps the democrats and republicans are less evil than the Nazi’s, but to align ourselves with either of them is just as bad. We already have a King. And we’ve already been told there is no room for two masters.

Participate in elections. Encourage elected officials. Pray for them. But do not bow at their altars. When you agree with politicians and when you disagree – God is still at work. Even more, God is still in control. And when you start to believe otherwise, you are worshiping at the wrong altar.

It is time to stop participating in the divisive strategies of the world. The fact is, we cannot repair what is severed on our own. We need God. We must learn to listen, learn to disagree, and learn to resist in ways that are faithful. The church must stand together and recognize the opportunity right here in front of us.

A Public Disagreement

So John MacArthur is challenging N. T. Wright. He calls Wright’s writings “a mass confusing ambiguity, contradiction, and obfuscation.” (Extra credit to MacArthur for using the word obfuscation). He credits Wright with “academic sleight of hand.” In the end, MacArthur accuses Wright of propagating a false gospel. You can watch the video here… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZJEZiLfYHk

Regardless of whether one takes sides in this situation, we ought to ask ourselves how disagreement should be handled in the church.

MacArthur may come across as funny or clever when he makes a statement like “N. T. Wrong.” Still, to vilify our sisters and brothers does not communicate that we are one body. Even in our differences we are to communicate unity not division. Anything else hinders our witness.

I wish we could see disagreement as an opportunity to demonstrate how we are different than the world. Can we not talk to one another rather than about one another? There will be disagreement. Of that we can be sure. But the way we disagree becomes very important.

I admit to be influenced by a book I’ve been reading this past month. Perhaps I should send MacArthur a copy. Maybe he has read it. The title is I Corinthians. This book has had it with division. Every page is seeking unity. Throughout I Corinthians we are reminded that in a context of disagreement we will learn much about who we are. I Corinthians may not be against the world, but it is against bringing the ways of the world into the church. I Corinthians wants us to know the church is a different way to live. Why would the world be interested in what we say or do in our disagreements if we disagree the same way as everyone else?

Even our disagreements should insist on unity. The way we disagree matters much to not only our unity, but also our public witness.